Jack Graham - Praying it Forward
In Hebrews chapter 13, we're coming to the finish line of our message series called GOING THE DISTANCE. And so we've gone the distance in Hebrews, and we're coming to the finish line today. And the finish line is two sentences at the end of the book that actually summarize what we've been learning as we have run this race through Hebrews. And in reality, it is a paragraph or a summary of what the letter to the Hebrews is all about. So the author is wrapping up, and he brings it with a benediction. And that means good words, benediction. And it's actually a blessing Verse 20, "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight".
The one holy ambition of every believer should be to please God, to honor God. And He will enable us to do that, because it says "We work to please Him: through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever". So, there it is. A prayer to propel us forward. Prayer really is the most powerful force on earth, because prayer connects us with the power of God! When we pray, God moves. And this prayer links our emptiness and our nothingness to God's almightiness! That's the reason the weak can say I'm strong, the poor can say I'm rich, because we have been enriched, we have been empowered in prayer. And prayer is the slender nerve that moves, the omnipotence of God! I like that! Prayer moves the muscles of God! Prayer activates your life in mission and in ministry for Christ. And that's what life is about; to please Him, to do His will. It says He is, "May the God of peace who brought back from the dead the Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of His covenant, show you His will".
So, let's just talk for a few moments about who our God is. He is the God of peace. You know, God has made peace with us. We were born with our fists raised, opposing God, resisting God. Naturally we were born with a bent to disobedience and rebellion. And so, a relationship with God was not possible because of this distance, because of this division. Yet God loved us and reconciled Himself to us by sending His Son, and this is heart of the Christian message, that God sent His Son Jesus Christ, and Jesus on the cross by the blood of this new promise poured out His life for us in order to bring us to God.
If you know anything about a reconciliation, if you've had a broken relationship in your family, if you had a broken relationship in a work environment, a family member, a friend, when that relationship is broken there's been division. There may have even been fighting, and all the rest, arguing. But when a reconciliation comes place there's this moment when you are brought back together again in the relationship. What has happened through Jesus Christ is that God has made peace with us. He reached out to us and gave us peace. One of the first books I read as a young Christian was written by Billy Graham. It was called Peace with God. I wanted that.
Now all around us the world is at war. There's terrorism, nuclear threat, political division. There's so much hate and so much violence in the world today. We see it all around us. We're in a hostile environment it seems in every way. Where is the peace? How do we know peace? And on a personal level, people are experiencing more anxiety, angst than ever before. Stress is killing people by degrees. Most people, 100 percent worry about something every day. You go to the beach to try to take a vacation, you worry whether the sun's going to be out or not. There's always something to worry about, to stress out. And we're ramped up, we're revved up in our generation. We're at break-neck speed, and it's taking a toll on all of us. All of the strife and all of the stress in peoples' lives.
And so there, you know, is a need for counsellors and physicians and professionals who can help us manage and monitor and cope with many of the things that we're facing. And, you know, the right counsellors in that situation can be lifesavers. Frankly as a pastor now all these years I've never seen so such brokenness in peoples' lives. And yet God promises something that is supernatural. It is peace. Now the Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Jewish friends often greet one another, especially in Israel with those words: shalom or peace. In fact, one of the names of God we find in the Bible is Jehovah or Yahweh Shalom. He is described so often in the New Testament as the God of Peace. You know, God's never wringing His hands, God's never worried about what's going to happen next. God is always in control, calm.
"There's no panic in heaven," Corrie ten Boom said, "but only plans". And so, when we face situations in our live, we can know that God is in command and God is in control, and His peace is available. First, the peace that we have with God, when our sins are forgiven and we enter a relationship with God, we become children of God. But not only peace with God, but the peace of God. And the Scripture says in Philippians 4 that the peace of God is beyond understanding. It's something you can't describe, it's something you can't explain; it is undeniable and unmistakable, yet unexplainable. So many times in our lives as Christians we have been blessed by the God of peace as His presence, as His peace, when we pray, when we open God's Word, when we sit down with a Christian friend, when we attend a worship service like this, and somehow in the midst of all of this the peace of God just sweeps over us because the God of peace is with us, the God of peace is in us.
One day Jesus and His disciples were on a boat and they got in the middle of a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was actually below deck, sleeping, resting. And the disciples were in a panic above deck, on the deck, and they're doing everything they can to survive this storm. And finally, they cry out to the Lord, "Lord, don't you care that we're dying out here"! They were so afraid. And Jesus came out to the deck and He spoke one word, "Peace". And those waves became still. And those disciples learned a lesson of their lifetime that you need to learn today, and that is Jesus still calms the storm. If not without us, the storms within us, and those can be the most difficult of all, the storms on the inside. He speaks peace. He gives rest for the soul. Because His presence is always near. He's never far away. That's His promise, the God of peace is with us.
If there's one thing that's better than the peace of God, it's the God of peace! Not only does He give peace; He is peace! And that great passage in Philippians 4, when it says, "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything with thanksgiving in your heart. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord". You see, we not only have the peace of God to guide us, but the God of peace to guard us; like a sentinel, like your own personal security force is this peace. Peace is an inside job. It's not the absence of problems; it's the presence of Jesus in your life. That's peace. Many people turn to substances, whether it's alcohol or drugs to find peace. You know alcoholism is a stress related illness. Turn to alcohol or turn to money or possessions or sex or whatever to try to find peace in their lives, to try to find meaningful existence, and it's not there; it's nothing on the outside. It's what happens on the inside when Jesus Christ lives in you and His peace is like a river in your soul.
Again, it's good that we have teachers and counsellors and professionals and physicians and wise people to help us, but ultimately the answer is a cure for the soul, and Jesus is the soul doctor. He's the cure for the illnesses of the soul, and He gives peace in every heart. That's why He could say, facing the cross, just hours before the cross, He looked at His disciples in the upper room and He said, "My peace I give to you". Peace in the midst of that storm? Peace in the midst of execution and death? Yes! "My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives". Don't let your hearts be afraid. Somebody said, "The world didn't give it to me and the world can't take it away". Jesus gives us this peace, and this peace sustains us and strengthens us.
Now this peace came at a great price. It speaks here of the blood of the eternal covenant. We're told in the Scriptures that peace comes as a result of this cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Isiah 53, and verse 5: "He was wounded for our transgression; He was crushed for our iniquities". The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. He died for you! And, oh yes, He rose again! The same Jesus that died, was buried, and on the third day He rose again. Again, this benediction summarizes everything from the dead. "The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ"!
You know what that means? That means that resurrection power is in us. Not only is our God a God of peace; He's a God of resurrection power. And this resurrection power enables us to face every situation in our lives, it's over our heads, it's under His feet. He's in control. He's the God of peace. He's the God of power. Can you think of anything in your life that's greater than the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Can you think of anything you're facing, some sin, some problem, an addiction, a habit, a brokenness. Can you think of anything in your life that is greater than the power of Jesus Christ who came out of the grave? And I'm telling you the same miracle as the miracle of the resurrection will bring a miracle in your life when you invite Jesus in. The same miracle that brought Jesus out of the grave will bring about a miracle in your life!
Jesus saves us by the blood of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanses us from every sin. You say, "Is there another way to be saved"? No, Hebrews 9:22 says "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin". No forgiveness of sin. And all the blood sacrifices in the past in the Old Testament were but a prophecy, a precursor, an illustration, a symbol of the great sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. The Old Testament brought a new covenant and it's the eternal covenant of God's blood. In other words, we are saved because of what Jesus has done in giving His blood. He paid it all; all to Him I owe. God saves us by His blood. And yes, there's power in His blood. But He not only saves us, He shepherds us.
You see in this great summary, this great benediction that He's the Great Shepherd of our souls. I wish I had more time to talk to you about Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls. How He shepherds us. He leads us, He feeds us, He loves us, He guides us. He said, "I am the Good Shepherd," which means He is counseling us, He leads us beside the still waters, through the deepest of valleys. And there's no place you go without His protection, without His guidance. One the greatest images to me in all the Bible, one of the sweetest things given to us by Jesus Himself is that He is the Shepherd who left the ninety and nine and with reckless love and abandonment, risky, the shepherd, the Good Shepherd left the ninety and nine and went after that one lost little lamb and brought him back home.
That's who Jesus is. He found you where you were and brought you into the fold, into the family of God. And we are promised His grace and His guidance as He shepherds us. Says, "He knows His sheep by name". It's astounding to me that God could know my name, but he does. He knows your name as well. And one final thing, and that is He not only saves us and shepherds us, He shapes us. Look at that next verse. Verse 21. It says that "He equips us with every good thing to do His will". Ephesians 2:10: "We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works". And this word equips, you know what it means? It's a word used by doctors. It meant to heal a bone, to set a fractured bone.
So, one way that God shapes us is through brokenness. I've never known a person that God has used greatly who has not first been broken in some way. God breaks us at times in order to bless us. And people that God uses are people who have often gone through tough times and their scars are not wasted; their scars become a shape into beautiful testimony, and I've seen God take broken people, broken lives, their lives almost destroyed, and put their lives back together again, mend them and equip them and use them for His glory.
You say, "I'm too broken for God to use. God could never use me; my marriage is broken; my life is broken". No, if you will give Him the pieces, God will put your life, He will mend you and He will equip you to do what, "I've missed God's best. I've missed God's will". No, God will get you back on His path if you will give Him your life to shape you again. And that's why it's more than trite to me to say that that's when your mess becomes your message. It's when your mess becomes your message because God uses broken people who have been put back together by the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only does it speak of brokenness but it speaks of readiness. This idea of shaping. It's another word.
This word equip is the idea of a soldier preparing for battle. Armor up, suit up. God will equip you, prepare you with every good thing. He's putting good things inside of us. His Spirit is alive in us. His gifts are available to us. His callings are all around us. He is equipping us to do with every good thing, to do His will! And you know what? It goes on to say, not only to do His will but through Jesus Christ He empowers us because God will never ask you to do anything that He will not enable you to do. What kind of God would ask you to do something and not give you the ability to do it?
God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called. You say yes to God, you say yes to the call of God upon your life, He will equip you with everything you need to do the will of God. That which is pleasing in His sight, working in us. Wow!! God working in me! God working through me! That's the Christian life. That's the secret. And then all the praise goes to Jesus. To whom be the glory forever and ever and ever. So, all we need to do in this race that we've been talking about building a muscular faith, developing a muscular faith, running the race, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. What we need to do is keep our eyes on Him and just keep running.
Ask those who watch Kayla Montgomery run. Ever heard of the name? Kayla Montgomery was a steady runner, a strong runner. She was lean in line; she ran fast. She was one of the fastest, is one of the fastest, long distance runners in the country. A trained eye, a coach could see the beauty of her stride, the strength of her will. Her performances on the high school squad in Winston-Salem North Carolina caught the attention of competitors and competitions and colleges all around. She set distance records, won titles, competed in nationals, eventually won an athletic scholarship at Lipscomb University Nashville, Tennessee. And had you watched her run you would have been very impressed.
But here's what you could have never imagined about Kayla Montgomery. She ran with no feeling in her legs. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 14. This disease causes nerve damage and interference between the brain, the spine cord, the lungs, the legs. And body heat activates this disease. So, when Kayla would run, she would become, as she heated up in a run, she would become numb from the waist down. But she wanted to keep running so she told her coach, "I want to run; I want to run fast". And she did. One time ranked 21 in the nation.
The numbness would begin about the first mile marker. But at that mile marker when the legs were not felt, she depended entirely upon one man, her coach. Her Coach was a fixture at the races. You could see him at every race, encouraging, cheering, calling her out! But his greatest contribution was catching Kayla. For you see Kayla could run really fast, but she couldn't stop. She would just keep running, stride after stride, step after step, length after length. She would keep running, but she couldn't stop. She would just run into an obstacle. So, she and her coach made a deal. They had an agreement. She would just keep running and he would be there to catch her. And it happened again and again. She would run through the finish line, legs churning, and the crash was no small thing. He would catch her. Sometimes both of them falling to the ground. But then he would put her in his arms and carry her to the sideline.
You could often hear Kayla screaming, "My leg! My legs! My legs"! And he would soothe her and calm her down, and say, "It's going to be alright. I got this. You got this"! And he would lay her down. And they would bring ice, and rest, and gradually the numbness would leave and she would be strengthened in her legs again, and stand up and walk off a winner. When I hear that story, I remember that somebody has made an agreement with you and me. His name is Jesus. And He said, "If you'll just run and keep running, and go the distance, even when it hurts, even when it's painful, even when you can't feel your legs, you just keep going. And I'll be there to catch you when you burst through the finish line".
And you know what? You're getting closer and closer to the finish line every day. Doesn't matter how well you run the race, how hard you've run, how well you've run, there's only so many beats in this heart. There're so many breaths in this body. There're so many links in our lives, and one day we're going to come to a finish line. So, what we need to do is keep our eyes on Jesus and keep running through that line, knowing that when we get to heaven, He's going to catch us! Amen? He's going to be there! And He's going to catch us! And He's going to say, "I got this! You've got this"!