Sermon \ October 4th, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ Hebrews 2 \ I Love to Tell the Story
Our sermon text is found in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. I'm reading chapter 2, verse 9. The writer says:
...we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor, because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (N.I.V.)
The Christian church has a message to proclaim. For 2000 years, that message has been told. And for 2000 years, people have responded to it – positively or negatively, as the Holy Spirit does His work through the Scriptures and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. That message, of course, is drawn from God’s Word. And it’s meant for all people. Evidence of the transforming power of the message is the existence of the Christian church which has not only survived down through the centuries, but has flourished. In the next few minutes, we’ll consider that message again, and I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day – enabling us to hear the Word, to understand it, and to put it into practice.
The Christian proclamation has two parts. It’s like a coin with two sides. The first part of our message is called the Law. It tells us about ourselves and points out our broken relationship with God. The second part of the message is the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good News about Jesus Christ – the Good News of his death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead for our justification before a holy God. The Gospel declares Christ’s salvation to the world. And the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word and the Sacraments, enables people to respond to it. This two-part message is a story we love to tell. I’m sure you’ve heard the old hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story." That hymn connects with an emotion deep within the hearts of God’s people because what it says is true. We do love to tell the story. We love to see it take hold of a person's life and begin a wonderful transformation in them. And as God’s people, we know that if this message is not shared, if the Gospel is not allowed to do its work, those who need to hear it most will remain separated from God and from His blessings made possible by the cross and empty tomb of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the church, we have a name for this crucial proclamation of God's Word. We call it “outreach” or "evangelism." And before I discuss our text for this morning, I want to share a few insights with you about evangelism. The first thing I want to tell you is that the relationship between the one speaking the message and the one hearing it is important. If that relationship is impersonal, cold and distant, that’s not a good thing. Le me give you an example. If that proclamation is written on a tract and handed out to passers-by on a street corner, most people will ignore it and walk away with a negative impression of Christianity.
Down through the years, Christians have tried different ways to share God’s word. One of the pastors in our sister synod in the U.S., the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, lives in California. He’s a young man who doesn’t normally wear clerical garb. He likes to share the Gospel on university campuses. He dresses like a student. He finds a busy spot, with students coming and going, and sets up a sign on a cardboard box with the words, “RELIGION IS FOR THE WEAK.” He waits for people to comment on his sign and many do. In his conversations with these people, he speaks of Christ and faith.
Some of these methods are helpful, of course, and some, less so. The pastor I just mentioned makes it easy for people to comment about faith-related issues. He sets up an environment conducive to outreach. Those who have analyzed this sort of thing tell us that our relationship as Christians with those who hear our message is important. Many people who come to faith in Christ report that they were encouraged in faith-related matters by a friend or a relative. Check your own experience and see if this is true for you or for others you may know. You can see right away the importance of the kind of relationship that exists between the speaker of God’s Word and the hearers of that Word. The sharing of God’s word is enhanced in a context of trust and understanding.
As you’ve heard already, our text this morning is found in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews is filled with what I call "industrial strength" theology. Hebrews is a very difficult book – one that many Christians don’t know very well. But a careful study of the book of Hebrews is well worth the effort. A central theme found in our text this morning is found in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 9: "WE SEE JESUS." Our text this morning takes us to the heart of the Gospel. It turns our attention to Jesus. It tells the story of a relationship broken. That’s the Law. And it also tells us about a relationship restored. That, of course, is the Gospel.
The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with the bigger picture of things. The Scriptures begin with an account of God's creative activity. It describes the creation of the universe, and then of living things in great variety, and finally, it describes the creation of humankind. Genesis tells us that our first parents had a perfect relationship with their Creator-God. God was a central part of their everyday experience. They enjoyed each other's company. That was true until one decisive day when things changed. Prompted by a question uttered by a mysterious entity, our first parents began to doubt, for the very first time, that God had their best interests at heart. Prompted by a mysterious entity they had never met before, they became convinced that God was holding back on them, that God was not telling them everything they needed to know. The question, "Did God really say?" made them question their relationship with God.
So Adam and Eve did something they had never done before. They did something that would affect them for the rest of their lives. They did something so significant that it would affect the whole human race in future days. Prompted by the serpent, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. They decided to go their own way. And the moment they disobeyed Him, they knew in their hearts that their relationship with God had been broken, and, even worse, they knew there was nothing they could do about it. After that, when God came to visit them in the garden, as He had done so many times before, they did something else they had never done before. THEY HID FROM GOD. For the very first time, they experienced a painful separation from their God. And the Scriptures tell us that their problem – their separation from God – is our problem, too. This problem, it turns out, is hereditary. According to the Scriptures, sin is very much like a genetic disease that’s passed down from parents to children. Mark Twain said it well:
"Everybody is a moon, and has a dark side, which he never shows to anybody."
If we are honest, when we hear what the Scriptures say about sin, we have to agree that it's true. If we’re honest, we will agree that we, too, have a "dark side" – in other words, that sin affects us, too. But many people in our world don’t want to admit this. Many argue that they don’t have a problem with sin. So they don’t need a Savior from sin.
Psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger, back in 1973, wrote a book that made a lot of people think. Dr. Menninger titled his book, "Whatever Became of Sin?" And, in that book, Dr. Menninger relates the story of what happened one sunny September day in Chicago, Illinois. He says:
A stern-faced, plainly-dressed man, could be seen standing still on a street corner in the busy Chicago loop. As pedestrians hurried by, on their way to lunch or business, he would solemnly lift his right arm and, pointing to the person nearest him, loudly speak one word: GUILTY!
Then, without any change of expression, he would resume his stiff stance for a few more moments, repeating the same gesture, pointing at another, repeating that same haunting word, "Guilty!"
Dr. Menninger says that the effect of this strange pantomime on the passing strangers was extraordinary. Almost eerie. They would stare at [the man], and then look back at him again. And then [they would] hurriedly continue on their way. One man, turning to another, said, "How did HE know?"
The Scriptures tell us that we human beings – apart from God’s grace – cannot come to our full potential. Something always gets in the way. That “something” is what the Bible calls sin. As I said a moment ago, the story that we Christians love to tell is the message that all people need Christ and the forgiveness He offers if they are to become all that they can be. Christian people have eyes to see the power of sin all around them – every day. God’s people see what happens when a person’s relationship with God is broken. They know that, without God’s grace at work in the human heart, human beings remain curved in on themselves. On their own, none of us can please God. On our own, we cannot deal with the curse of sin. And, without God’s intervention, the gates to heaven remain will closed to us.
The book of Hebrews tells the story of a relationship broken. But it also describes a relationship restored – restored through the work of Jesus Christ, made our own by God’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God established a priesthood and a system of sacrifice in order to temporarily deal with human sin. In that Old Testament sacrificial system, animals were sacrificed and blood was shed. Sin was dealt with this way, but it was only a temporary fix. In the New Testament, on the other hand, we see the conclusion of God's plan. In the New Testament, God's own Son, Jesus Christ, suffers death as a Substitute for sinners who deserve death for their sins. According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus is "the author of (our) salvation." When Jesus came to this earth, He took upon Himself our humanity – our very flesh and blood. And when he died on the cross, He took our sins – every single one of them! – upon himself. He suffered – for us. He died – for us. And then, he was raised from the dead – for us! And now, His benefits are offered to us – and to the whole world – as a free gift.
Christians love to tell the story of Jesus Christ because they know its power in their own lives. They know that it has changed them. And they know that when others trust Christ as their Savior and Lord, enabled by the same Holy Spirit, their lives will be transformed as well. For that, we thank and praise God! I close with these familiar words:
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know 'tis true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
May God grant it. In and through Jesus. Amen!
LET'S PRAY -- Dear Heavenly Father: Remind us often of Your Son’s story. Place its message deep into our hearts and minds. Grant us opportunities to share it. Use us as your messengers. Help us always see Jesus – in his glory and power – as our Savior and our Lord. In His most holy and precious name we pray. Amen.