God transforms the lives of those who decide to trust and give their hearts to Him. As Todd explains, change is made possible because God gives us a new heart and His Spirit dwells within us.
Why The Bible Can Be Trusted
Why There is Hope
Why The Church
Why Change is Possible and Necessary
Why All the Passion
Why There is the Law
Why the Jews
Why We Are Here
Why There is Evil
Why the Story You Live in Matters
Well, come to Jesus. Why would anybody want to do that? That's the story we're in the middle of telling, the story that we didn't make up, the story that hasn't entered into the human mind or that human eye hasn't seen, human ear did not hear, "…AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN…" the Scripture says.
It's a story that God in his grace, the author of the story, has revealed to us by grace. He has explained who he is, why he is a God worth knowing, and why he is a God worth coming to and the lengths that he is going to enable you to come. The story begins with the author first describing who he is.
Just like you might see a picture on the cover of a dust jacket of the author in a little biography, God takes great pains in his story, the story, the Book to tell you who he is. He says that he is a God who has eternally existed in his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his ability to love and serve. He says that he has existed in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each of them is eternally God and yet they are distinct in person, one in essence, and relate to each other in subordinate ways by their own free will for the sake of revealing the glory of who he is.
The story tells us that God, because he is love, has to share who he is with others. Because the one thing love cannot do is be self-centered or inward focused so God, in his glory, wanted to share the beauty of who he was with others. Because God himself is the un-cause cause or the preexistent being, there was nobody to share it with so he created first an angelic realm.
We found out that in his creation of the angelic realm, there was an angel who lead other angels to believe that glory is not in living in this community, living in relationship with this God who has offered relationship with him, but they felt like glory could be better understood if they sought it on their own. They invented their own story that they would live in.
They would become the center of their own story no matter how small it was. They said, "Let's be our own god. Let's be greatness. Let's call attention away from the God who we are to enjoy and enthrone ourselves as god." Scriptures say that God cast the Enemy from heaven. In order to reestablish that not only was he sovereign but to forever declare that he was good, he created humankind.
He created humankind. He put us in a perfect place, a crib if you will, a nursery designed beautifully for the child. God kept saying, "It was good. It was good. It was very good." Not because God needed it, not because it added anything to God, but because it showed the goodness of who God was, an Edenic state, a paradise for this creation he made to enjoy as God lived in relationship with humankind.
We saw that it wasn't long before this human creature who God created to live in relationship with him turned its back on God even as the angels had done and followed after others and gave their hearts to a false god wanting to enthrone themselves, wanting glory on their own, their own way, their own will. God once again was betrayed.
This time, God was going to show his goodness by seeking the man that he said he created to live in relationship with him. God had told the man that there was an incredible consequence to that choice to turn his back and that consequence of turning his back on the goodness that was God, the life that was God was death: spiritual, but also represented primarily in the physical.
So God had judgment enter into the world, but in the midst of that judgment God was necessarily obligated to give because he is a holy God, there was also grace that God would provide to allow humankind a way to enter back into relationship with this God. The story talks about how despite God's continued effort, about God's severe judgment on the world, at one point destroying the entire world through flood allowing only one man, his wife, three sons, and their wives to survive, as this man was the only man who God found on the earth whose heart was tender toward him.
God started over with Noah and his wife only to find out that Noah and his descendents also turned their hearts away from God. God then no longer worked with the world in its large scope, but began to work uniquely through one man who he said he would make into a great nation. A great nation needs to have a place to exist as a nation.
He said that he would bless the entire world through them eternally. So in order to give them that nation, he gave them a land. In order to give them an eternal presence on the earth, he gave them eventually the promise of an eternal ruler. He told them that for them to have a relationship with him in an ongoing way, they needed to keep their hearts tender toward God and turn toward him.
This man we know as Abraham. Abraham became the father of what we know today as the Jewish people. God, for no reason other than his divine will, chose Abraham to make into a great people, that through this people's unique relationship with God, their continued blessing, and God's consistent movement toward them, he would establish them as a great people through which other nations of the world would come around them and say, "What is it with you Jews?"
As they lived in relationship with God as he revealed himself and as they were blessed as a result, they were to say, "Our greatness lies not in who we are but in the God who has chosen to be kind toward us. He's not just our God. He is the God of all heavens and earth, the God of all people. Let us introduce you to him."
That was God's plan, but you'll find out that Abraham and his descendents consistently turned their backs on God again and again and again until finally, God in his radical, ridiculous, scandalous, relentless, awful loving pursuit in the midst of the Trinity decided to send his own Son as a final prophet, as a final effort to reconcile humankind to him.
I want to take a moment before we continue that story, the story of how we respond to this love and where we fit in as people who primarily are non-Semite folks and just simply clarify a few things. A while back, about 10 or 14 days ago, I was riding in my car with my little girl and somehow the conversation in the backseat turned toward spiritual things.
The one little girl was asked by my daughter, "Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?" The little girl in the backseat said, "That statement confuses me. I don't know what you mean, 'Have I asked Jesus into my heart?' Are you asking me, 'Do I love God and have I trusted in Jesus Christ as the means through which I can be forgiven?' Yes, I've done that. But what do you mean, 'Have I asked him into my heart?'"
I kind of adjusted my rear view mirror and said, "Who is that young theologian in the backseat there?" I said, "Let's talk about that. Tell me what you mean." I said to Ally, "Explain why you asked your question that way? There are all kinds of different ways to talk about what it means to come into a relationship with God. Some people call it born again."
When folks ask me, "Are you one of them there born-agains?" Some of you know how I like to answer that. I typically say, "Describe that to me. What's one of them there born-agains?" If they say, "Oh, you know. One of them bigoted, better-than-everybody-else, homophobic, finger-waggers." I go, "Nope, not one of them."
But if they say, "You know, somebody who has been brought to the place where they realize there is no way to ever find themselves acceptable to God except by trusting in God's gracious provision through Jesus Christ and believe that God has made them new by faith that they might have relationship with him. Is that who you are?" I go, "Yep. That's who I am."
Some people call it born again. Some people say that they have come into a relationship with God. Some people say that they have given God their heart. Some would say they trusted Jesus. Some would say they accept Jesus. Folks outside of circles like this say they, "Got religion." But what does it mean for somebody whose heart has been turned toward God to come back into relationship with him?
You know, folks do use the term accept Jesus. Let me tell you why I don't like that term specifically and tell you why I like the term not ask Jesus into your heart, but give your heart to him. The reason I like that term is because giving your heart to God is what God has been after all along.
See this is a story of a God who has eternally enjoyed pure love, community, companionship, care, tenderness, holiness, goodness, and gentleness in the Trinity. He is eternally present. God wants to share that. He wants our hearts to be wooed toward him and given to him as a lover gives their life to another lover. God is saying, "Give your life to me. Come join us. We invite you into the perfect relationship we have."
God wants us to give him our hearts as a lover seeks us, bends on a knee, stoops from heaven, and says, "Will you be mine?" See, too many of us accept the story. Too many of us have accepted that Jesus was this historical figure who lived and walked on this earth, made some radical claims, did some works to authenticate his words, was crucified, dead, and buried.
We heard that he was born of a virgin (I'm going to accept that as part of the story) and that three days later he was resurrected, appearing to many. Then eventually he ascended into heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God where he freely offers eternal life to those who will ask him of it. We accept that.
Now biblically, faith or belief is more than acceptance. In fact, there are three things that are necessary for us to do to meet the requirements that Scripture says a responder to, a follower of, someone who gives their heart to God as their lover needs to do in order for that transaction to be complete.
First of all, there is knowledge. That's why we're told again and again, "Tell the story. Tell the story of how God loves them. Tell the story of how God seeks them. Tell the story of why we got here, of where and why there is evil, where it came from, what God's going to do with evil eventually, what happens on the other side of the grave, what eternity looks like, who God is, what he wants from us. Tell the story."
There's knowledge. On top of knowledge, there is also this thing called assent, which means that you don't just hear this information, but that you put a T by it and you go, "True. I agree that claim is true." But there is a third part. Too many people go, "I accept that Jesus…"
In other words, I accept the fact that somehow God loves me so much that he broke the eternal bond of the Trinity in terms of living there in heaven with him and, "…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [or held onto] , but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." the Scripture says, in order that this hard-hearted man might have a way to be restored into relationship with God.
We go, "I agree with that! I was born in America. Isn't that what most of us agree? I have knowledge of the story and I agree with that I guess, mostly." Yet God says, "But you haven't done with this knowledge that you agree with the one thing that I've asked you to do. I am on bended knee asking you to accept my gift. You have not accepted that gift. You have not made that faith transaction where you stop depending on yourself and your own effort and your own works and rely solely on me."
Let me just share this with you. What most people do when they found out that they're over here is they look at the greatness of creation and see that where there is order, it implies that there is a divine and intelligent Designer. Folks don't go walking through the woods, stub their toe on something bright, shiny, and gold, lean over, and find this little face with 12 numbers on it with a sweeping second hand with R-O-L-E-X on it, jewels encrusted around it in value and go, "Son of a gun! Mother Nature is really something else, man.
Those trees up there must have fallen on a leaf. There is rich soil down here. Something must've happened to where the mechanics formed together and made this incredibly brilliant thing that I'm going to call a Rolex. That's amazing what nature can do if you just give it time in these beyond trespass woods here. No one has disturbed this for a long time, and look at what has happened." Nobody does that.
What's the very first thing you think of when you're walking through the woods and you come across an exquisite design like that? You think… What? "Somebody has been here before me, somebody with intelligence or at least somebody who knew with intelligence (well maybe not or they wouldn't have spent that much on a watch), but the point is that somebody who knew something got something on their arm that's useful, very beautiful, and perfectly made in many ways. I know I'm not the first person who has been here. Something of intelligence has been here before me."
Where there is order, we know that there is an intelligent designer. Through creation, humankind can see that. It might deny it. It might suppress that truth in unrighteousness, but left to ourselves, we know that there is not an explosion in the print shop that leads to Hamlet. You don't get Webster's Dictionary by dumping a bunch of boxes of alphabet cereal together and watching them A through Z you. Somebody with intelligence designs it. That's why there is order.
Secondly, we know that something is embedded in all of our hearts. There's this morality that even if there's not a God who exists, I know I don't live up to my own morality. Through creation and through conscience, there is a law that I realize I'm accountable to something. I don't meet that standard. What most men do is they invent a system through which they can appease their conscience and somehow maybe not offend this great divine Creator.
It is called religion. It is where man through his own effort tries to do this and to do that and to do this and do that and eventually, though we get knocked down every now and then with some bad choices, we work our way up to where maybe if there's a God up there, we're at a plane that he will accept us.
God says, "That offends me. You don't know who I am. If you don't know the necessity of a miraculous intervention in your life, it's because you either have too high a view of yourself or too low a view of me because there is an eternal gulf that is fixed here." There are many illustrations for this.
Some revolve around the Grand Canyon. Some revolve around the state of Hawaii and the mainland. In this particular illustration, you have a gentleman on the coast of California, which we will say in this illustration represents the land of evil. Then you have Hawaii, which we will say represents paradise. This man on this land of evil wants to get over to this land of paradise, but this ocean of separation is too great.
It is true that based on your physical fitness, your age, maybe some personal training and discipline that different individuals can get further from this land of separation to this land of paradise, but eventually all of us are going to go under and become food for the fishes. Do some make it further? Do some make it so far that we can't even see them?
Sure, but nobody can make it the whole way on their own effort. In fact, nobody can make it the whole way if somebody gets in a boat alongside of them and says, "You're doing good! Keep swimming! I think you can make it! That was good. Try another stroke. That'll work." That's the way most folks are around religion.
There's a person with a megaphone, "Give more! Serve more! Show up more places! Do more! Don't do that. Don't do that. Good. Come on, do more!" The Scripture says that all you're going to get then is somebody who is going to just tell you, "You know what is already true. I'm going to die eventually anyway. I'd rather not do it with you yelling in my ear. What I need is somebody to come alongside of me not yelling at me to swim harder, but saying, 'Get in the boat. Let me provide for you what you cannot do for yourself.'"
This is what the Scripture says. Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who are…" Worn out. "…weary…" From religion, from your own efforts, your own works. "…and I will give you rest." The Scriptures best picture a decision to respond to what God has done by giving yourself to him. This lover who wants our hearts says, " [Turn] to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
You get up off your own effort and you stop trying to turn your life on your own and working your way over and go, "I could never make it." The stage isn't big enough to show how silly it is. Jesus says, "Will you just come trust me and get up out of your own self-striving and accept what I've offered for you?"
This is what it means to make a trust decision and to say, "I'm resting in the finished work of God in the person of Christ Jesus and what he did on the cross for me." When somebody says, "Todd, when you stand before God in heaven and he says, 'Why should I let you in?' what are you going to say?"
If that conversation happened, and I don't believe it will, but if it did, I wouldn't say anything about what I had done other than responding to what he had done for me and say, "I'll tell you why. For reasons I'll never really understand or explain, but I'll spend eternity trying to enjoy, you and your relentless, reckless, irresponsible, offensive to many, love for me promised that you would satisfy your need for justice in the person of Christ and satisfy your loving for me by providing a way.
I have rested in that which you told me would be the means through which I could receive your forgiveness. Separate and apart from anything I have done I have trusted in you. I knew the story by grace, I agreed with it by grace that you removed the scales from my eyes. Having known the story and agreeing with it, I have trusted only in Jesus Christ. In him, I find rest before you. Though I deserve judgment, you have given me life." That's what it means.
Biblically, you can call that, "Have you given God your heart? Have you responded to his offer to share life with him?" Let me explain it this way to you. What God did with Abraham is he said, "Abraham, I want to bless you." He promised him in Genesis, chapter 12, that he would give them a land, he would give them a descendent, and a number of descendents who would outnumber the stars, and a relationship with him that could only be defined by the word blessing.
It would be well with you because God was for you. Abraham responded to God and believed God and left his own place of comfort where his own community surrounded him and said, "I will go where God calls me to go. I believe that God will give me a land. Even though I don't have the security of relationship in what's familiar, I believe the goodness of God who has revealed himself to me. God where you call me to go, I will go."
Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Now what's interesting is that God is going to show up with Abraham and he is going to, if you will, cut a deal with him. We call it a testament, which is just a Latin way of communicating the idea of contract or covenant, a covenant. In Hebrew, the word is something you're fettered to, something you're bound by.
This is the way men used to do it. They would take an animal. They would take that animal in what we would call the Ancient Near East, the Arab world as we know it today before the time of Christ. They would get this animal and they would take him and they would cut him in half. Then they would stand on opposite sides of that animal.
When you cut an animal in half, you might imagine there would be a lot of blood that would be there. One man would stand there, another man would stand at the other side of the animal, and they would say, "This is what we agree to do together: to live by this term, to share with each other in this way, to agree to serve each other and to deal in this form of business."
Then they would walk through the animal in this fashion. Right around until they got back to their original place. There were a couple of things going on here symbolically. First, when they walked through that, they both identified with the blood of the animal. They became mingled as one blood.
In other words, you are no different than me. We are of one purpose, one mind. We share together one life. We identify, if you will, with the one blood that is now attached to us. We are kindred in this. What we're also saying is if any of us violates this, then may what happened to this animal happen to us. May we be split in two, stricken, and have this awful death.
Then, lastly, even then they knew that the eight… When you walk through this, what figure are you making? You're making a figure eight, which we know has an endless loop to it. Those of us who had some calculus at different times in our life know when you take an eight and turn it on its side it becomes a symbol for infinity. This never ends. As long as I'm here and have breath, we agree together that this is how we will live.
This is what God did. He promised Abraham land, a leader, and he said later, "You must live a life a certain way so that I can bless you." I'll explain that in a minute. Watch this. If you have a Bible, turn to Genesis 15 with me. Genesis 15 is when God is going to adopt the custom of the day in order to communicate to Abram, "I am committed to you."
So God said to Abraham, "I promised you three chapters ago that I was going to do some good stuff for you. I've done that. "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans [modern day Iraq and Iran] , to give you this land to possess it." So Abraham had made his way hundreds of miles across the desert near the Mediterranean coast to this land that was going to flow with milk and honey, this sweet piece of land that would be full of springs in the desert, an abundant and good land.
We know it largely as modern-day Israel, but it would be really expanding all the way from portions of Egypt, all the way over to where the great Euphrates is, which is pushed way over near where we know Iraq is. God promised all that land to Abraham and his descendents. He says, "'…to give you this land to possess it.' [Abraham] said, 'O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?'"
This is what God said, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." An interesting and a sundry collection of barnyard animals. He said, "Bring them on over here." "Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but..." For reasons we don't have time to go into here. "…he did not cut the birds."
That's what was going on. We have these animals that are split. What's about to happen? Abraham and God are about to cut a contract. Where Abraham has already shown that he believes God, "I trust you. I believe your heart. I believe you are good. I have faith in you." Abraham, the Scripture says, was reckoned as righteous by faith, knowledge of who God was, agreement that he was good, and trusting in God by leaving what he knew that was familiar to him to go and find a life where God said life was.
God now was going to ratify this agreement by cutting a contract, cutting a covenant, binding himself in a testament agreement with Abraham. Watch this. It says in verse 12, "Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him."
Abram fell asleep. He had this great sense of awe and dread because God is about to cut a deal with him and this is what happened. It says that in verse 17, "It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces."
Notice this man over here, Abram, doesn't walk, because he is sleeping. This is a one-sided deal. God reveals himself in the picture of a consuming fire, one that will consume all that enters into it, a smoking oven and a flaming torch, one who will lead the way, guided out of the darkness, which you fear and you dread, to a place of life and light.
God has revealed himself as one who is good and will lead you to a place of life and one who will consume you if you are not rightly related to him. It says that this smoking oven and this flaming torch made its own way through the split animals. God swore by himself since there was no higher authority that, "Abraham, I will unconditionally bless you. I will give you that land. I will give you that leader. I will allow you to live in that blessed relationship with me."
Now what's interesting is a couple of things happened. This is, by the way, where, "…the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates…" That's how large the land is that God promised Abraham and his descendents. You'll see Israel occupy it one day.
Promise in chapter 12: land, seed, and blessing. The land is ratified right here in Genesis 15. Second Samuel, chapter 7, verse 13, there was a guy by the name of David who was king. David was a descendent of Abraham. You'll find out that it was there that God cut a covenant with David that was a fulfillment of what he promised Abraham that there would be an eternal son of David, one who would come from the line of David who would one day reign forever in this land that Genesis 15, God swore that he would give them.
Now you have the land, and for it to be an eternal kingdom you need an eternal leader, so that's promised in 2 Samuel 7:13. All we're waiting for now is the eternal blessing. Well something happened. There was an unconditional promise given by God that you would have this leader. There was an unconditional promise given by God that you would have this land, but somewhere along the way, there was another deal that was cut.
Jeremiah, chapter 31. If you have your Bible, I want you to turn there. I'm going to show you how all this leads to you. In Jeremiah 31, this is what Jeremiah writes to Abraham's descendents, because we know that Abraham's descendents repeatedly turned their heart on God. Abraham did it. Isaac did it. Jacob did it. All his sons did it. The nation did it under King Saul.
David turned his heart away at different times. Solomon did it. Rehoboam was oppressive. Jeroboam was oppressive. The 19 kings of the north never had a good one. The 20 kings of the south, only five were good at certain periods of their lives. Over periods of hundreds of years, man had shown himself despite the fact that the Jews were God's blessed people; they really didn't care much for God's blessing.
Jeremiah comes at the end of this progression as a prophet to the people saying, "Look, folks, this is the consequence of your continual stiff-neckedness toward God, this God who wants to bless you, who has promised you this land, who has offered you this leader. Let me tell you why it's so miserable with you. Let me tell you why you've been led to bondage. Let me tell you why you've been oppressed. Let me tell you why you suffer. But let me also tell you this."
"'Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…'" A new covenant, a new testimony, a new agreement. This is, "…not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…" Watch this.
This is very important. Because what happened when they came out of Egypt? We know, as Cecil B. DeMille has revealed to us, that Charlton Heston received the word from God and God gave them a law. God said, "If you do this, then I will do that. If you are a people who live this way in relationship with me, then I will bless you."
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, God, who has unconditionally promised the Jews, slapped a condition that they had to meet in order to get the blessing that they wanted. When you put a condition on an unconditional contract, you kind of go, "That isn't right! That's not fair!" Watch how God solves that.
Because what God was going to do is he said, "Look, Abraham, the purpose of me blessing you was so that folks might know who I am. If you are a bunch of rebellious, self-willed, murderous, immoral, insecure, materialistically-driven people, how are you going to convince the world that you're my children? Because none of those things have anything to do with me.
I want to make you a great nation, but I want you to be a people who walk with me, who because you're my children, look like me, who carry forth my name on the earth and give me glory by the lives that you lead." God said, "I will not give you the blessing that you want if you don't live this way."
He said, "I know you can't do it perfectly, and that's why I'm going to set up a system of substitutionary atonement that you can have faith that through your participating in sacrificing of animals until I ultimately satisfy my wrath one day that I would look over your transgressions for a time until I ultimately satisfied it, but have faith that my goodness is available to you even within the context of the law."
They didn't offer the sacrifices consistently. They didn't care very much about the law consistently. God's heart brought them to a place of judgment, saying, "You can't have this." So what happens? Unconditional promise that had a condition set upon it when they came out of Egypt. God says, "I'm going to make a new covenant, a new agreement."
"…My covenant which they broke, although I was a [faithful] husband to them…" I was always there. When I took you out of Egypt and you were thirsty, I gave you water. When you were hungry, I gave you bread. When you were sick of bread, I gave you quail. When enemies came upon you that were greater in number and might than you, I delivered you.
When there was wickedness in the land and walled cities and you were a bunch of vagrant, wandering people, I delivered them into your hands. I collapsed the walls. I held the sun still in the heavens. I did everything I needed to do to show you that I was faithful to you, and yet your hearts turned away from me again and again and again and so I could not bless you the way I wanted to bless you because you were unfaithful to me.
In contrast to your unfaithfulness, I'm going to cut a new covenant, "…which I will make with the house of Israel after those days…" I will do a couple of things. Watch this. "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Just like I wanted.
God is going to say, "There's going to be a new deal I cut with you. In this new deal I cut with you, I am going to allow you not to have an external law that you're trying to always go, 'Did we follow that? Did we do that?' but I'm going to embed my law in your heart. I'm going to give you a heart that is tender toward me, that loves me, that in your heart you know what is right and what is wrong and you love it.
There is going to be a day when all of you embrace what is right and what is true." Then he goes on to say, not only that but, "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me…" You don't even have to tell the story anymore because I'm going to come upon you as an entire nation and I'm going to give you the gift of knowing truth.
I'm going to make it universal in the nation. "'…from the least of them to the greatest of them,' declares the LORD…" On top of that, "…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Now watch what God is going to do. "There's going to be a time, Abraham's people, when I come along and I'm going to give you my law, a love for me, a tenderness toward me, and I'm going to forget what you have done so that you'll then be the people who will live the if so I can do the then."
God himself will, in grace, come into Israel and meet the condition that he called them to so he can give them what he had unconditionally promised them to have. Why is this significant? Let me show you one other thing, by the way, because this idea shows up again in Ezekiel 36. If you have your Bible, you want to turn to Ezekiel 36. Jeremiah 31:31 and Ezekiel 36:22 and following are significant passages for you and me in the Old Testament.
As you understand the story, you're going to see where you come crashing in in a moment. "Therefore [Ezekiel, who was a contemporary of Jeremiah] say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went."
Watch this. When you are asked by people, "Why did Jesus die on the cross?" most people, and men who do what I do will tell you, "Jesus died on the cross to show you how much God loves you." The old statement goes, "I asked God how much he loved me and he spread out his arms and he said, 'This much.'"
Do you know the Bible contradicts that belief? Do you know the primary reason that Jesus died on the cross? It was not for you, but it was so that he might vindicate his holy name which people who he wants a relationship with have profaned and so in order that (Romans 3) he might be both just (in other words, he will execute justice against wrongdoing) and the justifier of those who love him. In order that God's glory might not be compromised, he did something.
He offered himself as the sacrifice that would perfectly satisfy an eternally offended God because there would be an eternal being who would be sacrificed in order to bridge the gap between a finite, rebellious people and an infinite and holy God. There would be one who would come who would leave the comfort of heaven and pursue humankind and offer up his own life as a sacrifice, whose body would be split, pierced, if you will.
He would be wounded and his blood would be poured out that those who accept it can identify with that blood and say, "I want to be agreement with God that we identified together through this blood that God is satisfied through this blood and I am covered in this blood; therefore, God is no longer in need of judging me because his wrath has been poured out. I identify with that which has been completely sufficient for God."
The Bible uses the word propitiated, which means God is satisfied that his justice has been executed on the person of Jesus Christ. What a lover! Look at this. Therefore, thus says the Lord God, "I'm not going to do what I'm about to do for your sake. I'm going to do it for my name so I won't be profaned, so I won't contradict myself in saying, 'I love you and I'm not going to be holy in this instance. I'm just going to wink and nod and let you come in.' No, I'm going to be holy and justice will be poured out."
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.""All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him." It says God was pleased to have him suffer that he might be called holy and that those who he loves might come home.
"'I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,' declares the Lord GOD, 'when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.'" Watch this. He says, "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols."
This is God's word to Israel. "Moreover, I will give you…" Watch this. "…a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone…" **This heart of rebellion, this heart of indifference and I will give it a malleable, tender, soft heart to me."…and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live[the life that I can bless]…"** Do you see what happened here?
Unconditional promise: I will give you land, leader, and blessing. This is the means, the new covenant that God says, "When you live the way that you will live by my supernatural enabling and ability, then you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers so that you'll be my people and I will be your God."
God satisfies the condition of the covenant so that he can unconditionally bless Abraham's descendents, but here's the story. When Abraham's descendent through David came in the person of Jesus Christ born of Mary, born of Joseph, he didn't look like they thought he would look. It says that they rejected him. It says that they themselves became the ones who slaughtered this Lamb. They themselves are the ones who delighted in his death.
God said, "I just sent you my Son, the last and greatest of the prophets, the one who the law anticipated, and the one the prophets spoke about." Then over here was a group of people who watched this Lamb, who watched his love, who watched his life and said, "I've never seen such love as that. I've never heard such call to me, because if he spoke to Abraham, he spoke to all of us.
I will come to this one and I will accept his offer of my life for me. This is your Messiah? This is the one who you've been looking for? Why do you reject him? I will accept him. I will come. I have knowledge of who he is. I have seen his works that authenticate his words. I accept that he is God who came to give his life for me and that I should come to him, weary with my striving over here for life apart from God, and I will come and accept this provision. I will trust in it alone."
Guess what God does for people who do that? He puts a new heart within them. He makes them again. It's like they're a new person. On top of that, it says that he puts his Spirit inside of them. Paul says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…"
Now watch this.
I didn't just say that Jeremiah 31:31 and Ezekiel 36:22 and following were fulfilled in those of us who came in from over here. I said some of the things he said he would do for Israel one day are happening right now with us. If you believe in this Jesus, you are made new. His Spirit lives inside of you. You learn to love what is good. Do you still do what is evil? Has God so thoroughly written the law in our hearts that we sin no more?
John says, "Don't you ever believe that, Christian. Don't you ever believe that, follower of Christ. If you say you know no sin, you're a liar and you make God out to be a liar." You still, like I do, make decisions sometimes that are painful to me and painful to others, but I hate it when I sin. I don't hate it anymore when I'm caught.
I hate it when I find out that I've failed somebody or hurt somebody or offended somebody. I go ask for forgiveness as that was nothing like my life should've been in Jesus Christ. I am so thankful that he has made provision for that, but I am pursuing him and he has given me a love for him as I follow after him.
This is not the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 as I come over here as a Gentile or even as a Jew as the nation as a whole rejects him. Individual Jews come. Individual Gentiles come. God's Spirit indwells us and our hearts are new. Yet he has not accomplished all that he said he would accomplish one day with the people. That is why the people, by the way, are still not in the land.
They're in a piece of the land, but I wouldn't say they have peace while they're in that piece of the land. Would you? Not at all. Do you know when they will? Zechariah tells us when they look on his whom they have pierced and they weep over the pain that they have caused their Father Jehovah and they recognize Jesus for who he is. When you find the nation of Israel in its plurality recognizing their Messiah as the one whom they rejected, you will find some of what God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 comes into fulfillment, but I get ahead of myself in the story.
This is the point of the story this week. What does somebody who responds to this offer of love, whose body was split that God made a covenant, "If you walk through this blood and accept it and trust in it with me, you'll be my kindred spirit, you'll be my son, and you'll pass out of judgment and into life," what should happen to that person?
If you say yes to me and you slip my ring onto your heart and you say, "I trust in Jesus. I am betrothed to you. By faith, I accept your offer of love. I rest in him." God says it should be a radical transformation. A number of years ago, I was teaching a Bible study to a bunch of junior high kids.
I was doing it in another room from where the mom in the kitchen always made the snacks after school. This was the lesson I taught them that week. I said, "Hey guys, I have great news. I am getting married." I knew this mom was always trying to fix me up with somebody, so she was going to be ecstatic at that. I said, "I'm getting married."
The kids said, "That's awesome! Who is she?" I go, "Well listen, I just met her, but I'm attracted to her in a lot of ways. We're getting married this weekend, in fact, but I'm not going to live with her all the time. She's great and all, she's the one, but I'm only going to hang out with her probably just one day on the weekend." I could hear at first what was a lot of excitement in the kitchen go to kind of just dead silence.
I knew that we weren't making cookies anymore. I knew that we were listening. I said to the kids, "Here's the deal. No really, I'm marrying, I'm giving an oath of commitment, but I'm going to still date around. But one hour a week, I'm going to hold her hand and we're going to go places and be together and be married."
Of course, they were concerned, as was this mom, who couldn't stand it any longer. "What are you talking about?" I said, "Let me tell you what I'm talking about. How crazy would that be if you say that you want to enter into a covenant agreement with somebody and yet you're going to cut them in with one hour, one day, half of the time?
When you give yourself in love to somebody, the idea is that you no longer act in such a way as they might marry you. You're already married, but Todd Wagner and Alex Wagner continually say, 'How can I serve you?' not so you'll marry me, I'm married, but because I love you, because I've pledged my life for yours, because I said I'd cherish you and honor you. What can I do to care for you, to venerate you, to love you, to respect you, to mutually submit together in the order of role that God has given us to care for each other's best interests?"
I don't do that so Alex will say yes. She said yes, but we do it because we have covenanted to love. There should be a transformation of heart. It always happens. This is what Paul had in mind. By the way, this guy named Paul, who was previously a terrorist by the name of Saul, was a gentleman who when he first came to Christ, nobody believed it.
They said, "I don't want anything to do with him!" It says the rest of the disciples avoided him because they thought that his profession was a trick, but there was somebody who got to know Paul and said, "No, this brother has changed and his heart is no longer a heart of terror. His heart has been made new. He is now tender toward God. He has seen the Messiah.
He has trusted in him and is in love with Christ; therefore, he is in love with what God loves and cares for what God cares for and serves who God serves. He believes in the resurrection of the sacrifice as a sign that God was satisfied, that the wages of sin which is death has been met so no longer is judgment necessary. He believes his sins have been forgiven. Because he is in relationship with this God, this Paul is now living in a radical way that none of us can explain."
Second Corinthians, chapter 5. Look at this. Paul writes to the church, and he says in this midst of this, "For we know…" Meaning, "Because I believe in the resurrection." "…that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands…"
In other words, this life that I'm in, this tent that I'm in, this body is not what I'm ultimately concerned about because I know that even as Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:14) has been raised from the dead that I identify with that Jesus and will be raised from the dead myself. So I long to be with God, but while I'm bound in this earthly tent, I will radically serve him.
He goes on to develop this idea for about 10 verses. Then you get to verse 11. This is what Paul said. He says, "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…" Knowing that God is going to judge, knowing that God will call men into account if they don't accept this covenant or if they break this covenant, "…we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences."
This is what he means. "I want my life to be made known to God by the way I respond and to my own heart; I know that I am the Lord's." It can be seen this way. "We are not again commending ourselves to you [by the way we live] but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart."
This is the key, verse 13. "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you." Paul says there are only two ways that believers should be seen, two ways people who have accepted God's offer of a new relationship where our sin will be remembered no more and our iniquities will be forgiven that will have a new heart with a Spirit living in relationship with us, he says there are only two ways that you should respond.
You should either be seen as somebody who is completely unreasonable, that you live as if you're from another world, like you're an alien on this earth, that you, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth," or… It says of Jesus in Mark, chapter 3, verse 21 that his kinfolk came to him seeking to save him from himself because he was beside himself.
They had never seen anybody live the way Jesus lived, love the way Jesus loved, and speak the way Jesus spoke. They thought, "We don't recognize this. He must be crazy." Jesus says, "I'm not crazy. I am what you should be. You don't recognize it because you don't know the God who made you. I know I look crazy because I give my life for those who hate me, and none of you do that, but that's the glory of God."
Jesus says, "Live the way I live. Don't do to others what you can do to them in your power. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Don't kill your enemies. Love your enemies. Pray for your enemies. If somebody slaps you on the cheek, give them the other one." They go, "You're crazy." Jesus says, "If I'm crazy, it's that you might see the craziness of God and his radical pursuit of sinners."
I'll tell you something else Jesus was. He was the wisest man who ever lived. They would pull all the scholars of the city together and debate with him. In one or two sentences, he would completely silence them. His life was the most attractive life that had ever been lived. Everybody said, "We may not like this guy, but we cannot argue with his life: the way that he loves, he forgives, he is tender, he does all that is right, and he conducts himself with purity and tenderness and gentleness and goodness. We may not like him, but we cannot criticize his life."
Do you know that there was a time when Christ stood up and said, "If any of you have anything here that you can condemn me with, tell me of my sin." They left. They said, "That's a life. We don't like what you're saying because it convicts us, but I can't argue with that life." Can I make an application here?
Folks, if the world doesn't see you as nuts in the way that you handle your money, in the way that you have eyes for one man or one woman, in the way that you date, not exploiting others for your own immediate pleasure, in the way that you invest with your life in eternity, in the way that you reconcile through conflict, in the way that you admit error when the world says, "Deny, deny, deny. Run, run, run."
If the world doesn't say, "You're crazy! You're going to get abused." There have been a number of times in my life that folks have said, "Wagner, you can't do that, man!" I had somebody recently tell me, "I don't know why you think that's the right thing to do, but you can't live by the Golden Rule all the time. That's the wrong way to operate in certain circumstances. You're crazy!" I was told that in the last three weeks.
I don't, unfortunately, always operate by the Golden Rule because sometimes even with me I turn my heart. Don't you? When I do, I have to come back and say, "Forgive me. In that moment, I gave myself too much license and in doing so I did not show you the transformation that I have found in God. Will you forgive me? Can I tell you why I know I have peace with God? Not because I'm a good man, but because I have a good God."
If the world doesn't see you as nuts, it ought to cause you to pause. If the world doesn't see you as genius in the way that you conduct your life with such honor and integrity, it ought to give you some pause. Are you different in the way you do business? The world says, "I may not like the guy, but I can't argue with his character. I may not like the guy, but I can't argue with the way he dated me. I may not like the guy, but I can't argue with the way he treats his wife, treats his kids, treats the community, serves others, and invests his money."
That's a life that's above reproach. Not perfect, but when that guy makes a mistake instead of hiding it, excusing it, he runs at it. See, that's evidence of the fact you have come into a relationship with him. Let me tell you something else that's evidence. You do two things. At some point in your life, you stand up before a watching world and you say, "I have come to Jesus.
I'm going to take a word from the Greek called baptizō, which means identify and I will identify myself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Lord. You can know for the rest of my life that I'm not trying to cut any other deal with God except his life for mine." You do that one time. It doesn't make you saved. It's what you do because you are.
The second thing you do is you gather regularly with other believers. Every time that you're together and anytime you break bread, anytime you take of the cup, you use that broken bread as a reminder that his body was cut for you. Every time you drink that wine or drink the fruit of the vine, you remember that when his body was broken for you, that his blood was shed, that a new covenant might be cut.
You identify yourself with his blood as a sign that you are now in God's family. The third thing you do is you respond to that in such a way that the world says, "That person's heart has changed. Clearly that life is more divine than it was. There's a transformation there. The Holy Spirit is leading that life." We're about to share this cup.
Anybody at Watermark, anybody who is here today who has ever come to a place where they have acknowledged that they have turned their heart to God and believes that through his sacrifice alone you can be acceptable to him, is welcome to take it. You need to know you're making a profession of faith when you do this. If you're a guest or a visitor that is here today, please we're not taking… You're not going to be more loved by God because you take it. You're not going to be in more trouble with him because you don't.
I will tell you this. This is a picture of the fact that God loves you so recklessly that he himself met the condition which you could never have met. In fact, he says if you take this cup, if you take this bread and you acknowledge that it's the symbol of God dying for you and shedding his blood for you and you don't move to trust in Jesus Christ, you heap condemnation on yourself.
I'm here to tell you that Jesus is the lover of your soul. He has been reckless in that love to where he left the fellowship of the Trinity to become the Lamb that was sacrificed that God could unconditionally meet your need. Receive the elements and we'll take them together.
That's really what happens when you enter into this covenant agreement, this agreement of grace. God has done what you could never do for yourself because he unconditionally swore that he would draw man into a relationship with him. Will you come to Jesus? If you have come, he has given you a one-time call to obedience. Stand up and identify yourself with his death, burial, and resurrection. Then in an ongoing way, he has said, "Be constantly reminded that his body was broken for you. The body of Christ, which is broken for you."
When that body was broken, that blood was spilled, he says it was the blood of the new covenant, that "Every time you drink of this cup, you do it in remembrance of me." The blood of Christ shed for you.
Father, you tell us that if we have entered by faith, if we have accepted your offer of love that something radical should happen. Our hearts are new. We are made new again. That by grace, you invade our hearts and that it is no longer about us. It's all about you because you give us a heart that is tender toward you, that loves the law.
You have placed your Spirit in us as a pledge that corrects us, that convicts us, that reproves us, that as we yield to it bears the fruit that others might recognize our life and go, "Where is the patience and the love and the gentleness and goodness and self-control and kindness coming from?" We can point to you and say, "It's all about you," that we have nothing to offer other than our relationship with God.
Father, may the lives of individuals in this room who have entered into this trust relationship with you, who have given you their hearts, may they so radically change that the world says, "These people are crazy with the way they love, the way they operate, the way they live, the way they serve, the way they give. These people… If everybody's lives were like theirs, what a better world it would be."
Father, that should be the testimony of citizens of heaven who live for now on this earth. I pray it would be increasingly true of this body for our friends who are here today who cannot, in clear conscience, take this bread and take this cup as a reminder of your love for them. May they not be able to stir the image of your relentless seeking for them.
Lord, we know this. "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that'd be a present far too small [to give to you]. A love so amazing [as this,] a love so divine [as this] demands [our heart], our soul, our all." You didn't get on bended knee to offer love to us. You got on cross and were pierced for us. Today we say that cross is wonderful. We ask that you would help us by the enabling of your Spirit to respond to it fully, in Christ's name, amen.
Why the change in these people? Because they have a new heart that has been won by reckless love. Why the change in these people? Because the Spirit of goodness, of holiness, of righteousness, of eternal love…God…dwells with them. If people aren't asking why this church is so different, we have to ask ourselves, "What have we really done with this Jesus?"
If you are here today and you're not sure what you have done with this Jesus, would you let us labor with you and let you understand how you can rest in him? Those of you who have responded with me, will you radically pursue giving your life to him when you fail owning it, reconciling it, rejoicing in his provision, and pursuing righteousness again in the context of community and surrender? May your complete act of worship be your continual and complete surrender to him who is worthy of your life, your soul, your all.
Have a great life of worship.
We all love a great story...one filled with rescue, romance, and unrelenting love...one filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Stories like this resonate with something deep inside all of us. Why? Because there is a greater story that we are all a part of. A story so embedded in our beings that we find even a shadow of it irresistible. It is a story that makes the most audacious claims in history, and a story which uniquely and powerfully provides hope, meaning and answers to all of life's great questions.