Before I push on any further, let me say, this is not my thought. I’m not the one who came up with the idea. In fact, there are many, many who are smarter than I; are more famous than I; and who are much wealthier than I who have said the exact same thing. In fact, I’d like to read a quote from one of those folks right now.
Not too many years ago, a gentleman by the name of Luc Ferry wrote a very good little book titled, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. Mr. Ferry is a french philosopher and secular humanist. This means, he is an agnostic bordering on atheist. His book was very well received, and at the very beginning, he says this:
I suggest that we accept a different approach to the question, “What is philosophy?’ and start from a very simple proposition, one that contains the central question of all philosophy: that the human being, as distinct from God, is mortal or, to speak like the philosophers, is a ‘finite being’, limited in space and time. As distinct from animals, moreover, a human being is the only creature who is aware of his limits. He knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, almost unimaginable. And, naturally enough, he is inclined to turn first of all to those religions which promise ‘salvation.’
I hope you caught what Ferry was saying. If you didn’t, let me try and help you. Basically, we are the only species that knows we are going to die. We are the only creature on this planet, that we are aware of, that can think about the fact that we are going to die. And it is disturbing. It is absurd. It is quite difficult for us to imagine it and wrap our heads around it. Salvation, for Ferry, becomes our ability to cope with our mortality. Somehow, some way, we need to solve the problem of death, and I would submit to you that we haven’t exactly done a very good job of it. Even in the church, we haven’t done so well.
Some of you here this morning might question me on that one. You might say, “Well, pastor, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus, so I’m not worried about death. I’m not worried about what will happen to me when I die.” I hear you loud and clear, and the first part of this sermon isn’t necessarily directed at you. Perhaps you might find your toes being stepped on in a few moments though. Hang in there. A few of you might have come to that place in your lives where you look at death and you compare it to all the trials and tribulations you are going through. You might welcome it.
That may sound a bit morbid, but I learned a valuable lesson from my grandfather when he was dying of cancer. I remember taking him to radiation, and it was literally burning him from the inside out. He was in pain and agony. When we got back to his house, I remember him clearly crying out from his bedroom, “Why is it so hard for a man to die? Why is it so hard for a man to die?” At that point in his life, death was preferable to the misery he was going through, but my grandfather wasn’t afraid of death. He knew what was on the other side. Many today don’t. Including many who consider themselves Christian. Many, many are still seeking salvation. Everyone does even if they are not aware of it.
You might tell me right now, “Okay, pastor, you’ve said that twice. You’ve said that everyone seeks salvation even if they aren’t aware of it. Where is your proof? Where is your evidence that even those who do not believe in God are seeking salvation?”
First, I gave you Luc Ferry’s quote from a guy who is really, really smart and well accepted in his area of expertise. Now, I turn your attention to how we in society act. I will submit to you that we are deathly afraid of death; consciously and unconsciously. How so? Well, as they say, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Think about this for a moment: why do we spend billions upon billions of dollars on health care? Why does this industry keep growing and growing and growing and making more and more off of procedures, drugs, and other such things? Why was there such an uproar and still is an uproar surrounding health care in our nation? Why do we consider health care a right? Why do we spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on procedures and treatments for people who have incurable diseases? Why? I’ll tell you why. The healthcare industry is working to stave off death as long as possible. The healthcare industry is working to keep death at arm’s length and stave off the inevitable because every second we draw breath, according to them, is precious. Some believe we should fight for every last minute of life we have on this planet because death is the enemy. We must keep it at bay.
Think now about this: why do we have the department of homeland security? Why, since 9/11 have we given up many of our individual rights to the government? Why do we subject ourselves to body scanners, pat downs, and other such things in airport security? Why have we become accustomed to the government scanning our emails and listening in on our cell phone conversations? Why have we spend countless billions, even trillions of dollars to keep us safe? Here’s why: we want to be safe. We want to ensure that no terrorist will come along and bomb us and rob us of our lives. We will give up our freedom to stave off death. Our lives are too precious.
Here’s another one: why are there so many items available to help you look younger? Why do people spend millions and millions of dollars on make up; hair coloring kits; shampoos that prevent you from going bald, and other such things? Why is the health food section in stores growing larger and larger? Why do we focus on exercise and eating healthy? Why do folks tell us to avoid fast food, sodas, sugar, and anything that actually tastes good? Because, it will kill you, and you don’t want to welcome death any earlier than you have too, right?
There is more we could say about how we spend our money. Let’s talk a moment about how we spend our time. Why are we so busy? Think about this deeply for a moment because I know what some of you will say. Some of you will say that I’m busy because I have to do so many things. I have to get the kids to all their activities. I have to get my work done. I have to attend these meetings. I have to attend these events. There is so much to do and so little time to get it all squeezed in! Let me stop for just a second and say two things. Number one: no, you are not required to do all those things. You choose to do them. We all choose to do them. If something is a priority in our lives, we make time to fit it in. Retired people say this all the time: I wonder how I got so much accomplished while I was working? You got so much accomplished because these things were important to you!! That’s the reality of life. If something is important to us; we find the time to do it! So, if that is the case, why do we fill our calendars up with so much stuff. Why is everything so important? Why do we make sure we are at all our children’s events? Why do kids have so many events these days? Why are there so many options of things to do? Why are there so many fundraisers and activities on the weekends? Why do kids’ sports now last all year? Here’s why: we want to squeeze as much as possible into our lives. We want to value every single second of every single day because...because we only have a limited amount of time. We only have a short period of time here on earth, and we have to make the most of it. Our time is valuable because one day, we will no longer have any time. We will die. Our busy-ness is directly related to our view of death.
Do you see why I say everyone seeks salvation? Everyone seeks to stave off death? Everyone seeks a solution to the problem of death through healthcare; through safety; through diet, exercise, and trying to look younger; through filling up every waking moment so that we cram as much into our lives as possible. We are busy trying to obtain our salvation by fighting off death!!
And where is it leading us? How do most of us feel at the end of a given week? How do most of us feel late Saturday night after the kids’ or grandkids’ baseball game? How do most of us feel after going to one more fundraiser? How many of us find ourselves full of energy? Full of joy? Full of vim and vigor ready to tackle one more thing?
That would be, none. Well, maybe my vision is clouded. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sure as hell don’t see anyone full of energy; full of joy; and full of happiness. I see folks just trying to survive. Just trying to get through one more thing, but scared to death to say no to anything–or check that–to say no to the right things so that they can actually find salvation and have their lives transformed.
If you noticed, every example I used earlier are examples of us trying to save ourselves. Every example is us trying to spend money, or use our time to stave off death on our own. We are trying to obtain salvation by our own efforts and our own strength because we think its all up to us. We have been convinced that we can attain salvation on our own and defeat death if we just try harder, just spend more money, just make ourselves look younger, just find the right doctor, just keep ourselves busy so that we don’t have to think about it. We think we can do it all on our own, but the truth of the matter is: we cannot save ourselves. We cannot spend enough money. We cannot put in enough hours. We cannot avoid death forever. Eventually, it creeps in on us, and we have to face it. And we have to face the fact that we are unable to obtain our own salvation. We have to face the fact that our salvation can only come from outside ourselves.
The ancient people knew this. They knew it much more readily than we do. They did not have all the trappings of technology to keep their minds occupied. While they were farming; while they were tending their flocks, they were forced to think. Death was ever around them as infant mortality was high. People only lived into their 40s or 50s. They understood that death was right on their doorstep, and they had to wrestle with it. They knew that salvation must come from something outside themselves, and they searched for it. They searched for someone or something to bring them salvation.
1 Peter chapter one beginning at verse 10, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory.” The prophets searched and searched. They knew that one day salvation would come. God had promised such salvation to them. And they wondered what it might be. They wondered how it would be enacted. They had some inkling through what God had revealed in their prophecies, but they wondered how long it would be in coming.
Verse 12, “12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” God revealed to these prophets that they were not going to see this salvation. They were the heralds. They were the ones getting things ready for us. God was using them to say, “Get ready. God is acting in history, and He will act with some very good news.”
And what is that good news? What is the Gospel?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
God acted decisively through Jesus to bring about our salvation. It was done purely and solely by Jesus who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserved. Jesus made things right between us and God on the cross, and then at the resurrection showed us what the end result will be. For those who trust in Jesus, we too will be resurrected because Jesus’ righteousness has been bestowed upon us. Death is defeated. Death has lost its sting–not by anything we did or can do, but by everything Jesus did. Salvation is accomplished for you, on your behalf at a great cost, not to you, but to God. God died for you while you were unlovable to bring about your salvation.
When this enters into your heart, you start learning to say no to all the things that promise you salvation. You start saying no to all the busy-ness, and you start saying yes to worship. You start saying no to saving yourself through your job and work, and you start saying yes to loving God and your neighbor. When your heart is convicted that death is only a threshold into eternal life, you realize you have all the time in the world. No longer does fear drive you. No longer do you have to squeeze every minute out of life. No longer are you driven by safety and security. You are now free because you are bought with a great price.
Some of you may wonder why I include John 3:16-17 in every sermon. You may wonder why I keep hitting it over and over and over. You may wonder why I keep telling you God died for you when you were and are a sinner to obtain your salvation. Here’s why. Angels long to look into these things. The Greek word there is a bit stronger than long–it’s usually translated lust–an unsatisfied desire. Angels lust to look into the Gospel–into God’s saving action on behalf of you and me. It’s that mind boggling. It’s that wonderful. It’s that liberating. Jesus has obtained your salvation for you when you did not deserve it. Live into that freedom. Amen.