Last summer I was in London with two of my children, Chelsea and Jordan. And we were so excited to tour that fascinating city. So after we settled into our hotel room we walked down to the bus stop to jump onto a big, red double decker bus.
We waited for about twenty minutes until the bus finally came, but when it did it went right by us. It didn't even slow down. And so I ran after it yelling, "Hey wait a minute! Stop! We want to get on!" But by then it was too late. The bus was gone.
And my kids were so embarrassed. They rolled their eyes and were like, "Who is this guy? We don't know him!" And then someone at the bus stop politely said, "Sir is that the bus you wanted? If it is then you need to wave it down before it gets here because if you don't wave it down it won't stop!"
So we waited another twenty minutes. And when the next one came I did more than just wave it down. I practically lied down in the street to get the bus to stop! And again my kids were like, "Dad, you've got issues!"
Which made me chuckle this week when I read that some years ago the London Transit Authority got a lot of complaints about their buses not stopping to pick up passengers. So they put an explanation in the newspaper that has become somewhat infamous with public relations departments.
The explanation said, "It is impossible for us to maintain our schedule if we are always having to stop and pick up passengers." Did you get that? We've got a schedule to keep and we can't keep it if we have to stop at every corner and pick up people! What? Hello? Isn't that the purpose of a bus company? Shouldn't that be priority one?
Each year thousands of new companies start up in this country. But after five years most of those companies have failed. And corporate consultants say that the common denominator among all those failed companies is that they have no clear purpose. They lack a specific goal and direction. They become like bus companies that stop picking up passengers.
In his book Principle Centered Leadership, Steven Covey writes, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." That's a good principle. That's a good principle for businesses and that's a good principle for churches too, who in the midst of all kinds of activity, all kinds of good things, can sometimes forget that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
This fall we spent three weeks unpacking our mission statement so that that doesn't happen to us here after 18 years. Valley View Community Church desires to be a community of grace impacting our world through life in Jesus.
That's a great mission and one that I believe God is pleased with, but even our mission statement is an expression of something more basic, more fundamental that is at the core of all we do around here. And that is the person and work of JESUS Christ. Who Jesus is and what he has done for us is priority one.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul reminds them of the main thing when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of FIRST IMPORTANCE: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
After writing a ten page letter that addressed hot topics like division in the church, sexual immorality, lawsuits, marriage, divorce, the single life, eating, drinking, worship, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, love ... Paul says please don't forget the main thing. The main thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose again and by trusting him alone we have eternal life. As we begin this new brand new year I want us as a church to remember the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
So let me share with you as simply as I can the gospel of Jesus Christ which is priority one.
Let me start with GRACE (Wrapped Gift) because that's what we are a community of grace. To illustrate grace we have a beautifully wrapped present. That's because the Scripture says that life, real life, eternal life is a gift from God.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT OF GOD is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Eternal life which is synonymous with entering God's kingdom, salvation and the promise of heaven when we die is a free gift with no strings attached. It cannot be earned or deserved the Bible says.
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT OF GOD.
Most of us, maybe all of us got gifts for Christmas. And when you get a gift you don't ask how much it costs and you don't pull out your wallet and say, "Thanks for the gift. Now what do I owe you for it?" That would be an insult to giver. We can't pay for a gift. As soon as we pay for a gift, it's not a gift anymore is it?
The life that Jesus offers us both here and in eternity can't be purchased. It must be received as a free gift. We get a better picture of this when we understand what the Bible says about us.
US (Life Ring)
The Bible says that all of us have a problem. Despite what my kids say, I'm not the only one with issues! We all have issues. We're all broken and need to be fixed. We're all like sheep who've gone astray. We're all drowning and need to be rescued. And so the life ring represents the help that we all need.
The Bible calls it sin. We all have a terminal case of the sin disease. Romans 3:23 says, for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is part of the human condition. We're all infected by it and affected by it. It wasn't always that way and won't always be that way, but it is now.
Sin doesn't mean that we're all as bad as we could be. But it does mean we're all as bad off as we could be. We may not abuse children or rob banks or gun down people in parking lots, but we all fall well short of God's standard of holiness.
Let me illustrate it this way. If you and I went down to the beach on the Jersey shore and each us picked up a stone to throw it across to the other side of the ocean you may throw your stone twice as far as I throw mine, but both of our stones would fall well short of Portugal. Some of us may be better than others for all kinds of reasons, but all of us fall short of the glory of God.
And because of that we cannot rescue ourselves we need to be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been SAVED, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
That comes into even sharper focus when we understand what the Scriptures say about God.
GOD (3 Wick Candle)
The Scripture says that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. In fact, 1 John 4:8 says, God is LOVE. And that's true. God is love. God loves us more than anyone else could ever love us. God loves us more than we love ourselves and wants the absolute best for us like loving parents want the absolute best for their children.
But God is also holy and just and must punish sin. Sin is an offense to the holiness of God. 1 John 1:5 says, God is LIGHT. In him is no darkness at all. There is no evil in God whatsoever and this three-wick candle represents the holiness and purity of our triune God.
So God loves us just the way we are and doesn't want to punish us. But God is also just and must punish our sin. As a parent I've come to see some of the tension that God feels.
I love my three kids and over the years it's never been easy to discipline them. But I learned that if I didn't discipline them justly I'd hear about it. Usually it would sound like, "That's not fair! You let them off the hook, but not me!" If all three kids choose to disobey and I only discipline one of them I'm not being just to the other two that get let off the hook or being very loving to the one that doesn't. Love and justice go hand in hand.
And both come together in our loving, just God. So as expression of God's love for us and God's judgment on sin he sends his Son Jesus Christ on a rescue mission.
JESUS CHRIST (Cross)
Who is Jesus Christ? The Scripture says he is the infinite God Man. He is 100% God and 100% man. John 1:1,14 says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS GOD. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Jesus Christ was more than just a man. He was God. And Jesus Christ was more than just God. He was a man. There has never been another Jesus and there never will be another Jesus. He is the sinless Son of God.
That's who the Bible says Jesus is. Now what do the Scriptures say that Jesus did for us?
The prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 53:5 that, He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the PUNISHMENT that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
That's the same thing Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
The Bible says that Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment that we deserve so that God can offer us life and forgiveness as a free gift.
Imagine this book contained a record of everything I ever thought, said, or did that displeased God. Call it a record book of my sin. It would be a thick one. Psychologists say that over 10,000 thoughts go through our heads each day. That's over 3.5 million thoughts a year. Even if this book just contained my thought life it would be a thick one.
Isaiah 53:6, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has LAID ON HIM the iniquity of us all.
God laid on his perfect Son Jesus Christ all my sin and all your sin. The punishment that we deserve was placed on him. And when the very last sin was paid for Jesus cried out from the cross in a loud voice, Tetelestai, "it is finished, paid in full."
And the gift of life and forgiveness that God is offering to us is received in only one way. And that is by faith.
FAITH (Empty Stool)
What is faith? Faith means to trust Jesus, that who he is and what we he did is true, for you. Faith is not just believing a set of facts about Christ the way we believe a set of facts about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. I can believe that those great men existed. I can study about them and learn a lot about their lives. But believing they existed is not the same as trusting them to give me life and the forgiveness of sin.
Faith is trusting Christ alone for our eternal life. Jesus said in John 6:47, I tell you the truth, whoever BELIEVES has eternal life.
Let me illustrate the difference with this stool. I can look at this stool, study this stool, believe that this stool will hold me up. But if I don't sit down on this stool I'm not really trusting it to hold me up. A lot of people can look at Jesus, study about Jesus, believe that he existed, but it's only when they sit down on Jesus and trust him alone that he gives us eternal life.
And according to the apostle John we can know for sure that we have that life living inside us. In 1 John 5:13 we read, I write these things to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.
Do you know that this morning? Are you confident that you've received the free gift of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ completely for the forgiveness of sin? It is finished. There is nothing else left for you to do, but receive the gift of God's grace.
That's the main thing. That's priority one. That's how I want us to begin this New Year as a church community. Moving ahead with confidence in who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us.
For many of us this is a good review and a reminder of why we are building our life on priority one. But for some of us this is fuzzy and perhaps you need some words to help you articulate your faith in Jesus and your gratitude to God for his grace in rescuing you. If that's the case I'd like to help you do that right now. Let's pray together.
If you prayed that prayer or if you have any questions about what I've said this morning please don't hesitate to speak with me or someone else in the Valley View community. We would love to help you know for sure that you have the life that Jesus came to give us. That is priority one.
Questions of the Week
- The word "gospel" means "good news". In a nutshell, how would you describe the good news of Jesus? Why is the news good?
- What does it mean that God is love? That God is just? How do those two qualities relate in the person of God?
- Why did Bruce say that we are broken? How does the cross solve the problem of our brokenness?
- How would you define faith? What is the role of faith in the life of a Christian? How can we be a community that encourages each other in faith?