GOD GIVES EVERYONE THE OPPORTUNITY OF ETERNAL LIFE, BUT...
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
13 MARCH 1994
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Throughout this Lenten season, we have been talking about the practical and basic aspects of the Christian faith.
We've talked about the fact of how easy it is to see the glory of God in all of His creation, and of how some people harden their hearts not to see it.
We've talked about how love fulfills all of the requirements of both God and man, and how some people have hardened their hearts to this, too.
And we've talked about how hardness of heart causes people to perish.
Our preparation verse for this morning, John 3:16, a verse that every child learns in Sunday school, speaks of these facts.
16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
God's love for all of His creation, which includes us, is unconditional.
So unconditional, that He gives every person who ever sinned a way of escape from the corruption into which we, as humans, sold the earth.
But if we don't believe in the way of escape, or in Him who brings it, then by our own free will we choose to perish, for we have rejected eternal life.
People have learned to give a lot of lip service, but few have learned to give their lives in the service of the Lord's love.
Listen to how the psalmist expresses this thought in Psalm 107:1-16.
1. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
2. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary,
3. And gathered from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south.
If we simply sit back and observe others, who say they are Christians, do we
see a difference from the ways of the rest of the world?
If we look at ourselves, do we see a life that is reflective of our redemption?
Do our individual lives continually, in both word and deed, give others the distinct impression that we have been freed from the corruption of this world into everlasting life?
If our answers are anything but an unqualified "Yes!", then we are not fulfilling this call and opportunity.
Additionally, we may be playing with the word "but."
God gives everyone the opportunity of eternal life, but...
"But" is a qualification of the previous statement.
It is true, but...
It works this way, but...
I love you, but…
I love God, but…
I believe in the message of the cross, but…
There should be no "but."
Our commitment to God must be unconditional, just as His commitment to us is
Remember that God, through Moses, led the Israelites out of Egypt, which is a type (or example) of the way Jesus Christ leads us out of a life of sin and corruption.
Remember, also, that the Israelites were very weak in their faith, as many are today; and thus they wandered around in the wilderness for a long time.
Listen to what the psalmist tells us next:
4. They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region;
They did not find a way to an inhabited city.
5. They were hungry and thirsty;
Their soul fainted within them.
6. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble;
He delivered them out of their distresses.
7. He led them also by a straight way,
To go to an inhabited city.
8. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
9. For He has satisfied the thirsty soul,
And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.
If we just read this Psalm out of context, it can give the impression that God will redeem everyone, no matter what they believe or how they behave.
This isn't the case; for while God did provide food and drink for all the Israelites in the wilderness, saving them from their suffering, none of the rebellious ones entered the promise land.
Listen to what we are told in Numbers 26:63-65; and as we read, listen for that qualified "but."
63. These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
64. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.
65. For the Lord had said of them, "They shall surely die in the wilderness." And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
We mistake the lovingkindness of the Lord in the here and now for the right and privilege to enter heaven, and nothing is further from the truth.
We also mistake the warnings from the Lord to change our ways as just being coincidences.
For those who take the warnings to heart, and change their ways, there is redemption, as the psalmist tells us next (Psalm 107):
10. There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Prisoners in misery and chains,
11. Because they had rebelled against the words of God,
And spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12. Therefore He humbled their heart with labor;
They stumbled and there was none to help.
It is our sin that alienates us from God; it is our repentance, true repentance, that brings us toward salvation.
The way of salvation, the way of redemption, and the way of eternal life has always been here with us and with everyone else, equally.
The difference between those who are perishing and those who are redeemed is simply the redeemed’s willingness to meet the Lord on His terms.
13. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble;
He saved them out of their distresses.
14. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their bands apart.
This is the basic fact that David recognized and expressed in Psalm 23:4.
4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Spiritual death is eternal death in hell. It is not a shadow, but it becomes only a shadow like any other that we walk in and out of every day of our lives, when we walk with the Lord.
And walking with the Lord is a choice we must make.
As the psalmist of 107 tells those who have made this choice –
15. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
16. For He has shattered gates of bronze,
And cut bars of iron asunder.
The redemptive power of Jesus Christ can free us from the strongest bonds of slavery to sin and from the death to which it leads us.
When the Israelites in the wilderness rebelled against the Lord and complained about not having food and water, and even about being brought out of Egypt, He sent fiery serpents among them, and many died (Numbers 21:5-6):
5. And the people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food."
6. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
Then they cried to the Lord for help and the Lord told Moses what to do to save them, as we are told in Numbers 21:7-9.
7. So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people.
8. Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live."
9. And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
In other words, if he didn't look upon the bronze serpent, he died.
And a similar symbol is used even to this very day by the medical profession.
But listen to what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:14-15.
14. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
15. that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
Jesus was lifted up upon a cross; and He died, and He was buried, and He rose again.
And unless we believe in this word of the cross, we do not have eternal life.
Jesus was lifted up upon the cross to pay the price of everyone's sin; but it is only the “whoevers” who believe, who are saved, as we are told in John 3:16-21.
16. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
17. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
18. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19. "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
20. "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
21. "But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."
The proof of our belief is that we practice our belief in faith, living every day as a signpost to others of the truth of the word of the cross; living together in love and harmony with everyone, regardless of who they may be, or where they have come from.
And most of all, that we show our love of God by obeying Him; for by so doing, we shall be in His presence forever and ever.
It's as we started off: God gives everyone the opportunity of eternal life, but...
But... we must accept His gift of love.
I pray we all have.
Your Comments are welcome
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