Each sermon is published in large print for use in preaching, and for easy reading by several people gathered around the computer monitor.
WE HAVE THE FREE WILL TO CHOOSE LIFE OR DEATH
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
25 NOVEMBER 1990
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Preparation Verse: (Deuteronomy 30-19)
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”
Hopefully, this past Thursday we expressed our thanksgiving to God for life, and all the bountiful gifts He has given us.
'And hopefully, we didn't pray in the cynical form of a Bart Simpson.
But as we look back over the history of Thanksgiving in our country, we realize that it was to be a day of true religious significance, for our thanks were to be directed toward God.
However, as time goes on we seem to be drifting further and further away from being a truly Godly society.
And, to be sure, God is not happy with our change in attitude.
But what is happening in our country is nothing new. God has been experiencing similar situations ever since He created us.
Even when there were only two people upon this earth, they turned against God, and brought death to themselves and to all who followed, and to every animal that God had created, for He gave their souls to Adam for care and protection, which Adam failed to do.
Adam and Eve repented and turned back to God, but then their descendants began to go astray again, until the whole earth was filled with evil people, except for eight.
And after the Flood, the descendants of the followers of God again went astray, which began with Noah's sacrifice of the animals.
They sought ways to appease God for their sinful ways instead of being obedient, and while God accepted their repentance, He declared that humans were evil from their youth (Genesis 8:21), because they had chosen death instead of life.
And as a result, many of their descendants began to go after other gods, until the world had again gone crazy.
This time the Lord called one man out of idolatry, to make a people of him, and because this man Abraham believed in the Lord, his sins were forgiven (Genesis 15:6).
Nevertheless, the descendants of Abraham didn't all follow God either, and had become so evil by the time of the prophet Ezekiel, that all of Israel and Judah had been led into captivity.
We, in this country, have not been led into captivity yet, but we are most assuredly doing what the Israelites did before their captivity.
Let's listen to the words of Ezekiel, beginning at 34:7, and note who it is that he begins to speak to, for the Lord:
7. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:
8. "As I live," declares the Lord God, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock;
9. therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:
10. 'Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I shall demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I shall deliver My flock from their mouth, that they may not be food for them. " ' "
Interesting choice of words, isn’t it?
This message is speaking to the religious leaders who lead their flocks into
false and misleading teachings; those who justify their own existence by denying
the truth of salvation and who are afraid to tell those in their care, "If you
don’t repent of your sins (your ungodly ways), and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will go to
And there are people – sheep – who don't want to hear about sin, for they want to live in it, and they don't want pastors telling them what they don't want to hear, as if not hearing the truth will make it go away. What a tragedy!
The truth is still the truth, no matter how much we deny it.
So these kinds of sheep and those kinds of shepherds join together; and because there are more of them on the way to hell than there are others on their way to heaven, they use political means to take over the leadership of many of our churches and our seminaries, and we produce deceiving shepherds who lead the innocent sheep astray.
This is detestable in the sight of our Lord.
But God's grace is still here, and He intervenes.
Listen to what we are told in verses 11-16:
11. For thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
12. "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among the scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.
13. "And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land.
14. "I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
15. "I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord God.
16. "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.
God sees the difference between the truth and the lie, and between those who truly desire life rather than death.
And God reaches out directly and through His servants who speak and live the truth, so that the lost sheep will be brought home.
In His love, He also seeks to bring back those who have denied the truth.
But then comes that day when it will be too late, when He will make a final distinction, as we see in verse 17:
17. "And as for you, My flock, thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.
Jesus spoke of His return in just the same manner, as recorded by Matthew in 25:31-33:
31. "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
32. "And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
33. and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
And those on His right will enter heaven, but those on His left will be cast into hell, and it will be too late for anyone to change their mind.
We have a free will to choose between life and death.
We can go along with all the worldly and sinful activities around us, and we
may even get away with it for years and years; but then will come that day when
it will all end, either with our own death or with the Lord's return, and then
it's too late.
Some in our community and beyond take advantage of others for their own gain, and in particular, they take advantage of the love of true believers, and they ridicule the compassionate children of God who seek to bring peace to the whole of creation (their fellow human beings, the other animals, and the environment in which we all live).
Thus the Lord God speaks to them as well.
Note what we are told as we return to Ezekiel 34:18-19:
18. 'Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet?
19. 'And as for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet, and they must drink what you foul with your feet!' "
Because many want to live in sin and justify their way of life, they also try their best to ruin the good things that God has lovingly bestowed on His believers. They even try to make us seem like we are the bad ones.
But don't worry, God is still in control and knows what is in the heart of everyone.
Listen to what we are told, as we continue with verse 20:
20. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
21. "Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad,
22. therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
Notice that He will judge between sheep; no goats this time.
23. "Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David [referring to Jesus], and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.
24. "And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
The first part of this prophecy has come true, for Jesus Christ did come for the lost sheep, and He showed us that there was no one who was not worthy of the kingdom, if they would accept Him and repent, and that they didn't just have to be Jewish.
The second part of this prophecy will be fulfilled with His second coming, but then it will be too late to choose between life and death. The choice is being given to us now, between His two comings.
The Lord has indeed shown us the difference between kingdom living and worldly living, and the Lord indeed separates out all those who willingly choose to live in the world. At the same time He will free those who truly desire to live in the kingdom.
Listen to what He will do for those who are His:
25. "And I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
26. "And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.
We who truly believe and have a sensitive spirit know that this is true, for we are living in the wilderness of a land of sin; and very little of it, if any, can hurt us if we hold fast to the Lord our God. Then the power of the Holy Spirit does rain down upon us as showers of blessing.
But because we have become weak and allowed so much corruption to come into our community, our families, and even ourselves, we suffer some of the pitfalls and receive fewer blessings.
Just read the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) to see what brings God's blessings up us.
And we can have it all, just as the Lord promises. The choice is ours. And if our choice is the Lord, even more blessings will be showered upon us.
27. "Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
28. "And they will no longer be a prey to the nations, and the beasts of the earth will not devour them; but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid.
29. "And I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore.
30. "Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people," declares the Lord God.
31. "As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God," declares the Lord God.
Yes, we are but human, and we cannot do the things that God can do; but if we hold firm in our faith, God will do what we cannot do.
And because of our faith, and because of our witness, others will come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we choose life, others will see the light and also choose life; but if we deny the truth, and act like the rest of the world, we will most likely die with the rest of the world, as sheep are separated from sheep, or as a rotten apple is removed from the good ones.
The choice is really as simple as having a table full of Thanksgiving Day food and partaking of it to our hearts desire, or of denying that it is there.
We can rejoice in the fact that no one had to suffer or die for us to live and enjoy ourselves...or we can choose death.
Of course Jesus Christ is real, and He has offered us forgiveness and everlasting life.
But the sins of the world are also real, and we can choose this also.
The Lord wants us to accept the truth and reject the falseness and death around us.
Listen to the assurance of our deliverance in Christ Jesus as written by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:
20. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
21. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.
23. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming,
24. then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
25. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under his feet.
26. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
27. For he has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, "All things are put in subjection," it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.
28. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
Even Jesus Christ has to follow certain patterns that were set in motion with creation, and it is His love for us that causes Him to delay His second coming so that none may be lost who desire to be conformed to Him.
So in the meantime we have to exist in a sinful world, and even perhaps die our physical death; but if we are Christ's, we will still have eternal life.
Why would anyone risk the loss of even a single day in the presence of the Lord for the passing pleasures of even a lifetime of sin?
Why would anyone risk the utter agony and loneliness of the endless total darkness of hell, and our eternal separation from the Lord? In hell there will be no companionship, not even the continued sinful pleasures of this world, for all of that will be gone, too.
Why not seek the Lord Jesus Christ now, while we still have time, and together encourage one another to live in such a way that others will see the light and not have to suffer hell?
Choose life, not death!