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"Mastering the Fundamentals!"

MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 22, 2010 FROM VARIOUS TEXTS

CLICK HERE FOR WMA - Audio file of the sermon

          In any sport or any endeavor requiring learned skills, one of the most important ways we can remain proficient is to continue to go back and practice the fundamentals--the basic skills required for us to succeed.  The same is true for followers of Christ or those who are perhaps interested in following Christ.  Peter says in 2 Peter 1:13, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder.  That’s the goal this morning, to stir us up to love God more deeply as we remind ourselves of the big picture message of the entire Bible.  We have heard that knowing the big picture is important.  This morning, we want to take a break from our study of the book of Acts to look at the Bible’s main story line from 20,000 feet.  This is Christianity 101 and it is important for all of us to regularly go back and remind ourselves of these glorious big-picture truths that can uniquely cause us to love God and his word more passionately.

          The Bible’s main message starts at the beginning, “In the beginning, God…”  God created the universe and part of that creation was this world where he did something very special.  He created life—God is the Giver of life—no one else can do that.  And his highest, most impressive creation is humanity because in humanity alone did he place his own image and likeness.  That means that in some way we image or reflect God in a way no other creature does and this is what makes human life unique and sacred.  Before we get into anything else, it’s important for us to know why God created life, human life in particular because the answer reveals perhaps the dominant theme in the Bible.  We must know that God did not need us or this world.  He was perfectly content and full of joy within the eternal communing among his three Persons--the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

He created this world and in particular, humanity for the same reason he does everything he does--for his glory.  That is—he created and rules the universe the way he does to display the infinite supremacy of his character and attributes.  If you or I try to display our supremacy, people would call us egomaniacs and rightly so.  But that isn’t true for God because God is the highest Being in the universe and the Bible teaches that humans find their deepest satisfaction and highest joy as they honor and worship him.  He wired us to experience our highest joy when we are in a right relationship with him and he created us to be dependent upon him for all things.  That’s the way we are programmed and that’s why every culture on the planet has a god of some sort that they serve and worship.  That programming is why all of us—if we are not making the God of the bible supreme in our lives, will by default seek to serve other gods.  The Bible calls these gods we are drawn to--idols.  The Bible teaches that idols are not confined to ancient cultures where people bow down before totem poles.  Tim Keller reflects the biblical teaching when he says, “An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”[1]

          The question that is crucial to the bible’s main message is—how did we get this way—exchanging worship and loving devotion to the Creator, for worshipping and serving  created things or people that are idols to us?  The answer is–the fall of humanity.  God placed Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden without any sin nature—their natural inclination was not to sin, but to love and serve God faithfully and with great joy.  God placed humanity over this world and basically said, “As Creator, I am King of this world and all that lives on it, but as one who reflects my image, I want you to display my glory as you manage it for me.  You will be my junior partner in this endeavor for which I have perfectly equipped you.  As you work with me in this, you will receive ultimate joy.” And that’s the way it worked…for a while.  But soon they were tempted by the serpent and at the root of his temptation was that--if they would break the one rule God had given them, they would be like God.  For some reason, they wanted to be God in place of their Creator, so they broke God’s one rule and ate the forbidden fruit.

          When you consider that the Creator King’s highest creation, who he had given life to and the privilege of ruling over the world for him—had just committed cosmic treason by breaking the one solitary rule he laid down for them, he actually responded quite graciously.  He did not instantly destroy them and start over (which would have been perfectly just), but he allowed their sin—their open rebellion against their King to gradually bring death to their bodies and by extension, to us.  Man became mortal—subject to death.  What’s more, we took on a different and rebellious nature so that, instead of being naturally inclined to serve God and worship him, our new twisted, sinful nature is inclined to reject God and seek to be our own god—to run our own life. 

Spiritually, humanity is dead since the fall—that part of Adam in us died immediately when he sinned.  The image of God was still retained in humanity and that explains all the wonderful things you see in this world—all the music and art and architecture and human achievement. It also explains why people have some pleasing characteristics—like the ability to love and care and give sacrificially.  But because the image of God in us is distorted or twisted by sin, that leads us to self-centeredly want to be our own god.  That explains all the wars, broken relationships, lies, hatred, crimes and all evil.  All of that is done ultimately because we, like the first two humans, want to be God or King (at least God of ourselves) and as finite, sinful, twisted creatures who are surrounded by other finite, sinful, twisted people who want to be God... well, that explains the mess we are in.

          The story line of the rest of the Bible is a historic record of God’s ongoing plan to reverse the effects of the fall so that fallen humanity and even this fallen world will be better than they were at creation and will stay that way for all eternity—with no danger of falling again.  We call that redemption because God is taking something twisted and dirty and evil and transforming it into something good and beautiful and perfectly virtuous.  That’s the bible’s big message—the record of how he does that and it’s a long process.  What’s truly astounding is that God actually announced the most important part of his plan of redemption only moments after Adam committed treason against him.  He had a plan already conceived because he knew Adam would fall and his plan was that as he worked out his plan of redemption, he would be able to display, for all to see, the fullness of his character.  Not only would people see his holiness and his majesty that the angels in heaven had seen for so long, but they would also witness his patience and grace and mercy in the midst of a sinful world and a sinful people.  It’s only in the midst of sin and opposition that you see what someone is really made of, so God uses the sin and opposition of this world to show his matchless glory.  The fall left this world under the temporary authority of the serpent or Satan because Adam the former ruler had ceded that authority to him by taking Satan’s advice and trusting him, looking to him as God instead of God.  God was very much still the ultimate King, but now Satan would now be working in place of Adam to run the world and Satan is evil.  So God declared how he would take back the authority from Satan that he received when Adam forfeited it to him.

          He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring:  he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  In other words, God would raise up—from humanity (this person had to be a human because Satan had defeated a human) a Savior and King who would take back this world from Satan, mortally wounding him and in the process, bruising himself.  God announced this event 4000 years before it happened and the rest of the bible either points forward to this event or looks back to it.  God takes the entire Old Testament—3/4 of the bible, to prepare humanity for this event.  One of the first things he did was—about 2000 years later, to call a man who lived in a city just southwest of Baghdad and make some important promises to him.  God called this man Abraham and he told him that he would make a great nation of people out of his descendants and he would bless them and give them a beautiful land to live in.  What’s more, he told him that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him because it would be from this one Abrahamic, Jewish nation that this Savior King of the world would come.  God was so willing to be bound by these promises that he entered into a covenant with Abraham committing to him that he would faithfully keep his promises. In a covenant, God establishes a special relationship with someone by binding himself to an agreement of some kind and this agreement almost always involves a sacrifice.  So God made these covenant promises with Abraham and sacrificed five animals.

          Abraham totally and fully believed God—he took him at his word and believed these promises all the days of his life—though he never saw this Promised Land or this Savior.  In response to Abraham’s faith, God called him “righteous” or acceptable to God even though he too was a twisted sinner and God is a sin-hating God.  Yet Abraham’s faith caused God to call him righteous.  Abraham’s grandson Jacob (whom God renamed Israel) had 12 sons and their descendants eventually ended up in Egypt where they were brutally enslaved for 400 years.  At the end of this time, God raised up another man named Moses who he called to deliver these children of Abraham from their bondage.  He accomplished that by performing many miracles to liberate them from their slave-masters.  In this way, God used Moses to reveal the way he was going to re-establish his kingdom through this Savior who was to come.  He was going to miraculously deliver his people from the bondage of their slave-master, Satan and from the brutal and controlling power of sin that had enslaved them since the fall.[2]  After God does this miraculous deliverance, he reveals his law through Moses by which he expected his people to live.  The heart of the law is the Ten Commandments and he introduces them with the phrase, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the lands of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

          God cites his gracious dealings with the people before he gives the law because he intended that the law would be kept his people, the Jews, in response to his amazing grace of deliverance.  They were to keep it joyfully—as an expression of worship to the God who had revealed himself to them and who had liberated them from their bondage. The Law—the Ten Commandments and some 600 other laws, which are extensions of the first ten, are also intended to reveal God’s holy, sin-hating character in a way he had not yet revealed it.  God was again so serious concerned about this law that he made another covenant with Moses and shed more blood through animal sacrifice.  Part of his covenant was that if the people kept the law, he would bless them, but if they serially broke the law, he would bring the curses he promised.  The worst and final curse would be their exile from the land he was to give them to a place where they would lives as subjugated aliens. 

Moses was used by God to do many other things that would prepare his people for this Savior who was to come. He was a prophet who spoke God’s words and God promised through him that sometime in the future God would send another prophet like him.  He was a priest in the sense that he stood between God and his people.  That is, he stood in between God and his people, serving as God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative to God.  Moses was one of many prophets and priests God would raise up.  All these roles helped define the kind of Savior this One who was to come would be.  Moses was also a judge and led the people of God. 

          Under Moses and most all their leaders, Abraham’s descendants constantly rebelled against God’s rule.  They consistently gave in to their nature to be their own god—rebelling against God by continually breaking his law and complaining about his rule over their lives-- even though his rule was marked by continuous displays of grace and love for them.  To make matters worse, Satan had been told that this Savior King would be a descendant of Abraham, so he repeatedly tried to destroy the Jews because if he succeeded, he would destroy this Savior who was to come to take away his authority.  Even Moses sinned grievously and that kept him out of the Promised Land, which God gave to his people 40 years later as they drove out against the Canaanites who had been living there.  The Canaanites, after 400 years of God waiting on them, had refused to repent of their great and vile sins.  Their sin had defiled God’s land and God used his army of Jews to cleanse the land.   Joshua commanded this army but it was empowered and directed by God.  This tells us something else about the kind of King God is.  Not only is he King, but he is a Warrior King who makes war on his enemies.  God is holy and hates all sin because as King, it is a personal assault against him—whether the person sinning knows that or not.  The One who created humanity and established what is right and wrong is the One we are ultimately rebelling against when we sin.

          God kept his covenant with Abraham by making a great nation out of his offspring and giving them the Promised Land.  He had not yet however, raised up this Savior from the Jews as he promised.  Once the Jews (or Israel) were established in their new land, they wanted a human king like the other nations who would rule under God in a theocracy.  The Jews had many kings over the next several hundred years and although they had a few good kings, most of them were very bad and led them into the same kinds of sins their pagan neighbors committed as they tried to mix God’s teaching and pagan practices.  One good thing the monarchy did was--it prepared God’s people for the human Savior King who was to come.  Two kings were especially important in that regard, David and his son, Solomon. 

David pointed to this coming Savior King in many ways.  He was a warrior King who God used to destroy the enemies of his kingdom.  He was a lover of God and composed many beautiful love poems displaying that.  He was an accomplished musician who radically redesigned Jewish worship in preparation for a temple for God to dwell in--and that he wanted to build in Jerusalem. God didn’t let him build the temple—that was to be his son’s job.  David was a man after God’s own heart, but his reign, like all the other kings, was a mixture good and bad and he sinned grievously in the latter part of his reign before repenting.  His sin eventually led to the division of Israel into a northern Kingdom called Israel and a smaller southern kingdom called Judah.  Jerusalem and the future temple were in Judah.  After David offered to build God a temple, God made a covenant with him as well and it was a very special covenant.  One of the promises God made in this covenant is that he would make of David’s line an eternal dynasty from which many kings would come.  Also, he promised that David’s son would be the embodiment of the people of God—the true Israel and that he would be God’s Son. [2 Sam. 7:14][3]  So you see that God once again narrows the line through which this Savior King would come.  He would not only be a Jew—a son of Abraham, but also a son of David.

When Solomon comes along after David, we expect him to fill those shoes as David’s son and he was the wisest man in history up to that point.  His kingdom marked the apex of the Jewish monarchy in terms of its prosperity and its sheer splendor—the most opulent in world history.  Solomon did build the Jerusalem temple for God to dwell in among his people, but like his father and even worse, Solomon radically departed from the faith of Abraham.  He worshipped pagan gods that his many foreign wives had brought into his life.  In a few ways, the kingdom promise to David about his son was fulfilled in Solomon’s reign, but in other ways it fell woefully short and so Israel would need to look for another ancestor or Son of David to take the throne and reverse the effects of the fall.  After Solomon died, the kingdom divided into two halves and the northern kingdom was wicked from the start—abandoning the faith of Abraham.  God was patient with them however, and it wasn’t until more than 250 years later that he enacted the final covenant curse of exile as he arranged for the Assyrians to conquer them and take them back to Assyria.  The southern kingdom, Judah, was a bit better because they had a few good kings, but they too lived as if they were their own god and so turned their back on their God in favor of the wooden pagan idols of their neighbors that they liked better.  God finally enacted the curse of exile on them too after more than 400 years when he arranged for the Babylonians to conquer Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the temple and cart the people back to Babylon.

During all of this time of rebellion, God showed his love and mercy toward his wicked and rebellious people by sending prophets who spoke the very words of God to the Jews.  God used the prophets to plead with his people to repent. The prophets gave both razor sharp warnings to God’s people, as well as many wonderful promises of a time in the future when God would do a new work in them by giving them great blessing and the spiritual life they lost in Adam’s fall.  Through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he promised that he would enact a New Covenant and this covenant would be an eternal covenant.  One reason why this covenant would not be broken was because in this one, God would give the people a new heart and a new spirit that would be inclined to joyfully love God, obey God and do what he says.  The law of God wouldn’t be carved on some stone somewhere, it would be written on their hearts.

When the Jews had been humbled by their captivity for about 70 years, God graciously allowed them to return to the Promised Land, but they were not a kingdom any longer.  They were a vassal state of whoever was ruling the Ancient Near East at the time--whether it was Babylon, Persia, Greece or Rome.  They never again crowned another king.  At one point after they returned from exile, the Jews waited 400 years without hearing a word from God.  There were no prophets—only the priests who served as mediators—representing God to them and them to God as they offered sacrifices in a rebuilt and much more modest temple.  By the end of that 400 years, the Jews had developed a strong sense of anticipation toward the Savior who God had promised would come and—like Moses before him would, with fantastic miracles, deliver them from those who oppressed them.

So, when God had determined the time was right and all was in place, another prophet comes on the scene—really the last Old Testament prophet—though his life is recorded in the New Testament. John the Baptist blazed into Palestine and thundered that the people needed to repent of their sin in preparation for the long awaited Savior King who was about to be revealed.  The Savior was actually born 30 years earlier to a socially unimpressive couple, but Mary and Joseph loved God.  This was an utterly unique birth and child because Mary was told by an angel before she even married Joseph, that she would be pregnant as a virgin with the Savior King of the Jews.  This would happen as the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she would conceive this baby they would call Jesus.  Because God was his Father, Jesus did not have a sin nature.  His natural inclination was, like Adam’s before the fall—to please and obey his father in every way.  Because he was human he could be tempted, but he lived his entire life without any sin—he never succumbed to any temptation.  He became the second Adam, succeeding where the first Adam had failed—living a perfect life, free from sin and defeating every attempt from Satan to cause him to fall.  His perfect life qualified him to be the all sufficient Savior because it promised the possibility of a new, transformed humanity as now HE could be the Ruler of his people instead of Satan and sin.

Because God was his Father, Jesus didn’t simply bear the image of God, he was God—fully human and fully God and therefore, he had the power to remake humanity into something better than they were at creation.  This Savior was the One promised to Abraham who would come as a Jew—sharing his DNA and be the promised blessing to all the families of the earth as his kingdom reign spread beyond the Jews to all peoples.  This was the Savior who would fulfill the roles Moses introduced.  Jesus would be the Great Deliverer as he miraculously liberated God’s people from the rule of Satan and the controlling power of sin.  His ministry was marked by countless, amazing miracles.  He would be the perfect priest because he was fully human and fully God.  As a human, this great high Priest could stand before God perfectly representing humanity, and as God, he could perfectly represent God to humanity. During his time on earth, God truly dwelt among us in ways far more intimately than he did in the temple.  In fact, the temple was destroyed in 40 more years because it was obsolete.  Jesus, as the God who dwells among his people, is the new temple with his followers joining him to complete this spiritual temple the other one pointed to.

The monarchy had prepared the people for a king and Jesus openly declared that he was in fact the long awaited King of the Jews.  Jesus was also born of the line of David—a true son of David who was THE Son of David.  Because he was God, he was equipped as a Warrior King to do battle against God’s greatest enemy.  David’s line would rule for all eternity because Jesus is the eternal King who, unlike the other human kings, will never fail, never sin and never bring shame and disgrace to his people.  Jesus came as a King with the promise of a kingdom with far greater splendor than Solomon and he displays far greater wisdom. He was the Savior promised by the prophets and indeed 49 of their specific prophecies about his life were perfectly fulfilled in his first appearance—everything from where he would be born to how he would live and teach to how he would die.  The odds against all those prophecies being fulfilled are more than staggering—on e in ten to the 157th power.

You would have thought the Jews, who had been waiting so long for him, would have embraced this One who fully met so many of their expectations for a Savior King. He was a great Prophet—speaking the very words of God as the prophet Moses predicted.  However, most of the Jews rejected him for at least two reasons.  First, because as much as they said they wanted the Promised One to be their king, they really wanted to be their own god and live by their own rules—just like their true father, Adam.  So they rejected him.  Another reason they rejected him was because, although in many ways, Jesus measured up to their expectations of the Savior King, they had expected that this Warrior King would topple the mighty Roman Empire who ruled over them.  Jesus did in fact come as a Warrior King, but the enemy he came to destroy was far more powerful and imposing than Rome.

He came to destroy the works of the evil one, Satan.  He came to take back the authority over this world Adam had given to him and set people free from the controlling power of sin by crushing Satan’s head as God had told Adam and Eve 4000 years earlier.  The way he defeated Satan was consistent with how Adam was defeated by him.  In the garden, the serpent—with his limited power, gave Adam all he had—he deceived Eve with a lie and Adam rebelled against God.  With Jesus, Satan had been given MUCH more power and authority than he did as the serpent, so if he could marshal his tremendous, supernatural tempting, twisting, lying, deceiving power against Jesus and could cause HIM to sin, he would defeat God’s King and win everlasting rule over this world.  However, if Jesus—unlike Adam, could take the very best that Satan could dish out and not sin, then he would take back the power and authority from Satan and begin the process of redeeming Adam’s race and this world to a state better than it was before Adam.

So how did he accomplish this victory?  After Jesus had lived a perfect life for more than 30 years and had done everything he needed to do to fulfill the requirements for the Savior King or Messiah—fully establishing his Messianic credentials, the Jews put him on trial and falsely convicted him of a capital crime simply because he had told them the truth about who he was.  The Jews didn’t want a King and so, with Rome’s help, they crucified him.  Crucifixion is perhaps the cruelest way ever devised to kill a man.  Jesus hung between heaven and earth—his hands and feet pierced, stuck to a cross and bloodied by a beating to the point of being unrecognizable.  But there was something even more wretched about the cross for Jesus.  Jewish Law said that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed of God.  The curse Jesus willingly took on was all the wrath—all the penalty that God had been storing up for those who had and would in the future rebel against him and who deserved the eternal punishment in hell that Jesus so clearly and repeatedly warned about in his ministry.  So when he was nailed to the cross, the curse of God—the penalty, the infinite wrath of God a perfectly just, sin-hating God must pour out on sinners—was instead poured out on Jesus and the eternity-long communion between the Father and Son was shattered because for a few hours Jesus actually became sin and a holy God cannot commune with sin.  He was forsaken and crushed by his Father as he became the substitute sacrifice for sin.

The question was—would God accept this penalty—this bloody sacrifice of Jesus?  In three days, the answer came as a resounding YES! when God raised Jesus up from the dead.  God accepted Jesus’ penalty for sin and because Jesus himself had no sin, death could not hold him in the grave.  The resurrection is so important because it tells us that what Jesus did on the cross was not simply a noble gesture.  It was the crowning event of God’s redemptive plan and now the work had been done to enact this New Covenant which is sealed with blood--the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God.  Now a new humanity with a new Head—a second Adam, Christ, could be created in the midst of this sinful world.  Jesus calls this new humanity the church.  The church is a group people who, like Abraham, have placed their trust in the promises of God.  They place their faith in God by depending on Jesus Christ to be their Savior and their King to deliver them from the cruel taskmasters of Satan and the controlling power of sin.  They trust God to forgive them their sin because the blood Jesus shed on the cross has completely cleansed all who believe.  They trust Jesus to give them a new heart that is increasingly inclined to live for God and not for themselves as God. God made provision for this new heart by sending his Holy Spirit—God to live within everyone who will trust in Jesus.  The Spirit makes his people spiritually alive from the dead as now we can know God and love him in a new way—as his children!  The Spirit enables us to live for God and not ourselves.  The Spirit causes his people to love the word of God—God’s revelation to them and walk with God, living in increasing levels of triumph over the power of sin and with increasing levels of joy as they continue to trust in Jesus and what he has done for them on the cross.

The rest of the New Testament is simply the explanation and outworking of this, as authors like Paul and others explain how to live this Christian life in light of the cross and in light of the fact that this world is still a dark and fallen place.  It also tells us that Christ will come again to display all those elements of his character prophesied in the Old Testament, but not seen in his first coming.  Its then that he will finally destroy all his enemies and dispatch an already defeated Satan.  He will come as the ultimate Judge so as to establish justice upon this earth and he will complete his work to completely reverse the effects of the fall by making those who trust in him completely like him-- never to sin again and they will rule with him forever as his co-heirs, NOT junior partners. 

Until that time, the church is called to tell this good news—the gospel of our Savior King to others so that more and more people from all over the globe might have the chance to hear of him and his saving work on the cross and believe and receive new life and hope in him.  That’s why he’s waiting so long to return. The church also remains so that God can prove that Satan cannot defeat his church in the same way he defeated Adam.  The reason is not because we aren’t still sinners like Adam.  But now, when we sin—unlike Adam, we can look to Christ for forgiveness.  Adam never experienced that kind of grace. 

On the cross, God took my dismal record of sin and rebellion and idolatry and placed it on Jesus and he was brutally punished in my place for it. But Jesus had a record too.  His record was one of perfect, spotless righteousness. And, like God did with Abraham, when we place our trust in Jesus and his saving work, God takes the very righteousness that Christ lived out on earth and transfers it onto our account so that they are completely acceptable to God even though we still sin.  When Satan accuses us of sinning before Jesus—Jesus simply reminds him of his shed blood which forgave believers and of his righteousness which they share and which make them acceptable to him.  Satan cannot defeat believers as he did Adam because we have an advocate in Jesus who Satan must obey because on the cross he publically mopped the floor with him.

That’s the big message of the Bible.  If you are here today and you have not trusted in Jesus—this One who the Bible is all about--If you have not shown your willingness to let Jesus be your King by repenting of your sin--If you have not received forgiveness of your many sins by trusting in him and his righteousness, you must do that!  Confess that you—like Adam, have rebelled against your Creator and King and that he has every right to condemn you.  But cry out for God’s amazing grace that he offers through Jesus Christ who has come to reverse the effects of the fall into sin.  Come in faith to Jesus and receive that promised new heart through the Holy Spirit—a heart that is inclined to love and follow God.  Enter into this New Covenant relationship through the blood of Jesus by trusting in Christ alone—nothing that you could do could ever satisfy a holy, sin-hating God.  That’s what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Will you do that today?


[1] Keller, Tim, “Counterfeit GODS—the Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.” Dutton Press, 2009.

[2] Graeme Goldsworthy, “The Goldsworthy Trilogy,” 2006, p.73.

[3] Graeme Goldsworthy, “The Goldsworthy Trilogy,” Paternoster press, 2006, p. 88.

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