The MIghty Acts of God
The Mighty Acts of God by Rev. L. John Gable
January 22, 2017
Many pastors, teachers and theologians have attempted to explain how God has responded to our desperate human condition through His mighty acts of deliverance in ways that are easy to tell and easy to understand, yet still capture the scope and the depth of our need and God’s response without using a lot of big, 25 cent theological words; and unfortunately, in my opinion, most have failed. However, Karl Barth, the great 20th century theologian, tells a story that I believe captures both the human condition and God’s gracious response in a way that is both memorable and meaningful, as well as being true to Scripture.
The essence of his telling is this, imagine that you are out in the middle of the ocean or a Great Lake when suddenly your boat begins to sink and you are thrown in to the water. Of course you can swim and tread water, but for how long, the distance to shore is far too great? So you shoot off a flare and begin to cry out for help, for someone to rescue you.
That, according to Barth, is the human condition, burdened by the weight of sin, desperate to save ourselves but incapable of being able to do so. Others offer helpful suggestions and words of encouragement, “keep swimming, keep your head above water, keep going” but they themselves are incapable of saving us because they are in the same condition we are. We need someone stronger, someone more capable, someone who is somehow different than ourselves who is willing to come to our aid and rescue us from our dilemma, someone who will take us by the hand, lift us up and save us, one who literally is our “Savior”.
That is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, He has heard our helpless cries and sent us a Rescuer, who lifts us up out of that desperate condition and sets us safely on shore once again, literally giving us new life. Jesus is our Rescuer, our Deliverer, our Savior.
Friends, once we understand the condition we are in, in this way, we hear the Good News of God’s deliverance, not as a nicety, but as a desperately needed necessity.
If you were with us last week in worship you will remember that we are starting a short series of sermons which will lead us to the declaration that Jesus is our Jubilee. Recall we have declared 2017 as our Year of Jubilee here at Tab, taken from God’s pronouncement in Leviticus that every 50 years God’s people will celebrate the Year of Jubilee, the year of liberation and deliverance. This is our 50th year since we committed ourselves to remaining in this location to do ministry and to be “a light for Christ in this metropolitan area.” That vision from the 1966 report has been restated and reaffirmed in our recent Vision Renewal statement by focusing on three specific objectives: Greater Faith; Deeper Relationships, both within the congregation and with our neighbors; and a stronger community, through reconciliation, justice, and advocacy.
We spoke last week of a theme that is woven throughout all of Scripture that God’s people find themselves/ourselves in bondage to someone or something that leads them to cry out to God for deliverance; God then hears our cry and answers by sending a Deliverer, a Rescuer who is able to set us free from that which holds us captive. This is the Good News of the Gospel, but the reality is we won’t cry out for help unless we first realize we really are being held captive, that we really are in a desperate condition, and we won’t accept the offer of assistance or follow the lead of our Deliverer until we are utterly convinced that we are helpless to help ourselves. Our bull-headed, hard hearted stubbornness is part and parcel to the sin and disobedience that got us in to this situation in the first place because we have this fool headed notion that we can manage for ourselves; that is until we discover we can’t and that is when we find ourselves treading water in the middle of the ocean and sinking fast.
We won’t, we can’t, truly hear and appreciate the Good News, “in Jesus Christ you are forgiven” as actually being the Good News it is unless and until we first acknowledge that we are sinners, helpless to set ourselves free from that which holds us in bondage. However, once we admit our condition, recognize our need and cry for help, God hears our cry and comes to our aid with a mighty act of deliverance.
The story told in the book of Exodus is of the way God heard the cry His people in Egypt, and raised up a deliverer Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of the bondage of slavery into the Promised Land. But if we look closely at the passage we read this morning the writer makes it very clear that it is not Moses who leads the people, it is God. It is not Moses who delivers the people from slavery; it is God. It is not Moses who leads the way through the Red Sea or the 40 years in the wilderness; it is God. Of course Moses was God’s chosen instrument and had his essential part to play in this story of deliverance; but it is the mighty act of God who led the Children of Israel, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, not any individual leader. The people cried out and God acted to deliver and He did so, in a mighty way.
Carry that same theme over in to the New Testament and we hear Paul’s great declaration in Romans chapter 3. He has already established the fact that we are all in bondage to sin, that no one can be found righteous – that is, in a right relationship with God- merely by obedience to the law; in fact the law only serves to make us aware of our sin and finds us guilty. So he states the same in the passage we read this morning, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That truth, which some will argue is the only irrefutable statement made in Scripture because it is self-evident, we need only look at ourselves, that truth establishes the desperateness of our condition and our need for God. So, in response to our cry for help, God listens and acts, by sending us a Deliverer, a Rescuer, a Savior.
Friends, Romans 3:21-26 is one of the great passages of Scripture. If you do not have it marked in your Bible I encourage you to do so, so that you can return to it again and again.
Since we cannot be made right with God (made righteous or justified) by our own good works, or our obedience to the law; since we are incapable of swimming all the way to shore on our own; God has provided another way, a way with which both the Law and the prophets agree because they pointed to it.
A right relationship with God comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”, for all who put their trust in Him, for all who respond to His offer to save them. We are made right with God and delivered from our sinful condition, not because of anything we do, but because of what God has done for us as a gift of His grace, His unmerited kindness and favor toward us. God has sent a Savior to rescue us, He has done all the work on our behalf, all we need do is accept His gracious offer. God’s free gift is the redemption, the payment of our debt, which He has made for us in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Jesus has paid the debt for all who put their trust in Him, for all who are willing to admit that they have a debt which is due which they cannot pay for themselves; a burden of sin from which they cannot set themselves free; a brokenness in a relationship with God or another which they cannot heal for themselves. All of this: God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s mighty act of deliverance and all we need do is accept that He has done this for us. Let’s not make this harder to understand than it is: this is effectively what it means to have “faith”. To have faith in Jesus is simply a matter of admitting that we are helpless to help ourselves in the matter of entering in to a right relationship with God and accepting that Jesus is able and willing to make that way for us. Like any Savior, He reaches out to us and we take Him by the hand.
But what happens if we don’t accept His offer? What happens if He extends His reach but we do not accept it?. That is quite possible, you know. God has given us the free will to decide for ourselves. We may find ourselves treading water in the middle of the ocean, crying out for help, desperate to help ourselves, and still refuse the assistance that comes to our aid. We have that right of refusal, but it is only to our own peril. God’s offer of assistance is made available to us, whether we accept it or not. So the decision is ours, only ours, as to whether we will accept His help or not.
To accept Jesus, to trust in Jesus as Savior, to have faith in Jesus, is nothing more and nothing less than reaching out your hand and grabbing hold of His, in that way accepting the deliverance He has to offer. Put that truth in big theological words like righteousness and justification and atonement it sounds like this, “Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by His blood, effective through faith.” Put more simply: we are in a world of hurt, up to our ears, unable to help ourselves, so God hears our cry and sends us a Deliverer, a Rescuer, a Savior to help us, and all we need do is accept His gracious offer. To that end, “God justifies the one who has faith in Jesus”, that is, God saves the one who believes that Jesus is the One who has been sent to save us.
That though is not the end of the story of faith; it is only its necessary beginning. Everything we do and say after begin rescued is in response to God’s gracious act of deliverance. In Barth’s telling of the story, once we are plucked out of the sea and put safely back on shore we have another decision to make: how will we respond to this gracious act of deliverance? There seems to be only one appropriate way, by living a life of gratitude and service, committed to telling other’s what the Rescuer has done for us, and willing to go back out in to the sea knowing that there are still others who need to be rescued as well.
Friends, hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel: God has heard our cry for help and sent His Son, our Deliverer, our Rescuer, our Savior, the One who has paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus Christ is God’s mighty act of deliverance for us and all who take hold of His hand.