October 21, 2012

Righteous Before God - Oct 21, 2012

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Last Sunday a man named Felix Baumgartner broke four world records in just over four minutes. As part of the Red Bull Stratos project Baumgartner ascended over 24 miles into the earth's atmosphere in a sophisticated space pod attached to a huge balloon.

Once the balloon reached the target height, Baumgartner opened the hatch and jumped. His freefall back to the surface of the earth took 4 minutes and 20 seconds. At top speed Baumgartner reached 834 miles per hour. He became the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound using just his body.

Once he had descended to the correct elevation Baumgartner deployed his parachute and floated gently down to land in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico.

To enable Baumgartner to survive a space jump from this elevation, he was required to wear a highly technological suit. At that height the atmospheric pressure is virtually nothing. If Baumgartner had exited his space pod without a pressurized suit his blood would have literally boiled, killing him immediately.

Now, imagine that you won a drawing to attempt the same thing that Baumgartner did. Imagine that you were selected to ascend 24 miles above the earth and attempt a space jump. IF you were going to do this, you wouldn't dare bring your own space suit. You'd depend on a team of experts to provide you with the perfect suit to keep you safe. It would be a matter of life and death.

You and I are never going to do what Baumgartner did. It's just not going to happen. But all of us are going to find ourselves in a similar situation someday, when we stand before the throne of the Almighty God who created us.

What are we going to wear in the presence of the Holy God?

In our Bible reading for today, the apostle Paul stresses the importance of not approaching the God wearing whatever we happen to have laying around. Only the perfect suit will do if we want to escape hell, and obtain eternal life in heaven.

Philippians 3:7-9 (NIV)

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
The Bible makes it pretty clear that human beings are born sinful. Our parents were sinners, and so we are sinners. As sinners we can't approach the sinless God who created us.

In Psalm 51 it says...

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5 NIV).

In Psalm 130 it says...

"If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?" (Psalm 130:3 ESV).

Clearly, none of us is going to be able to stand before God on Judgment day and demand entrance into heaven on the basis of the lives we've lived.

It doesn't matter if we're not serial killers or career criminals, God's standards are simply too far above us to reach. Like it says in Romans 3...

"...no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20 NIV).

In his book, Isaiah says it in an even stronger way. He says...

"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away" (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).

In our reading for today, Paul says that he considers everything that he's done or gained in life to be worthless as something he might boast of to God. He doesn't dare stand before God in his own "righteousness". He needs something much better to wear in the presence of the Almighty. He need the righteousness that comes FROM GOD.
Some things in life can't be fixed. Back in college I used to play a lot of Frisbee golf. It was always nice to get a brand new driver disc. It was all perfectly flat and round, and when you threw it right it would go forever. But once you hit a few trees with it the shape began to warp. And that little warp in the disc's shape would make it wobble. The harder you threw, the more it wobbled. You just weren't going to get much distance out of it anymore. And there's just no way to fix a warped disc. You can't press it back into a perfect shape. You can't throw it some other way. It's just done for.

That's what sin does has done to the human race. There's no way for us to fix ourselves. It doesn't matter how hard we try, or what method we use, we can't repair our "broken righteousness".

God knows this. That's why He offers to give us His perfect righteousness, through faith in Christ Jesus.

In Ephesians it says...

"In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace" (Ephesians 1:7 NIV).

When Jesus died on the cross, He did it for us. He suffered the punishment that our sins deserved, and sacrificed Himself in our place. It was a simple switch, like taking someone's place in prison. He took our punishment and gave us His perfect record of sinless-ness. And the Bible says that through simple faith in Jesus, we are declared as righteous as God Himself.

Christ is the reason why we stand righteous before God, right now. On the cross He earned our forgiveness. Through faith we are declared "not guilty". It's really as simple as that.

Faith isn't a complicated thing. Faith in Jesus is just trusting that what He says is true. Do you believe that Jesus really died for your sins like He said He did? That He suffered for each and every one of them and erased their record from your books? That's faith. Through Christ God has declared you righteous and worthy to enter heaven at the end of your earthly life.
Because God has made salvation SO easy, the Devil tries super hard to make us doubt Christ's full and free gift of salvation. One thing Satan does is suggest to us that forgiveness can't really be that easy. Surely we have to add something to the equation. We have to add our own good words and actions to Christ's work. But everything that God says in the Bible flows against this idea.

Think about all the words that God uses to describe how our sins are forgiven. Words like redemption, salvation, forgiveness, Savior, grace, Good News. These are all words that describe God doing something for US, not the other way around.

Redemption is God buying US back from sin. Salvation is God saving US from hell. Forgiveness is something given, not something earned. The definition of grace is a "free gift". The Good News of Jesus is that we're off the hook, not a message that we've got work to do.
The whole message of the Gospel of Jesus is all about what HE did for us, not about what we do to save ourselves.

And to build up our faith, God has attached His Gospel message to two special ceremonies. Let me put it this way, there are three things that create and strengthen faith in Jesus. There's the simple Gospel message, and then there's the Gospel message attached to earthly elements in Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper have been called "the visible Gospel". Listen to what the Bible says about Baptism in the book of Titus.

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7 ESV).

And listen to what it says in Romans.

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4 ESV).

And listen to what the Bible says about the Lord's Supper in the book of Matthew.

"26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV).

As parents we want our children to know that we love them, so we tell them, "I love you". But we do other things that SHOW them that we love them. We hug them. We kiss them. This is what God is doing with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. He's expressing the love and forgiveness that we have in Christ in ways that will comfort us and strengthen our trust in His promise of forgiveness. Through these God given sacraments, He creates and strengthens faith in the Savior through whom we, the guilty, have been declared NOT GUILTY.  

Baptism and the Lord's Supper wouldn't have any power if it weren't for what Christ did on the cross. These aren't magical rites that we do, they are powerful because they connect us to Christ by faith. And so we see that Christ is the ONLY reason why we stand righteous before God.
Satan absolutely hates the freedom that God gives us in Christ. Satan hates the fact that all the chains he's worked so hard to put on people can be so easily broken through a simple faith in the Savior who died for us. And so Satan suggests a million other things for us to put our trust in.
Satan says, you've been a pretty good person overall, may that'll count for something in God's courtroom.

Satan says, hey, you belong to a church, that's got to count for something.

Satan says, sure Christ saved you, but you chose to give your life to Him, right?
To these things Paul says, rubbish. Only being in Christ Jesus through faith in His cross counts in God's court.
Satan says, surely the sorrow and self punishment you put yourself through when you sin has to count for something. God will forgive you if you're really good at beating yourself up over your sins.

Satan says, maybe God will forgive you if you try real hard to fix your life before you stand before His judgment throne.

Satan say, maybe if you keep your sins hidden from other Christians then God won't see them either. That's the way to righteousness.
But all of these things like just other things to wear instead of Christ's righteousness. It's like we're in that space pod up high above the earth's atmosphere and Satan is saying, Oh that special suit God gave you is really nice, but maybe these one of these other suits will do just as well.

Don't believe it. Only in Christ are we righteous before God. On the last day many will try to wear some other clothes into the courtroom of the Holy God, but only those clothed in the blood bought perfection given by Christ will stand righteous in God's sight.

So be ready for that day. When sin happens in your life, hold it out to God saying, I can't do anything with this God, you take it. Suit up in Christ by faith in His cross, and know that in HIM you stand righteous before God.


October 14, 2012

Why We Treasure Our Fellowship - Oct 14, 2012

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Human beings are relationship oriented. We develop casual connections to people at work, and in the stores and restaurants we frequent. We develop deeper connections with family and friends, with whom we spend more time.

Casual relationships are easily broken. We get a better job offer, and we go, even though we like the people we used to work with. A store raises its prices, and we shop somewhere else, regardless of how nice the employees were. But deeper relationships are not so easily broken. These connections are too precious to cast away at the first sign of trouble or opportunity.

Today our sermon meditation is about the relationships that exist within our Christian fellowship. There are many reasons why Christians value their church relationships. But when you trace the blessings back to the source, you eventually find that Christ is the primary reason why we treasure our Christian fellowship.
Christian fellowship involves three people: the Christian, God, and other Christians. The apostle John describes this triangular relationship in our first reading.

1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
In the Greek, the word for "fellowship" is "Coin-oh-nee-ah". This Greek word means "association, communion, close relationship".

The close relationship of Christian fellowship begins with a close relationship to GOD. There is simply no other way. When we hear and believe the message that Jesus died to take our sins away we are drawn into fellowship with the God who created the universe, and who loved us enough to suffer in order to redeem us.

There is no relationship that can be more important, fulfilling, or rewarding than a relationship with the God of the Bible. In this relationship we are guaranteed eternal life in heaven. We are assured that each sin we bring to God in repentance WILL be forgiven because of Jesus' cross. The Bible says that when you're in a relationship with the true God, the Spirit of God actually LIVES in your heart to teach and guide you through His Word. The Bible says that God will never abandon the people who are in this relationship with Him, rather, He will work powerfully in our lives to turn every evil thing that happens into something that will benefit us and others, and bring glory to God.

In Romans 8 Paul writes...

"If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32 ESV).

A relationship with God means that all our sins are forgiven, everything in this life will be made to serve our good, and when we leave this life we will go to live eternally with God in heaven. What other relationship can promise this level of security and peace? And it's all possible because Jesus opened the door for sinners to have this relationship with God when He took away our sins. Christ is the reason why we treasure our Christian fellowship.
So, those are the first two people involved in Christian fellowship - the individual Christian and God. But, like I said, this relationship is triangular. It also involves OTHER followers of Christ.

Like I said, the Greek word for "fellowship" means "association, communion, close relationship". Another word we might add to this list is "sharing". Christian fellowship is all about sharing. One thing it's NOT about is competition.

Recently I read about a special race called the Western States Endurance Run. It's an ultra marathon event that covers 100 miles of trails snaking through the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California. Now, it's one thing to go out and do some casual jogging around the neighborhood, it's another thing altogether to run 100 miles in 24 hours. But that's exactly what runners try to do in the Western States 100.

Now, the fact that there are people out there crazy enough to try running 100 miles is interesting enough, but get this - all the runners who finish Western States in 24 hours get THE SAME THING: a belt silver belt buckle that says, "100 Miles, One Day". They all line up to race next to each other, but they're not running against each other so much as just running to finish.

This is how it works in the Christian Fellowship as well. We're all in this together, and we all get the same prize. In fact we're given the prize at the start of the race. Through the precious sacrifice that Christ made on the cross, we're given forgiveness and eternal life. And all we want to do is finish the race of life still holding Christ's precious gift in the hands of faith.

They say that you can't run 100 miles and not be a changed person. The same is true of the Christian life. God changes those He draws to Himself. Through the forgiveness that  Christ gives, we are enabled to forgive each other. Through the astounding love that God has for us, we are enabled to love each other in truth, and in action.

Instead of competing with fellow Christians we are running on the same team. We don't seek to climb over one another, but instead we build each other up and encourage each other with godly words and constant prayers. When some other Christian in our fellowship excels, that's a good thing to us! Their growth helps us to grow in faith.

And as we continue through life, we have help from those who run beside us. Being part of Christ's team means that we share in troubles and triumphs, whether those things are physical or spiritual. The apostle Paul wrote about this sharing aspect of Christian fellowship in Second Corinthians (our second sermon reading in the bulletin). He said...

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:3-11 NIV).

The fellowship we have in Christ is not built on competition. It has instead, a team attitude. In Christ we have the same prize. Through Christ's Word we are given spiritual gifts to use to lift up our fellow Christians. We are called in Christ to be engaged, part of the team, sharers in the struggle, not to be loners detached from the fellowship and unconcerned with the spiritual walk of others.

Again, the reason why we treasure the fellowship we have with other Christians, is because of the fellowship we have with Christ. He didn't leave the human race to fend for themselves. Instead Christ joined the team and won us forgiveness and salvation. He continually comes to our local fellowship through His Holy Word, in the waters of Baptism and in the Lord's Supper. And through these He builds up our faith in Him. Christ is the reason why this church is more than a social club or a community center. Christ is the reason why this place is center where forgiveness and eternal life is found. Christ is the reason why we treasure our fellowship and want others to receive the same grace that we have.
If you read through the New Testament of the Bible it doesn't take long before you see that only through Christ can a person have a  right relationship with God. We are sinners. Apart from the cleansing that Christ provides, we cannot approach or have a relationship with the Holy.

And if you read through just the beginning parts of the New Testament letters, it becomes clear right that this whole Christian thing is about being part of a team under Christ. Like Paul writes in the first chapter of Philippians,

" I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV).

Through the message of sins forgiven we are called to be ONE with Christ and ONE with each other IN CHRIST.
But because the gift of salvation is so precious, there are times when we must stand apart from other people who profess to be Christians.

Throughout the New Testament Christians are called to hold tightly to what CHRIST teaches alone. When people start trying to bring in other teachings, teaching that don't agree with what Christ teaches, God tells us to take action, and sometimes to part ways.

In 2 Peter it says...

"1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV).

In Galatians the apostle Paul wrote...

" I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8 ESV).

When writing to the young pastor Timothy, Paul wrote...

" As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm" (1 Timothy 1:3-7 NIV).

And in Romans Paul puts it quite bluntly what Christians are to do when we find people teaching contrary to what Christ teaches. He says...

" 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them" (Romans 16:17 ESV).
I mentioned earlier that the Greek word for "fellowship" means "association, communion, close relationship". But what I didn't mention is how this word was used in the ancient Greek world. Quite often the word for "fellowship" was used to describe the marriage relationship. And this makes perfect sense. What other human relationship could be considered a closer sharing relationship?

Churches sometimes flirt with false teachings. They might say, as long as it's not directly negating the message of sins forgiven through Christ, than yes, we can tolerate that. But who among us would accept that type of attitude in our marriages? Sure honey, I don't mind if you date other people, as long as you don't get married to them. The idea is absurd.

Any false teaching is dangerous simply because it's false. So what if it doesn't destroy faith right away. Would you say it's okay to drink poisoned water as long as it doesn't kill you the first time? Fellowship with our Creator is too precious to take chances like that. That's why God says to hold tightly to the  teachings of Christ and to separate from false teachers when they show themselves, no matter who those false teachers may be. Part of treasuring our fellowship with Christ is to GUARD that treasure.
Earlier I mentioned the Western States Endurance Run. When you run a race that taxing on the human body, strange things can happen. Throughout the race there are aid stations where doctors monitor the weight of the runners and make sure they're not becoming dangerously dehydrated.

Along the way, sometimes runners become so physically stressed that their minds begin to unhinge a little. Some become disoriented or experience hallucinations. For this reason and others, runners are allowed a "pacer" in the final stages of the race. This person runs beside the racer making sure they don't step off a cliff or wander into the wilderness after some hallucination.  

And this too is like the Christian fellowship. Running alone we can get lost in the wilderness of this world, distracted and disoriented by the temptations and false doctrines that Satan causes to spring up all around us. For this reason, Christ Jesus gave His beloved people the Holy Spirit, and each other, as pacers who will guide us in to the finish.

Many churches today don't seem to mind who goes where. As long as you're following Christ, they say, go ahead and drop in on any group. Fellow Christians, don't choose a pacer so lightly. Stick with the ones you can trust. Stick with those whose profession of faith you know. Stick with the ones who you know will bow to the Word of God when it speaks. We have too much at stake here to break faith at the first sign of trouble or opportunity. Our fellowship is with Christ and with like-minded Christians. Our fellowship is precious. Treasure it.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for drawing us together in fellowship here at Redemption Church. We are united to Christ by faith, knowing that our sins are truly forgiven. Thank you for giving us the gift of being united to each other also, through faith in all that Christ teaches. Help us to build each other up, encouraging and correcting one another according to your Word and according to your Word alone. Help us to cherish our connection to you and to separate from any who would introduce strange teachings at odds with yours. We pray all these things through Christ, our great and precious Savior. Amen.

October 7, 2012

Why We Keep Our Marriage Vows - Oct 7, 2012

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Some religions view God as someone who is far away. A God who created the universe like a giant watch, wound it up, and is now merely viewing how things will unfold.
In the Bible, however, God describes Himself as a very intimate God. From the very beginning God reveals that He is deeply interested in people. He wants to interact with us, converse with us, teach us and care for us.

Way back in the garden of Eden God would actually visit Adam and Eve. He took tangible form and walked with them in the cool of the day.

Even after Adam and Eve pushed God away by sinning against Him, He still wanted to have a relationship with them. He promised to send a Savior who would take away their sins, and ours, and make it possible for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Obviously, God desires a close relationship with human beings.
When the Son of God came to be that Savior, His whole life showed God's desire to be with us. The Son of God BECOME one of us. He became HUMAN so He could live and walk and talk with people like you and me.

God's desire for a deep relationship with us shows in every interaction that Jesus had with people. Jesus listened to their problems, healed their diseases, patiently taught them with parables and stories, and showed them the way to heaven.

God's desire to be close to human beings was so strong that He was willing to take all ours sins on Himself. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He was experiencing the punishment that our sins deserved.

If you think that the Son of God doesn't know you intimately, think again. Jesus knows each and every one of your thoughts, words and actions - because He suffered for your every sin.

Through Gospel of sins forgiven through Christ, God invites sinful human beings, like us, to experience His forgiveness. God invites us back into an intimate communion with our Creator.
When parents consider the option of adopting a child, that's a pretty big deal. If you decide to adopt a child you're inviting that person into our life, to be part of our family. You give them your name, and you make room for them in our home. You care for their needs and shower them with love.

God does this for sinners. When a person is Baptized, God puts His name on them. They are born again, out of the family of sin and death, and into the family of forgiveness and life. God desires closeness.

In the family of God we are invited to talk to God as our own Father. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them, "Start like this, 'Our Father who art in heaven'" (see Matthew 6:9). God desires closeness.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples that He would be leaving them soon. But, He told them not to be afraid because He was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be where He is. The Bible teaches that through faith in Christ, heaven is secured as our eternal home. Our Savior is preparing it for us.

All these things show how closely God wants to be to us.

It doesn't matter how unworthy we are to be with Christ, He still wants us. That's why He was willing to die for us.

Early in His ministry Jesus did a miracle while sitting in Peter's fishing boat. He caused a huge amount of fish to be caught even though Peter's fishing team hadn't been able to catch a thing all night. When Peter saw the miracle he knew that He was in the presence of the Almighty. He was a professional fisherman, he knew that this type of catch didn't just happen out of the blue. The Bible says...

"8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon,  “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him" (Luke 5:8-11 NKJV).

Jesus knew Peter was  a sinner, and He loved Him all the same.

Another time, Jesus' enemies brought a woman to Him who had been caught in adultery. They wanted Jesus to lead the people to stone her for her crimes. But Jesus just replied,

"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7 ESV).

When the crowd had all filed away, Jesus turned and said to the woman,

"Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:10-11 NKJV).

In the same way, Jesus invites each and every one of us to experience the forgiveness that He has won for us through His cross. He tells us to openly confess our sins to God and to know that no matter what sins we bring, in Christ, through His cross, they have all been forgiven.

Can you imagine a more intimate thing? To lay before the Lord the deepest and darkest secrets of your past? To nakedly hold up your most sinful and embarrassing thoughts, words and deeds not holding back even the most shameful - and to know that His response will be, "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more"?
Through simple trust in Christ as our Savior from sin we are invited into the most intimate of unions. We become part of Christ Himself.

The Bible says that through faith in Jesus we become part of Him. He is the head, we are the body. (Colossians 1:18)
There's an illustration of this in the early history of the Christian Church. After Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended back into heaven, a man name Saul started hunting down Christian men and women in order to throw them in jail and have them executed. When the risen and glorified Savior confronted Saul, knocking him down on the road to Damascus, He said to him,

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4 ESV)

Whatever is done to His followers, is done to Christ. That is how close our connection to Jesus is, through simple faith.
In the book of Romans we find this description of our oneness with Christ. It says...

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Romans 6:3-5 ESV).

Through faith we are so intimately joined to Christ that we get credit for His death and resurrection. In addition to this, because of Christ, the way we live begins to change in the here and now. Because of Christ, one day we will be physically raised from the dead to begin everlasting life with Him in heaven.
The Bible says that the intimate relationship that Christians have with Jesus will bleed into their relationships with others. The Bible tells us to forgive, as we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13). The Bible says that we love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Bible says that one of the marks of the Christian congregation is that we will put each other first, in the same way that Christ put us first and gave Himself to redeem us (Ephesians 5:21).

Our sermon reading for today describes how our relationship with Christ is to be reflected in our marriages as well.

Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
You know, there are many reason why a married couple might keep their vows to one another. Remaining faithful to each other creates a stable relationship where love can grown stronger and mutual support can enrich our lives. Remaining faithful to each other creates a stable environment for children to grow up in, learning from their parents what it means to be part of a dedicated and loving family. Remaining faithful to each other safeguards a couple from all the pain and heartache of divorce.

But for Christ followers, if we really get down to the heart of the matter, Christ is the reason why we keep our marriage vows. And keeping our marriage vows means so much more than just remaining married. Keeping our marriage vows means following Ephesians 5 and all the other directions God gives us about how we are to treat other people in general, and our spouses in specific.

Keeping our marriage vows means constantly approaching God's throne of grace and confessing the sins we have done against our spouses. Keeping our marriage vows means constantly returning to our spouses to express heartfelt repentance over the ways we have sinned against them.

Without Christ's forgiveness we could never have a relationship with God, and without Christ's forgiveness poured out on our spouses our marriages cannot be all that God intends them to be - little reflections of our relationship with Christ.
Maybe it's been a long time since you said those vows, or heard others say them. Let's revisit them for a moment.

Man, will you take this woman to be your wife? Will you be guided by the counsel and direction God has given in His Word and love your wife as Christ loved the Church? Will you be faithful to her, cherish her, support her, and help her in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? If so, answer, “I Will.”

Woman, will you take this man to be your husband? Will you be guided by the counsel and direction God has given in His Word and submit to your husband as the Church submits to Christ? Will you be faithful to him, cherish him, support him, and help him in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? If so, answer, “I Will.”

It is respect for Christ on the part of husband and wife that lays the foundation for CHRISTIAN marriage. The love and respect that characterizes our relationship with Christ, is the same love and respect that is to characterize the relationship with our spouse.

And it is the greatness of Christ's forgiveness that makes it possible for sinful human beings like us to remain married for any length of time. For we all fall terribly short of being the husbands and wives that we aught to be. Thanks be to God for the gift of marriage. And thanks be to Christ for washing all our sins against marriage on the cross. Let's pray.

 Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for blessing the human race with the gift of marriage. Give our younger generations wisdom to see that divorces and marriage problems don’t exist because marriage is flawed, but because we are. Help us to teach our youth rightly what the responsibilities and roles of husband and wife are, so that they can have strong marriages built on your principles.

Give those who are currently married: patience, active love, perseverance, selflessness, joy and fulfillment. Move our hearts to repent of our sins against our spouses, and to seek their forgiveness openly.  

Move us to also come to you Christ Jesus, with a humble and repentant heart concerning all our sins against you. You are our great Husband, the Husband of the Church for whom you died. Forgive us. And thank you for loving us when we were faithless to you. Thank you for leading us into the light of your grace. Amen.

The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.