Theme: A Blessing from a Greater Blood
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, our Lord, washed and cleansed in His precious blood.
Many of you saw the graphic I posted on our church Facebook page this past week, showing a survey on happiness. A young member of our church body, who attends a secular university, explained how in a political science class, the students were asked to answer two questions about happiness. The first question asked “What do you think is most important to a person’s happiness?” The second question asked “What do you think is least important to a person’s happiness.” Of the 51 students who responded, only one, the member of our church body, said that religion was most important for happiness. On the flipside, religion was the number one answer, 37% of the replies, to what least important for happiness.
Over a third of the young students in that class believed that religion was essentially useless for their lives. Not only useless, but actually detrimental, as if it provided a false sense of security. Why is that? If you go back 20 or 30 years, I’m sure religion would hold a much greater priority for young people. We could certainly spend all day talking about the influence of a secular education which denies God and the Bible. The current state public universities and popular culture definitely plays a substantial role in shaping how our young people think about religion.
We could also talk about the general decline of religion itself in America. So many churches and other religious institutions have strayed so far from the truth of God’s Word that even unbelievers can recognize the hypocrisy and inconsistency. When we as Christians no longer defend God’s Word and no longer take our role of being the “salt” and “light” of the world seriously, we simply blend into the rest of society and ultimately lose what makes us unique and different as Christians.
But I believe there’s a greater misunderstanding present, across all beliefs, all ages, and all cultures. And this misunderstanding has contributed most significantly to the decline of religion, especially our Christian religion, in the modern world. This misunderstanding is about happiness; both how we define happiness and how we achieve it. What’s happening in America is the same thing that has happened throughout the history of the world. People take happiness and distort it. They turn it into pleasure, into a self-interest. It’s not a surprise that people see this shallow happiness in many religions because only Christianity has a happiness that lasts forever and that isn’t rooted in self-pleasure. Everyone in the world follows some type of religious belief, even if that’s not how they label it. Everyone is using these beliefs to find some type of happiness. But nothing in the world can compare to the Gospel of Christ. No greater happiness can be found.
But what’s happening is that even Christianity itself, at least as far it is practiced and promoted, is losing this unique quality; the quality that sets it apart from everything else. Instead of standing out to the world, too many Christians are conforming and trying to blend in. When this happens, we exchange the eternal happiness found in the forgiveness of Christ for the fleeting version of the world and of all the false religions in it. How do you keep this from happening in your life, because it hits home for every one of us? Well, it helps to have a good family. And I don’t just mean your biological family; I’m talking about your spiritual family, just as Jesus did in the words of our text, from Mark 3:31-35:
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." 33 And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (ESV)
You’ve all heard the familiar saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” This phrase means that your family members are the closest connections you have in life, at least they should be. Family obligations are often the number one priority for people. Sometimes family even takes the place of God for people. It’s what they bring every thought, word, and action in subjection to. Going back to that poll question, the number one response for what brings happiness was family, coming in at just under 40% of the responses.
Family bonds are certainly strong. Family members are those who love you and care about you. They are the first ones you go to for help and when you’re in want or need. That’s actually the way God designed it. He created the family in Genesis so that Adam would have companionship and help. It easy to see how ignoring what God says about family can have devastating effects on life. Kids that come from broken homes or no home at all have a much harder time in life, precisely because they don’t have help, they don’t have anyone to rely on.
But the family bond is also strong because family members watch out for us. Family members are not afraid to tell you how it is when you need to hear it. Ask anyone to describe what makes the important relationships in their lives special and honesty will always be near the top of the list. Think about your closest friends and relatives. I am willing to bet that each relationship that comes to mind involves someone that is not afraid to be honest with you. It’s the people that just tell you what you want to hear that are the fake ones. It’s not always easy to receive some flak every now and then from family members but it is important. Honesty can actually be one of the highest forms on love that you ever have in a relationship.
And that’s what Jesus spoke about when He called His disciples His brothers and sisters and mother. The key phrase that makes that relationship strong is “whoever does the will of God.” If honesty and forthrightness is such a blessing to make a family relationship strong, should we consider it any differently in our spiritual family? It’s true that blood is thicker than water. But there is a blood that creates the strongest bond ever – the blood of Jesus Christ. This is not the blood of the family tree. It’s the blood that comes from the will of God and the blood that unites those who follow the will of God.
Scripture tells you about this blood, shed on the cross for your sins. It is the blood that “cleanses you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7).” The blood that redeems you by taking away your sins (Ephesians 1:7). This blood shows you what true love is (Revelation 1:5). This blood gives lasting peace (Colossians 1:20). It is the most valuable currency in the entire world but at the same time a free gift of God’s love. And the blood of Jesus unites the spiritual family of God’s Church.
What does this have to do with happiness? It shows us the true source. Happiness is found in Christ and experienced when one believes in Christ. And the same family that is united by the blood of Christ has the mission to share this happiness. We lose sight of this goal when we exchange the happiness of faith in Christ with the happiness of the world. This happens when we fail to say what we need to say; when we stop being honest with our fellow Christians and with the world. What value is there in a relationship where someone just tells you what you want to hear? You can’t trust someone like that. How can they really care about you when they allow you believe things that aren’t true? We would never stand for such a relationship in our lives. Family doesn’t do that.
Why do we settle for this in our spiritual lives? Why do we put such a high value on what we want to hear and such a low value on the truth of God’s Word? This is the trend in Christianity today. Don’t judge, don’t talk about sin, don’t reveal decay in thoughts and actions. Just promote love, ignore differences, tolerate other’s beliefs. When we allow this to happen to our faith we lose what makes it significant and special; what sets it apart from other religions.
It’s easy to sit back and say, “Well, that’s not my problem, I believe the right things about God’s Word, that hasn’t happened to me.” But what you don’t realize is when you refuse to say anything about it, when you fail to let your light shine, to be bold in your confession of faith, when you shy away from sharing your happiness with others, you’re contributing to the problem just as much as anyone else. We who still have the truth cannot sit idly by and let the world fall apart, and let Christianity in America derail just because we don’t suffer from the same problems. You may not be able to fix it. The problem with America may be too far along for a few confessing Christians to make much of a difference. But let God take care of that. You know what you need to do.
Sometimes the task seems so great that you don’t know where to start. Take advice from Jesus, start where He does in our text, with your family – both at home and in church. Ask yourself if you’re living right now with as great of a love and concern for your spiritual family as you’re earthly? Do you watch out for your father, mother, son, or daughter in their faith life as much as you do in their physical life? Are you ready and willing to tell them how it is? Do you love them enough to have the difficult conversations with them? Will you talk to them about sin? Will you bring the message of God’s law when they need to hear it? Will you talk to them about why they haven’t been in church; or why they aren’t confessing Christ as they should? It’s tough to talk about these things but that’s what family does, especially the church family. But God not only guides and leads you, He not only provides everything you need in His Word, He gives you a message of happiness. Whatever you’re talking about, even if it’s the difficult topics of sin, indifference, complacency, laziness; you can always follow up with true happiness – the good news of forgiveness, life, salvation. Does it get any better than that?
But if we Christians are unwilling to tell it how it us; if we shy away because the world pressures us, because we’re afraid of the reactions, if we aren’t prepared, we’re no better than any other hardened sinner. If we can’t be honest with God and with others about the truth of the Bible, we have no reason to boast of our faith, for that faith loses its special character when the truth is sacrificed. And the effect of this hollow faith is what we see in polls like the one taken in that political science class. Why believe in Christ if He’s no different than any other religious figure? Why follow Christianity if it returns voids on the tough questions of life like all the other religions. Why be a Christian if there’s nothing different about being a Christian? The world sees this and it makes an impression for them, but not in the right direction. It confirms for them what they’ve wanted for ages, to claim that Jesus and His followers are no different than anyone else.
This infectious philosophy pervades Christianity today, especially in America, and you and I are not immune. You know, at first glance we might think that the Bible doesn’t say much about happiness, but it does. The Bible speaks of happiness all over the place; what it doesn’t talk about, at least in a good light, is the world’s brand of happiness. What the world has done is taken happiness and hollowed it out. They’ve replaced the true meaning of happiness with pleasures, self-interests, lusts, desires and temptations – basically whatever I, the individual, want. And when the trials of life come this happiness caves in because it has no substance and in its hollow shell springs up depression, anxiety, fear, and anger. That’s the world’s brand of happiness and the fuel that fires it is sin.
The Bible’s version of happiness is much different. You might know it as blessedness. We use a different word because we don’t want people to think of the world’s brand, but blessedness is happiness – there is no difference as God defines it. To be blessed by God is to share in His happiness. The happiness that doesn’t include sin, that isn’t hollow, that stands the tests and trials of time. The happiness that is freely given to you from the washing and cleansing of Christ’s holy blood. It’s a Blessing, A happiness, from a Greater Blood. Not the blood of family, but the blood of Christ, who has accomplished God’s will for you.
Christ has forgiven you of everything and that changes you. It means you are different, that you’re no longer like the world. We call that sanctification. Covered by Christ’s righteousness you are now holy and without blemish. You are God’s own because He has adopted you into His family. What greater bond built on blood could there be? So, now that you’re changed, be different. Not different from God, but different from the world. Turn from sin, repent of your mistakes, stand out from the rest of chaos and confusion; because you are blessed, you are happy in Christ.
You can’t describe it better than the words of Psalm 1. Listen to God, your Father, tell you about true happiness:
How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! 2 Instead, his delight is in the LORD's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin (HCSB).
See the difference? Do you see how you can and how you should stand out? Do you see where true happiness comes from? God is honest and upfront with you in His Word. You can see it clearly. He is not afraid to tell you how it is, because He loves you and He has the strongest bond possible with you in your faith. And because of this, you are happy, you are blessed.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.