The Lord's Day Morning
October 12, 2008
The Reverend David Robertson
Dr. Thomas: Now please be seated. I want to welcome formally David Robertson, the minister of the Church of St. Peter, in Dundee, in Scotland. He's no stranger. He's preached here many times before. David, we welcome you back to First Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Robertson: Let's pray.
Lord, we come to look in Your word, and we bless You that it is Your word. It is the word of the living God. We pray that You would help us to have ears to listen, that we would have eyes to see, that we would have minds to understand, that we would have hearts to love and wills to obey, and bodies that would serve You. We ask it in Your name. Amen.
I'm going to read from God's words in the book of Romans, chapter 8. It's on page 944 of the pew Bible. I want to start reading from verse 28.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justified. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are m ore than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
May God bless His word to us.
Let me once again say how pleased I am to be here. I also want to apologize again for my use of the Queen's English, and I will try and speak a wee bit slower. I have a habit of speaking quite fast. Normally when I come to places like here, you say I'm speaking fast. (I'm actually speaking slow…you ain't seen nothin’ yet!) [Laughter] Mississippi….I find I don't really speak Mississippian, but I do know two phrases. One is “sweet or unsweet” — which I like, and the other one is the amazing way that you manage to take a one-syllable word and extend it so that it becomes a whole paragraph… [laughter]…such as the lady who, up in Macon, I think…she's an absolutely lovely lady, and she said after the service, “I lo-o-ve the way y’all ta-a-lk!” And I said, “How do you get y’all to go so long without breathing?” [Laughter] It was really a wonderful skill. So I do hope that you’ll be able to follow my accent, and I will try and restrain the speed.
Let me also say to the children, it's great to see you. I'm always glad to see children in church. I have deep conscious memories of a child sitting in church being bored out of my skull, looking at stained glass windows and counting the panes, and thinking all different kinds of things. So I'm just going to offer you a wee challenge….wee is Scots for small…a small challenge. Those of you who are old enough, you probably have mobile phones and so on. Don't do what one of our young people did during a service — texting me a question in the middle of the sermon! [Laughter] Thankfully, my phone was on vibrate or that would have been very, very embarrassing! But I always say to our own young people and the children as well, if you want to ask questions, feel free to do so. And if you want, I've got a wee card, and you can come to me at the end and I’ll give you my card and you can send me an email, or even a text, if you wanted to mention anything. And that's true for the children as well as for others. It's great to see you worship early in the morning service. I hope you will talk about these things and discuss what we're going to look at with your parents, as well.
Dr. Duncan asked me to come and to say something — or to look at the whole question of evangelism. And what we're going to look at this morning is the motive for evangelism. In the Sunday School class we looked a little bit at the context and meaning of philosophies in our society. This evening we're going to look at the message, and I hope to communicate the gospel in that sense and I would encourage you to come along and to bring people to hear God's word. And then on Wednesday, we're going to look at the method of evangelism and I hope to be able to share with you a little bit more, maybe, some of the things that we do. But you might look at it and go, “No way!” On the other hand, you may be able to say, “Yeah, that might work here.” So that's what we're going to do.
But this morning we're going to look at this letter to the Romans. Now let me begin by saying that a number of years ago I conducted an informal survey of the people in my church who had come along…who were new. We had a congregation of seven people when we went to St. Peter's, and in what D. James Kennedy calls “a Scots revival” four of them left! So…. But more and more people have been coming, and that's been very, very encouraging. I went around to some of the new people and asked them two questions: Why did you come, and why did you stay?
Now the reason the people came were very many different reasons — from some, quite extraordinary. I would say the one most extraordinary was the man who said he met an angel in an Irish pub who told him to go to St. Peter's. I did wonder what he had been drinking, but nonetheless the effect was very good and I was glad to see him there. But most people came because friends invited them, or different reasons.
But why they stayed? There were two reasons why they stayed — or at least I will group them into two reasons. One is what I would call warmth, which was the notion of it being a welcoming place, and the other is what I would call reality, and this is what we're going to look at. The people would come out and they would say, “I don't understand it, but this is for real.” And I think that notion of reality is very, very important. People don't want fake. They don't want what Francis Schaeffer called “plastic Christians.” They want reality.
Now the problem with reality is, reality can be ugly. You see, in a superficial world I can think that I am Brad Pitt, that I'm slim, and all the rest of it. Reality looking in the mirror tells me that's probably not the case, which is why I don't look in the mirror all that much. Reality sometimes can be very disturbing, but reality is what people need, especially when it comes to church.
I want to say something about the gospel recorded in Romans. I'm going to try in five minutes to summarize the first eight chapters of Romans. I realize that in your pulpit you have two superb exegetes, Dr. Duncan and Dr. Thomas, who could take five millennia to go through these eight chapters, but I'm just going to do a broad brush approach and then see what Paul's response is to it.
Incidentally, I was once preaching in Romans, and this lady in the church (and she hadn't been used to coming to church) and even for a Scotswoman she found…not my accent, but the speed of talking a bit quick…and I'd mentioned a verse that she was really interested in, but she couldn't remember where it was. She just knew it was in Romans. She went home, and she was so disturbed she started at the beginning of Romans, and in the afternoon sat and read through the whole book and was converted through reading Romans. A great idea to read the Bible, and a great idea to read through not just looking for blessed thoughts, but read through whole chunks of it, if you can, at a time. God's word is powerful.
Well, here in Romans up to this point what we have is very simple…simple in one level, profound in another. Paul is writing to Christians in Rome who are facing all kinds of dangers and distractions. In a brilliant piece of writing inspired by the Holy Spirit, he tells us the gospel. Chapter 1:1, he says he is a servant of the gospel. It is the gospel of God, the good news promised in the Old Testament, the good news about Jesus who was declared and proved to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. He points out that what's wrong with society is that human beings in their stupidity have rejected God, and so the wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men. God allows them to serve their own lusts, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
Incidentally, in the current situation, it's fascinating for me watching on television the numerous reports of the Dow falling, people getting so depressed, and so on. My answer as a Christian is, What did you expect? When you've got people in Wall Street and in the stock market in London saying we are the masters of the universe, what do you expect? You know what God does in terms of punishment. God doesn't come and zap people with lightning, normally. When human beings reject God, Paul says, the greatest punishment that God can give is give human beings what they want — in other words, a life without Him. And when you have a system, whatever system it is, whatever “-ism” it is, whatever economic system it is, and human beings say “We are the masters of the universe and we can run this system. It's the system that matters,” then you’ll get it wrong, because human beings are by nature inherently greedy and will speculate and go for things that are corrupt and so on. And really, what Adam Smith, a good Scotsman, said in his Wealth of Nations, that capitalism could not survive the decline of Christianity, is actually true because in order for it to work, you need people who are moral. Now I'm not saying that only Christians are moral, but I am saying that the only real basis for an absolute morality is in an absolute God, and once society throws that away you end up with chaos. And that, sadly, is what we have descended into.
Well, that's what Paul says. He says as we reject God we store up wrath against ourselves. He points out that all human beings, whether religious or not, are under the judgment of God. “All have sinned and fall short of the righteousness of God.” So how can that be dealt with? He says that the only way we can be made right with God is through faith in Jesus Christ, because Jesus came as a sacrifice of atonement, a sacrifice in our place. And in chapter 4, he gives Abraham as an example of that faith.
Because we're made right with God, because of His justification, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have peace, we have joy, we have hope, we have love. We are saved from God's wrath. By the way, let me just say this: Christians who want to leave out the atonement and the wrath of God but like the nice bits about the peace and the hope and the love and the joy, they’re missing out the peace and the love and the hope and the joy, because they only come because of the atonement. That's why the cross is the best bit of the whole Bible: because it's just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful story — not of an example of someone's death, but of the depth of God's love for us and what God did in the atonement for us.
Because of the atonement we are saved from God's wrath. We have life. We’re dead to sin and alive to Christ. We are promised the resurrection. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In chapter 7, we still struggle against the remnants of sin within, but in chapter 8 you begin in verse 1, “There is now no condemnation” for the believer, and the whole of chapter 8 is magnificent. So there's this wonderful, fantastic, glorious gospel that you and I need to preach to ourselves again and again and again and again, so that when you’re watching the news…you’re sitting thinking, “Yes, it's terrible, but there is good news.”
You know, it's sad when Christianity is perverted into a kind of health and wealth prosperity gospel, or to moralism or legalism. When real Christianity takes hold of your life and grips your heart it is the realization that no matter what happens, God gave His Son for His people. And it's just a wonderful thing to have.
Then, Paul then talks about how he has served God with his whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son. Chapter 12, he goes on to talk about how he uses his mind, body, soul, heart. There's passion, and there's fire, and there's life in Paul!
But chapter 9 is an astonishing reaction. You would expect Paul to say there's this great gospel — isn't it wonderful, hallelujah, praise the Lord. But in chapter 9, look what he says right at the beginning:
“I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit–that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.”
Think of the pain and the sorrow that you would have if…I mean, I have three children. The youngest is a ten-year-old. I cannot imagine the pain and the sorrow if any of my children were to die. That's the kind of expression that Paul uses — not a worry, not a fear, not an angst, but just this ripping apart of his heart. Why? This wonderful gospel. And he says, ‘I'm not lying; the Spirit and my conscience bear witness that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish.’ Why? Because his own people did not know Jesus Christ. And he even goes so far as to say, ‘I wish that I could be accursed.’ In other words, he's really saying ‘I wish I could go to hell, if only they would come to know Jesus Christ.’
I. What is our passion for the gospel…or where is our passion for the gospel? And our passion for the lost?
Well, I want to ask just a very simple question. What is our passion for the gospel…or where is our passion for the gospel? And our passion for the lost?
See, I care if people who are close to me get sick. Obviously you care if they die. You care if bad things happen. You rejoice when good things happen to them. You celebrate when they get engaged or pass their exams, or whatever. But do I dare to look at my family, at my friends, at my neighbors, and see them as God sees them? As people who are lost, and in desperate, desperate, desperate need?
The church in which I am is the church of a man called Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and I have access to his letters and diaries. Let me read to you from a letter to his congregation on the twenty-seventh of February, 1839. He says this:
“If God looks down upon us as a parish, what does He see? Are there not still a thousand souls strangers to the house of God?
How many does His holy eye now rest upon who are seldom in the house of prayer, who neglect it in the forenoon? How many
frequent the tavern on the Sabbath Day?”1
M’Cheyne was burdened greatly. He had a church that was full. It was packed. He had a very, very successful ministry, but his heart broke for the people who did not know Jesus. He told his congregation of a story of an Anglican missionary, Dr. Holbeck, that an Anglican missionary had told him of a situation in South Africa where there was a large leprosy colony where hundreds of lepers were kept. Those who entered there were never allowed out again. Two Moravian missionaries entered, knowing that they would not return. As soon as they died, there were others outside who were ready to come in. Now I think that is an extraordinary story, and I think it's a wonderful story that these Moravian missionaries were prepared to go in their place. M’Cheyne said this:
“Ah, my dear friends! May we not blush and be ashamed before God that we, redeemed with the same blood and taught by the same Spirit, should yet be so unlike these men in vehement, heart-consuming love to Jesus and the souls of men.”
“Vehement…heart-consuming love to Jesus and the souls of men.” We don't care. We really don't. We like our church to be full. We like our religion to be nice. We like to come to church. We don't like to think about the lostness of the people around us. We've got enough worries; we've got enough concerns without having these added to us.
Well, we are of course out of step with the Lord. We’re out of step with the Apostle Paul here. Now let me mention just one thing as regards that.
We tend to think if we do things right in the church, if we have a nice building, if we get our worship correct…you know, the minister dresses properly…if we're welcoming to people, and so on…people will come here. Because we think that the world out there, that there are thousands of people in Jackson who right now are at home miserable because they don't know Jesus, and if only they could know Jesus then they would be happy. Let me tell you this. There are thousands of people out there who think that they are happy, and who probably are happy by many standards, and who couldn't care less about coming to church, and who see no relevance in it at all. We operate on the principle that people are seeking for God, and all we have to do is make the way attractive and they will come.
But Paul didn't accept that. Go back to Romans 3:10, when he says this:
“As it is written, none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
People seek happiness. People seek health. People seek spirituality. People seek themselves. And if you say, “Come to church and you’ll be happy, come to church and you’ll be healthy, come to church — you’ll be put in touch with your inner being” and all this kind of stuff, then yes, sure, people may come for that. But what you’re not doing is you’re not offering them the gospel. Paul says nobody seeks God. They may seek some form of religion. They may seek some kind of God, but it's all to do with in their inner self and so on. But they don't seek the God of the Bible.
So what do we do? You could go the hyper-Calvinist route and say, well, you know, we’ll just wait…sit until Jesus returns. Which is kind of like the Dispensationalist route as well, where it's kind of batten-down-the-hatches until the storm is over and the Lord returns and we've got the kingdom. That is not understanding the gospel. The gospel is that Jesus, the Son of Man, came to seek and save that which was lost. The incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection are all about God seeking us. “The gospel is now revealed,” says Paul in Romans 16, “that all nations might believe and obey Him.” In other words, God seeks people. And how does He seek them? He seeks them through His word.
See, we tend to have this idea the word is something that you come and you hear as a Christian and it builds you up, but God seeks people through His word. “How can they hear,” says Paul in Romans 10, “without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!” We need to actively seek the lost, and that does not mean….the days are long gone when just handing out a tract or an invite or saying something on the radio or television would be sufficient. We have to actively go out and seek those who are lost.
You know, I think that the big issue here for me is not that we live in a culture where people become more and more indifferent to the gospel, or don't know the gospel. That's the culture of the world; what do you expect? God didn't send the gospel into a world which knew it! He sent the gospel into the world which was ignorant of it, and it needed to be taught, it needed to be communicated.
I think the major problem is not the culture and the society: the major problem is the church. It's us.
People say, “Hey, you've got to be cautious.” I'm not keen on caution. I'm wont to caution about something. Please be cautious about being cautious. It's very dangerous to be so cautious. I mean, let me explain it this way. I do a number of weddings. I do a lot of weddings, actually. It's great. I do about ten weddings to every funeral; it's the advantage of having a very young church … young people, anyway. A couple come and stand in front of the church. If I said to the groom, “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?” and he said, “Well, you know, that's a really interesting question. Do you know…I think so. I've been thinking about it for a while, and it seems to be that that's a fairly reasonable thing to do. And we're here, after all, and the honeymoon's booked, so maybe — you know, maybe we’ll go for it and see how it works out.” You know the wedding's over! That's going to be some interesting reception! Well, I suspect she's going to say “No” after he says that. Why? Because he's standing there and his eyes are glowing and he's going “Yes! What do you mean, do I? Of course I do!” No hesitation!
With us as Christians, we need the kind of commitment where our love for Jesus Christ and our love for our fellow human beings is such that it's impossible for us to think anything other than that we want to communicate the gospel. We may not know how. We may struggle how. I struggle how. The minute you reduce the gospel to a program, the minute you say here's a formula, you've not got it. Let me put it this way. Again go back to the marriage analogy. If you need a program or a book to tell you how to love your wife, you are in big trouble. You can get advice, you can get things to help you, and all the rest of it. But of course you know that it's relational, and I think that is the same with our communication of the gospel.
But my primary concern here to communicate is this: that until, in the words of Psalm 126, we go forth sowing our seed with tears, we will never reap with songs of joy. There is no such thing as painless evangelism. There is no such thing as simple, easy evangelism. The evangelism that Jesus did was to come and die on the cross. That's how far He went to seek and to save that which was lost. The evangelism that we do must reflect that. And it's the cost of that that is enormous.
Now I'm not saying this to try and make people feel guilty. I'm saying this because there are so many people in this city and so many people in the United States, and so many people throughout the world who are lost and who need to hear the gospel. You can't convert them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. But you have a responsibility to communicate the gospel through your words, through your actions, collectively as a community of the church. “My heart's desire,” says Paul in Romans 10, “…my heart's desire and prayer for the people of Israel is that they may be saved.” My heart's desire and prayer for the people of Jackson, people of Dundee, wherever you’re from, is that they may be saved.
Now let me leave you with that simple question. There may be some of you here who are not Christians and you’re going, “What's he talking about? Is this some kind of guilt trip, trying to get people to come to church?” No, it's not. This is about reality. It's about life. It's about heaven. It's about hell. It's about you, and you need to get yourself sorted with God, and I plead with you to think about it in that way and even come along tonight as well and just ask God to reveal himself to you. But to those of us who are Christians, I would say the same thing. It isn't about trying to go and do a wee bit more. It's about asking this very simple and honest question that you have to ask yourself. No one can really answer but you. What is your heart's desire and prayer?
I said to the boys and girls I used to sit in church and it didn't bother me. My heart's desire and prayer at the time was whether Rangers football club had won the previous day. And then when I got about 15 or 16, my heart's desire and prayer was for the girl in my class who didn't seem to notice me, but who was absolutely stunning. That was my heart's desire and prayer. And then when you get older, things that are your heart's desire and prayer…you’re in church right now and what you’re really thinking about…you’re really thinking about the credit crunch. You’re really thinking about all the different things that you want, and your heart's desire and prayer may even be for things that are absolutely legitimate and good! You long to be in good health. But what is your consuming passion? Until it's Jesus Christ, and until it's His glory as revealed in the gospel being proclaimed to everybody, you've really got to stop and say, “Lord, where am I as a Christian?” And this isn't easy. The burden of the Lord in a sense is a hard thing to have. But Christ helps you carry it.
We talk about the heart of God, and we use jargon all the time. I think if I felt as God felt about the lost, I couldn't stand under the pressure. So I don't ask for that. I just ask Him to give me a little glimpse, a little awareness…not seeing people as products, not seeing people as objects of evangelism, but seeing people as they really are: people that are created in the image of God but are lost and on their way to hell, and people for whom I and you have great, great news. Until we get that, until we grasp that, until we feel that, our evangelism will be useless.
May God bless His word to us.
We’re going to sing the song on your sheet, In Christ Alone. It's a beautiful and very, very powerful song that gives the Christian great assurance, and it's our message to every non-Christian: there is no hope without Jesus Christ. In Christ alone my hope is found.
Now may the God of peace who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will. And may He work in us what is pleasing to Him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
1. The Life and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne. Andrew Bonar. http://books.google.com/books?id=Wl0XAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=If+God+looks+down+upon+us+as+a+parish,+what+does+He+see%3F+Are+there+not+still+a+thousand+souls+strangers+to+the+house+of+God%3F&source=web&ots=FF1GTtx9Lt&sig=EF9t0dpZQ3IeF8rKc1fakvO3N4k&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
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