The Christian Life in a Word (or Two)

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Jul 14

Hebrews 9:27-28

Let’s turn in our Bibles to Hebrews chapter 9 - that can be found on page 1006 in the pew Bibles - as we come to participate this morning in the ministry of God’s Word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. “Taking the Lord’s Supper seriously is something that deep down most of us simply do not do.” That’s the way J.I. Packer begins the last chapter of his book, Taking God Seriously. Well we’re in a series this July on the means of God’s grace. These are the ways that God uses to grow us, to mature us, and to persevere us spiritually. We’re talking about taking God seriously. And taking God seriously means that we will read His Word and we will pray and we will observe the sacraments and we will gather together as the church. As Christians, we should be doing these things. And as we rely upon the grace of Jesus Christ and rest in the work of the Holy Spirit, God promises to bless us in these things. 

And so today, we come to the Lord’s Supper. And we are going to be looking back at Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we are looking forward to His return so that we can live today with hope. Let me give you just a brief outline of where we are headed with these two verses that we will read from Hebrews 9:27-28. We’ll look at once dying, once offered, and twice appearing. Once dying, once offered, and twice appearing. Let’s pray that God would help us as we study His Word this morning.

Our Father, we rejoice in Your Word as one who finds great treasure, except for when we don’t. And there are times when we are distracted and we are burdened, and so we ask that You would, Father, help us to focus on Your Word, to hear what You say to us today, and that the Holy Spirit would apply these things into our lives, that we would see Jesus in all of His grace and all His sufficiency; that we would go out to serve You with joy and with hope. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Let’s read Hebrews chapter 9, verses 27 and 28:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

Once Dying 

The writer, Rich Cohen, he tells a story about a family photo that his Aunt Renee showed to him and his brother when they were young boys. And it’s an old picture, a picture of their extended family, and the family is sort of gathered around the person you would consider to be the patriarch of the family. And his Aunt Renee is a little girl in the picture, and as she is showing the picture to Rich and his brother, she said, “Almost everyone in this picture is dead.” And Rich’s brother said, “Oh, did they just prop them up like that?”

Almost everyone in the picture is dead. That’s true of a lot of family photos, isn’t it? And it may be true to a certain extent of church directories and school yearbooks and pictures of our childhood friends. Those who we’ve known and loved are gone. “It’s appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Once. Once is a favorite and important word in the book of Hebrews. In fact, we’ve read it twice in these two verses that we’ve just read. “It is appointed for man to die once,” and then, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” There’s a sense of gravity or finality about the word, “once.” And we know that’s true in our own lives because the important days in our lives, the things we celebrate as anniversaries, are things that happened, for the most part, once. The day of our birth. Maybe it’s the day we came to faith in Christ, our new birth. Perhaps it’s your wedding day or the high school graduation. They happen once. But the most significant and ultimate once for all of us is death. Unless Jesus comes first, we all die. Now that is such an obvious point that it is a cliché’, but as much as we try not to think about it and as much as we try not to talk about it, or as much as we try to mask the approach of age and decay, death is unavoidable. And on that day, on the day of our death, we will be held accountable before God. Verse 27 says that with death comes judgment. 

Now the writer of Hebrews has already told us along these lines that “no creature is hidden from God’s sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” A few verses later in this book we will read that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.” And “our God is a consuming fire.” We’re not always comfortable talking about those things. We’re not always comfortable talking about death and judgment, are we? Sometimes we soften them or we try to avoid talking about those difficult topics, but Jesus didn’t. Jesus, His ministry, His message was everywhere - the good news of the Gospel, the good news of the kingdom - and yet He repeatedly and urgently warned those of the consequences of rejecting Him. He warned everyone of the horrible prospect of facing the eternal wrath of God. 

Jonathan Edwards in 1734, his congregation was shaken by the untimely death of a young man. And when Jonathan Edwards was preaching at this man’s memorial service, many of this man’s friends were gathered there in the congregation, and he pressed upon them, he pressed upon them the condition of their souls and the certainty of standing before God’s judgment one day. And it was clarity on this point, the same point that the writer of Hebrews is making - that “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” - that lead to the conversion of many of the youth in that church and it brought about a revival in that area. We cannot ignore what verse 27 is saying to us. Your funeral, my funeral looms large on the horizon of verse 27. What is our confidence when we stand before God? We all have to answer that question.

Once Offered 

David Brooks, The New York Times columnist, recently wrote a book called, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. And he uses this analogy of climbing two different mountains. And he says that the first mountain is the mountain of worldly, external success. The second mountain is the quest for the moral life. It’s the desires of the soul. And this is what Brooks writes in the introduction to that book. He says: 

“On the first mountain we all have to perform certain tasks - establish an identity, separate from parents, cultivate our talents, build a secure ego, try to make a mark in the world. People climbing that first mountain spend a lot of time thinking about reputation management. They are always keeping score - ‘How do I measure up?’ The goals of that first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses - to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, to experience personal happiness. It’s all the normal stuff - nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends and so on. Then something happens. Some people get to the top of that first mountain, taste success, and find it unsatisfying. ‘Is this all there is?’ they wonder. Other people get knocked off that first mountain by some failure. For still others, something unexpected happens that knocks them crossways. They are down in the valley of bewilderment and suffering. This can happen at any age - from 8 to 85 and beyond. It’s never too early or too late to get knocked off your first mountain.”

We know about the first mountain, don’t we? And we know those things of external worldly success are not the things that really matter. And yet, how often do we end up being enslaved to our jobs and we get caught up in high pressure parenting and we get consumed with trying to keep up with the crowd around us. How will those things stand in the last day? How will those things stand when “we are appointed to die once, and after that comes judgment”?  They will be completely inadequate. 

And yet there’s a danger, isn’t there, in the quest for the moral life too. Because suppose that we could make it to the top of that second mountain and yet we would come nowhere close to reaching the standard of God’s justice. “For all have sinned and fall far short of the glory of God.” On our own, no one can stand in God’s judgment. That’s why we need what the first part of verse 28 says to us. Look at it. “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” There’s that word “once” again. This is the most important, the most significant “once” in the history of the world. It is the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus’ life for the atonement of sin. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is the ultimate and final sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of sins and for the accomplishment of salvation. 

I was listening to Michael Lewis the other day and Lewis was talking about that he spent several years on the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary. He was a sort of a judge or referee when it came to word controversies. And one of the things he said about his role there, he says that the word “unique,” the word “unique” can only mean “one of a kind.” So something cannot be very unique or most unique or rather unique. A thing can be either unique or it’s not. Well, Jesus having been offered once to bear the sins of many is unique. It is one of a kind. His death and resurrection are without comparison. 

And we could find, we could list at least ten different things that demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. One is that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the second person of the trinity. Fully God and fully man. Second, He is unique in His person. Jesus was without sin. He lived a perfectly righteous life. He and He alone did that. He lived in complete obedience to God’s law. He was unique in His character. And He was unique in His work. Number three, we could say that Jesus was a priest. And yet as a priest, He did not have to offer sacrifices for His own sin. And fourthly, He was a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” Now we won’t get into all the details of Melchizedek, that mysterious figure in the Old Testament from Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, but the point is that Jesus’ priesthood preceded and was superior to the priests that were prescribed in the Old Testament law at Mount Sinai. Number five, Jesus offered Himself. He did not offer the blood of bulls and goats. He gave His own life. Number six, He took the wrath of God. His death actually dealt with sin in a way that the sacrifices of animals could not do. And seventh, His sacrifice was once and for all. It was not to be repeated over and over and over again like the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Eighth, He defeated sin and death by His resurrection. Ninth, He ascended into heaven. He went into the true heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us and to be our mediator. And lastly, Jesus, by His resurrection and ascension, inaugurated the new covenant. The old covenant is obsolete; the old covenant has passed. He poured out His Holy Spirit so that we might have direct access to God forever.

Everything in the Old Testament sacrificial system was pointing forward to and foreshadowing Jesus’ sacrifice. And everything that had come before was promise. And Jesus is the fulfillment. He is the one fulfillment of the law. Nothing more is needed. Nothing else can suffice. His sacrifice stands alone. It’s unique. And the big idea, the main point here is that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. This is all my hope and peace; this is all my righteousness. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Jesus has dealt with sin once and for all and there is no place for looking to anywhere else, to anything else, to try and cover our guilt and our shame. There’s no place to try to be good enough or to stand on our own record. The call here, the plea, is to trust in Jesus and to rest in who He is and what He has done for you and in your place. In fact, Jesus Himself said it best when He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Period. Jesus and Jesus alone can save us from sin and death. It is finished. 

Twice Appearing 

It is finished, and yet, it is not done. For us who are once dying, He who was once offered will be twice appearing. “As it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” In one of the articles in the back of the ESV Study Bible it says this. It says that “the return of Christ is the central hope of the New Testament.” The return of Christ is the central hope of the New Testament. And we find it throughout the New Testament. From the very beginning of the book of Acts when Jesus ascends into heaven, we read the words, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” And when the New Testament ends, in the last chapter of the book of Revelation, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” It’s all throughout the New Testament. We say it in our creeds and in our confessions. “From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

But how often do we actually think about the return of Jesus and how much does Christ’s return impact the way we live the Christian life? We remember Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We celebrate his death and resurrection at Easter. But there is no holiday that looks ahead to Christ’s return. There is no holiday that keeps our attention focused and set on Christ’s ultimate and final victory. Jesus will appear a second time to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. And in some ways, our English, the ESV translation there misses some of the impact of the Greek word order because the word “salvation” comes at the very end of that sentence, at the very end of the verse. And perhaps The Message translation gets at this a little better and makes it clear. This is what The Messages says, “When He next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet Him is precisely salvation.” Salvation is at the end of the sentence and it’s in italics. That’s where the emphasis falls - that Jesus will appear a second time for salvation.

And it’s salvation in the sense that there will be no more sin. No more fighting temptation. No more falling into temptation. No more need to repent. It’s salvation in the sense that there will be no more death, no more funerals, no more cancer, and no more dementia. There will be no more divorce or poverty or hate or abortion. It’s salvation in the sense that there will be no more drought or fire or flood or storm. No more Katrina; no more Barry. It’s salvation in the sense that there will be no legitimate desire that will be unsatisfied. No joy will be fleeting or fading but full joy, forever joy. Salvation means restoration and peace and beauty and love and joy. Salvation means life. It means life in the presence of God in the new heavens and the new earth forever, for all of eternity. That’s what Jesus is coming to do.

Now what should be our posture until that day? It’s the posture of eagerly waiting. Verse 28 says, “eagerly waiting.” That’s one word in Greek. It’s  a compound word that scholars think may have been formed or coined just to describe the Christian life - apekdechomenois – “eagerly waiting.” It’s two words in English, but it captures what it means to live with zeal and holiness and piety to the glory of God. And those words may seem like old sounding words - words that we would read in C.H. Spurgeon or J.C. Ryle or J.I. Packer or some other theologian that we just know from their initials. But they’re important words. Zeal, holiness and piety. That we would have an eagerness and a distinctiveness and a devoted commitment to obedience to God. That’s how the Christian should live. And the extent to which those things are missing in our lives is due at least in part to a lack of eagerly waiting for the return of Jesus. These two words, they capture what it means to live the Christian life with hope. It’s to eagerly wait for the return of Christ.

Most of you know that Dr. Baird was my childhood pastor. And Dr. Baird and Mrs. Jane gave to Molly and me for a wedding gift a yearly devotional book. It was The One Year Book of Hymns. And on December 25 in that devotional book, the hymn is “Joy to the World.” And this is what the writer says about that hymn. He says:

“When is a Christmas carol not a Christmas carol? When it doesn’t focus on the birth of Christ perhaps? Take this one for instance. Isaac Watts based this text on the last half of Psalm 98, which celebrates the coming of the Lord to judge the world in righteousness. The psalmist calls on all creation to sing and shout for joy at His coming. There is nothing in the psalm or in Watts’ hymn that specifically mentions the birth of Christ, just the Lord’s return. So should we stop singing this at Christmas? Not at all. This hymn celebrates God’s involvement with His people and this work began in Bethlehem. At Christmas, we need bifocal vision. We need to look back and praise God for the glorious gift of His Son, Jesus, but we also should look forward to Christ’s return when God will bring a righteous conclusion to all things. Then, then we will begin to fully enjoy the wonders of His love for all eternity.”

I said earlier that there’s no holiday to celebrate the Lord’s Return. Actually, today is the holiday, because as much as we come to the Lord’s Supper today to look back to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Lord’s Supper also points us ahead. It points us forward to Jesus’ coming again. In fact, Jesus, when He instituted this meal for us, He said in Matthew 26, “This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” And Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, he says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Today we’re celebrating, and we’re celebrating Christ appearing a second time for salvation. 

And one of the ways we’re going to do that is we’re going to sing “Joy to the World” together. And that might strike you as a bit strange singing “Joy to the World” in July, but let that press upon you what those words are actually saying to us and let that hymn prepare us to take the Lord’s Supper with an eagerness and with a joy. Because you see, the preaching of God’s Word and the preaching of the sacrament is saying to us you can’t leave here today living for the things that the world offers. You can’t leave here today living for the same old things. You are to leave here today fueled to live with zeal and holiness and piety; fueled to live with hope. So don’t miss that blessing today. Don’t miss that blessing whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. We are being led to hope in the return of Christ so that we might live today for God’s honor. What is the Christian life in a word or two? It’s eagerly waiting. Eagerly waiting. And we need this Table to nurture and to sustain that hope. That’s where we turn now. Let’s pray that God would help us by the grace of our Savior, Jesus. 

Our Father, we give You thanks that You have secured for us a salvation and a hope that is certain and guaranteed. It is not in question. There is no doubt. And so we ask that You would confirm that to us today, by Your Word and by the Lord’s Supper. That we would remember the hope of the Gospel, the inheritance of hope, and that we would live by that hope not for the things of this world, not for the moment, not for momentary success and momentary delights and happiness, but for eternal things, for Your glory. Help us to have an eagerness and help us to have a patience together, eagerly waiting. We pray all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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