22 November 2006

A Sermon on the Chief of Sinners

This is a sermon I preached in December of last year.

Jesus did most of His teaching in parables. A parable is story that illustrates a principle. For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan taught us how to love our neighbor as ourself. I have a parable I would like to share.

Carl and Bob both live in Miami. Both are driving to Alaska for cruise. Carl gets in his car, and a little into Georgia, gets a speeding ticket. It was a couple miles over, but none the less, Carl says, "Whoa. I better watch it. I don't want another one of them." So from that point on, all the way to Alaska, he is basically a "good driver." He drives at or below the speed limit, lets people in ahead of him.

At the Canadian border, he meets Frank. Frank says, "Carl, that cruise you want to go on. If you have any traffic tickets, you can't go. You have to call the Son of the Captain, and ask Him to pay those tickets for you before you can get on the ship." Carl says, "Well, I did get one for going a couple of miles over the speed limit. I'll take care of it someday." Frank tells him, "Carl, you need to get that taken care of before you can go." But Carl stands firm, "I'll just explain it to the Captain, He'll understand." So he goes on to Alaska.

Bob gets in his car, and from the moment he pulls out of the driveway, he's speeding, running red lights, cutting people off, going the wrong way down one-way streets. By the time he gets to Georgia, he has a glovebox full of tickets. Bob reaches the Canadian border, and he meets Frank.
Frank tells him "Bob, that cruise you want to go on. If you have any traffic tickets, you can't go. You have to call the Son of the Captain, and ask Him to pay those tickets for you before you can get on the ship." Bob says, " I don't know. I've got an awful lot of tickets. By now, they're in my glovebox, on my back floor board." Frank says, "Don't worry. The Captain's Son is willing, and able to cover all your debts. But you have to call Him and ask Him to do it. And you can't keep driving the way you are. you're going to have to let His Assistant show you how to drive the rest of the way." Bob says, "OK," and he calls the Son of the Captain, asks Him to pay his tickets for him, and asks the Son's Assistant to show him how to drive. Then Bob heads on to Alaska.

Now, Bob and Carl make it to the port. As Carl approaches the gangplank, the Captain stops him and says, "Carl, I can't let you on board. You still have outstanding tickets." Carl says, "Well, yeah. I got one little one. But it was a long time ago, and I've been a pretty good driver since then. So that makes up for it, doesn't it?" The Captain says, "No Carl, it doesn't. The only way I can let you on board is if you let My Son pay your tickets for you. And since you didn't, your ticket is still on your record. I'm sorry Carl."

Bob walks up to the Captain. Carl knows Bob. He thinks, "Oh man. Poor Bob. If I couldn't go because of MY record, there's no way he's going to get on." The Captain says "Bob, do you want to board my ship?" Bob says "Yes, but I got a lot of traffic tickets on the way. But I called your Son, and He told me He paid all my tickets for me. He said He would even pay for the ones I got AFTER I talked to Him." The Captain says, "You're right Bob. My Son did pay them for you. And it is as if they never happened. You may enter."

We're at the time of year when we celebrate the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ. One question we hear--whether out of genuine inquiry, or simply to seem more enlightened than others--is, "Why did Jesus come to earth?" Some say "To teach us how to be good people." That's part of it. Some say "To be an example for us." That's part of it. Some say "To heal the sick, the lame, and the blind." That's part of it. But other than Christ Himself, no one gives a better answer than the Apostle Paul. Turn with me to 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul here in this chapter begins his warning to Timothy of the many false teachers who were to come. And this verse sums up what he has been writing in the previous 14 verses: This is a true saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Now, the question is, who are these sinners? Imagine everyone who has ever been born. That's your answer. In order to become a sinner, all you have to do is to be born. You see, we are all born with a desire to do our own thing as it were. Isaiah 53:6 says, "All we like sheep have gone astray, each one has gone his own way." Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3, "There is none righteous NO NOT ONE...for ALL have sinned and fall short of GOD's glory." Matthew 9:12-13, Jesus says, "It is not the well that are in need of a doctor, but rather the sick... I did not come to call the righteous, I came to call sinners." And here, in 1st Timothy, Paul echoes that sentiment, telling us that THAT is why Christ came. To save us, because we can not save ourselves. Just like poor Carl, all the "good driving" we could do will not erase even one traffic ticket off of our record.

We hear these days people saying that you go to heaven if you are a good person, "If you don't kill anybody, if you don't break the ten commandments." But we've all broken SOME of those ten commandments. All have sinned; every person who has ever been born has, at one time, been an enemy of GOD. And even if, for the rest of our lives, we tried to be the best driver we could be, like Carl, the Captain could not let us on His ship. But this is how much GOD loves us: Romans 5:6-8 says that "No one is likely to die for a good person. For a righteous person one may be willing to die. Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." How can He do that? How could He have such a love? It's not just that He HAS love. John tells us GOD IS love. And He loves each and every one of us sinners.

So, who do you think is the worst sinner? Paul tells us that at the end of today's verse. Notice how ends. Notice who the first sinner is that he points his finger at. "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I AM CHIEF." Paul is saying that out of all the sinners in the world, I'M THE WORST!! Now, when we stop to consider that every word in the Bible was given to the writers by GOD Himself, and these aren't just some "good ideas " that Paul had in his head, we see that GOD Himself is telling us that this great apostle was indeed the "chief of sinners." Just so you don't take that confession too lightly, listen to how Paul describes himself elsewhere. Philippians 3:4-6--"If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." What we call "the law", was the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Paul knew these first five books of the Bible and could probably recite them forward and backward from memory. Paul was the best there ever was at it. And except for our Lord Jesus Christ, nobody knew the law or kept the law like Paul.

But after coming to know our Lord Jesus Christ, how does he describe that accomplishment? Right after calling himself blameless concerning the law, he says, "those things that were gain to me I count them as loss for Christ." All those years memorizing the law were wasted. In Romans he says it like this "O wretched man that I am." Wretched. This man who at one point calls himself blameless, turns around and says he is the chief of sinners, and a wretched man. You see, Paul basically sets himself up as our measuring stick. Not as Christ is our measuring stick concerning our righteousness before GOD, but more in human terms. He says "Look, you want to be a 'good' person? You can't be 'better' than me."

Yet, on the other hand, he also tells us "Look, you think you are such a rotten sinner? Naw, I'm even worse than you think you can be." That's why Christ came. So that as the Son of the Captain, we could call HIM and He could pay our debt. No matter how BIG our debt, He CAN pay it. And no matter how SMALL our debt, we NEED him to pay it. Last time I spoke here, I mentioned the weapons of war we use against the enemy Satan. Do you know love can be a weapon. Let me show you: John 10:10--the thief comes to do do three things--kill, steal, destroy. Notice what the love of GOD does. The enemy comes to kill, GOD's love gives life: "For GOD so loved that He sent His Son, that whoever believes will have everlasting life" (John 3:16). The enemy comes to steal, GOD's love restores. Joel 2:25--"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten." The enemy comes to destroy, but Jesus says in John 14--"I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." The thief kills, steals, destroys. But Christ says "I come to give life, more abundantly." More abundantly than we could ever have by killing, stealing, and destroying--that's why He is the Prince of Peace.

GOD gives life, restores, and builds up. John Calvin, in his commentary on 1st Timothy, wrote these things:

After having defended his ministry from slander and unjust accusations, not satisfied with this, he turns to his own advantage what might have been brought against him by his adversaries as a reproach...Christ, by giving him as a pledge, invited all sinners to the sure hope of obtaining pardon. For when he, who had been a fierce and savage beast, was changed into a Pastor, Christ gave a remarkable display of his grace, from which all might be led to entertain a firm belief that no sinner; how heinous and aggravated so ever might have been his transgressions, had the gate of salvation shut against him.
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I--Me, the guy you're looking at--am chief.

No comments: