For the last 10 years ago there has been a great deal of intrigue in the Christian subculture regarding the afterlife. The publishing companies have been pumping out books dealing with the topic. One such example is the book “90 Minutes in Heaven.” It is a supposedly a gripping story of one’s personal experience of heaven after having been hit by a semi-truck.
The success of these books, of course, spawned sequels. More money was to be had. But what kind of follow up can you get to one’s eye witness account of heaven? Well, what better thing than 23 Minutes in Hell: One Man’s story of what he saw, heard and felt in the place of torment!?
What is interesting is this book seems to provide something of a 21st century parallel to the classic work of Dante’s Inferno. Both of them recount a man’s voyage through the deep recesses of the underworld. Both of them encounter ghoulish demons who torture the damned souls. Both of them highlight the horrid smells of burning sulfur and the extreme temperatures. Perhaps the only difference is that Dante was cognizant enough to actually know he was writing fiction.
I would suggest to you that these books will probably serve as some kindling for the eternal punishments of the charlatan authors.
What’s more, they provide a poor replica of what we find in our passage this morning. In this passage Jesus gives us a parable; he tells a story about a man who winds up in hell. You may remember that chapter 16 has been dealing with the topic of riches and wealth. Jesus has been speaking out against the materialism of his age. And in order to call these people back to the true God, he tells them this story about a rich man who ends up in hell. It is almost as if Jesus opens a portal to allow us to peer into the grave. He wants us to see something of what misery the damned really do experience.
Certainly what is here is nothing exhaustive. It does not tell us everything about hell. But it does at least give us 4 lamentations—4 laments, that summarize a lost soul’s greif.
The first thing I want you to notice is how a damned soul will lament what he did in life.
I. They lament what they did in life [19-21]
Our passage starts off by giving us some background to each of the two main characters. It tells us of a rich man who lived a sumptuous life: he was clothed in purple and fine linen, he feasted on good food every day, and so forth. Now, is there anything wrong with having a wardrobe filled with Armani suits? No. Not necessarily. Is there anything wrong with eating gourmet food? Not at all.
Why then did he end up going to hell? Well, we find out why in verse 20. There was a poor man named Lazarus who laid at his gate. And it is important to note that he is named Lazarus. The name Lazarus means “God has helped.” Lazarus might have been poor, but he had faith in God. He looked to God as his helper and God had been with him.
That’s what the rich man didn’t have. There is no mention here of a relationship with the Lord. So the implication is that these worldly goods and pleasures was his god. His riches were his religion, and that’s where he went wrong.
That shows itself in that he completely ignored this poor man who sat at his gate. There is no doubt that he would have passed by this beggar every day. All that time he did nothing to help this man.
So, in the end, this rich man receives no compassion from God because he himself had no compassion. This man was a hardened sinner lost in his materialism.
Now, in hell, he there’s no doubt that this life that he lived haunts him. I think you get a glimpse of that in verse 25. After these guys died, the rich man calls out to Abraham and tells him to send Lazarus down and give him a drop of water. How does Abraham respond? He says, “You had your good things during your life. Now you are in anguish.”
That’s like an arrow piercing right through him. You can hear him lamenting those days of ease and pleasure. Every moment he suffers he is filled with regret that he did not fear God like he should have. He probably thinks back to the times that he sat in the synagogue and heard God’s call to faith and obedience. He probably remembers the lessons that his parents taught him. He thinks about all the time he spent living an atheistic and agnostic life, and he thinks “What a fool I was! Why didn’t I look to the Lord when I had the chance?”
I think every one of you knows that dismal feeling. You did something and you got caught. Afterwards you think, “How dumb was I? Why did I do that?” You feel the shame. You are angered how stupid you were!
Well, if you are in hell, that feeling will only be multiplied a thousand fold. You will grieve the fact that you chose not to be a Christian. And you will have all eternity to lament it.
But that is only part of the pain an unbeliever will experience. If you do not turn to Christ you will not only lament what you did in your past life, you will also lament what you miss in heaven.
II. They lament what they miss in heaven [22, 25]
Now this passage doesn’t say much about heaven. Its focus is mainly on the hell side. But there are two things that are mentioned here that indicate something of how grand heaven is. They are very small, and perhaps easily missed. But if you think about them, you realize that they indicate something of how wonderful heaven is.
Perhaps the most obvious of the two is the comfort that one experiences in heaven.
A. They miss the comforts of heaven
In verse 25 Abraham says that Lazarus is “comforted.” In his earthly life he was miserable. But now, in heaven, he is comforted. He has been made perfectly happy. No more does he experience pain. Sadness is a complete stranger to him now. Gone are the days of hunger, guilt, poverty and tears. He has nothing but a cornucopia of delight, and that for all eternity.
We will talk more about the pains this rich man experienced in a moment. But you can imagine him thinking, “All that could have been mine! It was all within my grasp! But no! I’m missing the comforts of eternal bliss because I was a fool!”
A number of you know Lyle Becker. He used to attend church here. He now lives in Alaska. A number of years ago his church in Alaska was without a pastor. He called me and asked if I could come up and do pulpit supply. It sounded like a sweet deal. They would fly me up. I would preach on Sunday. Then I could stay the week with Lyle and have the opportunity to tour the land (and you know that with Lyle the outdoorsman, that would have been a blast.). Then I would preach the next Sunday and they would fly me home. What it amounted to was an all-expense paid trip to Alaska.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it. I missed out because I had just used up my vacation days at the place I was working at the time.
You know, that was about 5 years ago, but I still dream of that opportunity. I will probably never get to go to Alaska. I won’t ever have that chance gain, and I am sad that I missed out on it.
In a small way, that is what those in hell will be like. Those who do not fear God now will miss out on the comforts of heaven, and they will lament it for all eternity.
But not only will they miss the comforts of heaven, they will miss its communion.
B. They miss the communion
Look at verse 22. It says that when Lazarus died he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. A better way to say it might be Abraham’s bosom. Now, this is a picture of the comforts of heaven too. To be in the bosom of Abraham shows security and safety, like a child being carried by its mother. But there is also a sense in which this speaks of the joy one has in his relationships. Lazarus never knew Abraham, but they are perfect friends in heaven. They are all part of the same loving family and they get to enjoy the company of each other.
That’s not the way it is in hell. In hell, there are no enjoyable relationships. There is no communion or companionship. If there is any relationship, it is a relationship that makes you more sore and pained. Certainly, there is no relationship with God, who is the binding force for true companionship.
Now, we don’t want to press this parable’s every detail. That would be doing a injustice to the type of literature we have here. So, I’m not sure that there is going to be a window where the damned can look into heaven and see the communion and love that is experienced there. But there is one thing that is for certain, they will be lamenting the fact that they have no solace in friends. They will weep and wail because he innately knows that there is such a wonderful thing in heaven.
You know, one of the punishments mankind frequently makes use of is “solitary confinement.” Prisoners of War are sometimes cut off from the other prisoners in order to torment them. Over at the prison, if you cause a ruckus you are put in solitary confinement. You lose the joy of communing with others.
I don’t doubt that you will be around other people in hell. But they won’t be a friend to you. They certainly won’t provide you with any joy of real communion. If anything, they will be an annoyance to further multiply your pain. And in hell, you groan because you miss out on the friendship that exists in heaven.
If you do not turn to Christ, you will find yourself in hell lamenting what you did in life and what you miss in heaven. But you will also lament what you must endure in hell.
III. They lament what they endure in hell 
In verse 24 you we get a brief word that helps us understand how miserable the pains of hell are. The rich man’s agony is so great that he asks for a mere drop of water to be placed on his tongue. The rich man expresses that this one droplet, as small as it is, would be for him an enormous relief.
Of course, even that is denied! But you should not miss this. To be sure the wrath of God will lay hard upon you. And this denial of the slightest drop of water should make you recognize that there will be no pity given. The Lord will not relent; not even in the least.
The sin against and infinite God is and infinite evil and therefore deserves the full brunt of an infinite curse. So no compassion can be spared. It is not like an earthly executioner who, when carrying out his duties, becomes emotional and holds back. The pain that God will inflict will find its full expression and will by no means subside.
Moment by moment, without any ebb and flow, you will experience the just sentence. Justice will be met as the full fury of God is poured out upon you for all eternity.
You will not be able to control the shrieks will slip from your mouth. You will writhe uncontrollably as your senses are overwhelmed by the piercing stings of God’s wrath. And in the midst of them you will realize that all this is your own fault. You will lament that you must endure these painful extremes. Your sin has brought this on. And because you resisted the call of Christ during your life you long for even the slightest reprieve.
Fourthly, a damned soul will lament what he cannot do for his friends and family.
IV. They lament what they cannot undo for their relations
In verses 27 and 28 this miserable fellow cries out on behalf of his family. He says, “Send Lazarus to my father’s house, because I have 5 brothers. Let him warn them so that they do not come to this place of torment.”
I was reading John Bunyan’s famous commentary on this passage. If you do want a book about hell, I’d encourage you to pick up his brief pamphlet. It is entitled, Groans from a Damned Soul. In that booklet Bunyan says this: No one in hell desires the good of another person. That is only a Christian trait. In hell, men are no more converted than they were in life. Their disposition is still set against the Lord. So Bunyan says this guy is not really seeking his family’s welfare. He’s seeking his own welfare.
And Bunyan reminds us of what the prophet Ezekiel said. Ezekiel was a watchman who was responsible the welfare of the masses. And the Lord told Ezekiel that their blood would be required of him. In other words, his punishment would be greater if he didn’t send the appropriate warnings.
And Bunyan makes the point that the rich man is not empathetic towards his family. He simply wants to alleviate his own pain. He knows that if they wind up in hell, he will be partially to blame for it. The example he set and the influence he had on his brothers would increase his guilt.
If you want further proof of this principle, all you have to do is look at what Jesus says in the beginning of the next chapter. In verse 1 Jesus says, “Temptations are bound to come, but woe to him through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
You see. Your life, your words, your actions—all of these—are influences upon other people. Your sins can lead others astray and your actions can cause others to slide into hell.
But notice the response Abraham gives to his request! In verse 29 Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. they have the revealed word of God!), let them listen to them.” Then in verse 31 Abraham reminds him of how hardened unbelieving hearts. If they won’t listen to what God has said in his word, then they are not even going to believe if they see someone rise from the dead.”
You can imagine how torturous this would be to the poor wretch. There is nothing he can do! His last attempt to alleviate his pains are gone! More coals are going to be laid upon his head and there is nothing now that he can do to stop it.
One of my students was laid up for a week or so. It wasn’t sickness, but grief that had him bed ridden. His parents had made the trip a couple of weeks ago to come and see him. But on their way they were hit by a snow plow. They were taken to the hospital and were in serious condition. My student though was stricken with the thought, “It was I who brought them there. It was because of me they were on that road and it was my fault that they were hit.”
We know of course, that it wasn’t his fault necessarily. But it is that sort of grief that the soul in hell will face. He will understand that his associates may come to hell, and he will be stricken by the fact that there will be nothing he can do to stop it.
This is a small description of how miserable one will be in hell. Yet Christ allows us to peek into that infernal abyss so that we might be saved from it. This ghastly description is a mercy sent from heaven to turn our hearts to Christ.
Jesus said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them.” We have here the word of the greatest prophet, Jesus Christ. May we hear him!
Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptist, Unitarian Universalist.
When you look at the church section of the phone book you will find a long list of churches. If you look into it deeper you will find that there are a lot of different kinds of churches too. Some of them are completely opposites. You may see one church claim one thing, and another church will claim something completely different.
It is true, we are living in a day where almost anything passes as “Christian.” And the branches of Christianity are so extensive that even those of us who claim to be Christians need a great deal of clarification regarding the true essence of Christianity.
When I played sports, our coaches often say that we needed to get back to the basics. From time to time we would get out there on the court and start playing, but our performance wasn’t good. It would almost seem that each of us was playing our own game. Someone watching might actually think that each of us was playing his own version of basketball. So the next practice, the coach would pull us aside and tell us that we needed to get back to the basics. They would tell us, “This is what basketball is all about…” and proceed to instruct us in the elementary truths of the game.
Sometimes we need to do that with our religion too. We have to get back to basic Christianity. If we are really going to understand what true faith is, we have to return to the elementary truths of Christianity. And really, that is what we have in these verses that are before us this morning.
In these verses the Apostle talks about himself. He gives a brief testimony regarding his faith. As a result, we have a solid witness to the exact nature of true faith.
As an apostle, Paul is an expert in what it means to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul might not be perfect, but certainly he has excelled in what it means to be a Christian. He wouldn’t hold that office if that wasn’t true. And because he has such a mastery of Christianity we may look at his faith to find out what true faith really is. Paul’s testimony in these verses shows us that true faith is marked by four distinct characteristics.
Paul begins by showing us that true faith is verbally affirmed.
I. True faith is verbally affirmed
Paul commences his testimony of faith with these words, “I thank God.” He makes sure that Timothy knows where he stands. He verbally affirms where his faith lies.
That’s a pretty impressive thing because when the Apostle Paul wrote this, he was in jail. He had been imprisoned because of his faith. The chains he was wearing were on him because he had openly professed his faith in Jesus Christ everywhere he went.
And any person who is really a Christian will do the same. If someone really is a Christian, it is going to come out in their speech.
We Presbyterians emphasize the importance of professing your faith publicly. That’s the way you become a member of Christ’s church. You stand up here and openly affirm your faith in Christ. But true faith is not limited to that one time profession. If you have true faith Christ will permeate your speech on a regular basis. As one person has said, a true Christian will never be like the rivers that flow into the Artic Ocean: They will never be frozen at the mouth.
When you are talking with a person you can tell he/she is a Christian because Christians have a distinct vocabulary. Christians talk about God and the things of Christ. They can’t help but talk about Him. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is a person who will be heard voicing praises and thanksgiving to God from time to time, like the Apostle Paul does here, because he is so overwhelmed by God’s goodness.
If you are around someone who doesn’t talk that way—if they don’t say much about God or they say nothing at all about Him—then you can very well assume that they probably are not a Christian. If spiritual things are not of any concern to them, then those subjects won’t be topics of conversation. And all of their speech will be atheistic—God will be noticeably absent from their conversation.
I’m sure you’ve been around people whose speech is filled with profanities. Some people swear so much that sometimes they don’t even know they are cussing. It is so natural to them that it just comes out.
A Christian is like that in that they naturally talk about spiritual things. Jesus Christ is so much a part of their lives that He will be on their lips a good deal of the time.
So the first question that you must ask yourself is “What is my vocabulary like? Do my words affirm my faith?” If you want to judge whether or not your faith is true, you need to look at your speech. Do people hear you talking about the Lord? Certainly there is a time to be silent, don’t get me wrong. But there is also a time to speak. And one who has true faith will frequently be heard talking about spiritual things.
But as you look at our passage, you not only see that true faith is verbally affirmed. It is also visibly demonstrated.
II. True faith is visibly demonstrated
Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve.” The word serve here is an interesting word. It’s literal meaning is “to pay homage to” or “to worship.” You could say it means “to render the service of worship.”
Paul’s saying, “I not only thank this God (I not only talk about this God), but my whole life is dedicated to the service and worship of this God.” Certainly Paul joined with the people of God on Sunday to worship God. But his worship went far beyond that. His whole life was an act of worship. His whole life was a service of worship because he sought to obey God’s law in everything he did.
A Christian isn’t a Christian in word only. His faith has feet. He demonstrates his faith in the way he lives his life Sunday through Saturday.
No one will ever believe you if you say you are a Christian, but you don’t live like it. and they have every right to believe that. Jesus himself said that you will know a tree by its fruit. And a Christian will be known by the kind of life he lives.
That’s why when you join this church you can’t just say you believe in Jesus Christ. You cannot make a simply profession of faith. You have to make what we call “a credible profession of faith.” In other words your life has to back up what you say with your mouth. If your life does not give credit to your profession—if your life does not visibly demonstrate your faith in Christ, the elders will not let you become a member here. That’s because a true Christian will seek to live in obedience to Christ.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect or near perfect. A credible profession of faith doesn’t mean that you are sinless. The Apostle Paul by his own admission wasn’t sinless. But true faith does mean that you are obeying in some degree. You certainly manifest obedience to Christ’s chief command, “repent.” A credible profession of faith does not mean that you perfect, but it does mean that you are visibly repentant. It means that you are at least trying to overcome the sin in your life and live in uprightness.
One time I took some of our young people back in IN to a youth camp. As you may well guess, there were some kids there who were not Christians and were not even from Christian families. At the end of the week these kids were in tears because they were so impressed with the Christians in the group. In their own words they said, “You guys are so weird, you say you are sorry when you do something wrong.”
Those kids visibly demonstrated their faith because they repented.
And does that sound like your faith? Can your faith stand the friend test? If I were to ask one of your friends or your family members whether or not they see you living like a Christian, would they answer yes? Would they tell me that they have heard you apologize? Could they say they have seen you overcoming sin in your life and demonstrating love and compassion? Or would they say, “Don’t listen to him. He’s a hypocrite.”
You know faith is true when it is verbally affirmed and visibly demonstrated. But forget that true faith is also historically rooted.
III. True faith is historically rooted
Look at what Paul says next. He says, “I thank God, whom I serve as did my ancestors.”
Paul’s saying here that his faith has roots. If you could somehow go back in time, you would see that everything in Paul’s life would be replicated in the lives of his forefathers. They held the same beliefs. They obeyed the same law. Nothing changed from one generation to the next. It was all the same faith.
So you have to understand, Christianity does not change. It never goes out of style. It never has to be adjusted. True faith is historically rooted.
Just before the Civil War, Charles Hodge gave a speech at Princeton Seminary. In that speech he said that the seminary had not produced one single new thought since its inception. He wasn’t saying that they were stupid. He was simply testifying to the fact that the faith of that seminary at that time had not changed one single bit since the time it was founded.
Sadly, that cannot be said anymore of Princeton Seminary. Princeton has moved far away from the historic, orthodox faith. Now it almost seems that Princeton’s Christianity now changes with every passing decade. But back in the 1930’s some men left Princeton to form Westminster Seminary. They did that in order to continue holding to and training men in the truths Christians have held throughout history.
Here in our church we regularly use the Apostle’s creed. From time to time you will here things from the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. We don’t think that these documents have the same authority as the Bible, but they do contain the faith of our fathers. And we use them so that you might possess the true faith.
It is not necessary to go out and re-discover or re-invent Christianity. This faith has been around for quite some time.
Sadly, that is what many people in the church do. We are living in a time where there is a complete disregard of history. Church history is rarely studied and the creeds and confessions are hardly ever given the time of day. And worship services like ours (often called “traditional”) are considered out-dated. But we need to be aware that this “out with the old and in with the new” mentality is dangerous. True faith is finds its roots in the past.
And your faith (if it is going to be true faith) must be built on the faith of our forefathers too. God didn’t start Christianity yesterday. And if your faith does not resemble the faith of those who lived in the 3rd century or during the time of the Reformation, then you need to be skeptical of your faith. True faith will look the same as the faith of Christians in ages past.
Notice also that true faith is inwardly undefiled. Along with being historically rooted, visibly demonstrated, verbally affirmed true faith is inwardly undefiled.
IV. True faith is inwardly undefiled.
In talking about his faith Paul says that he serves God with “a clear (or clean) conscience.”
Young people, do you know what your conscience is? It is that thing inside of you that either confirms you when you do something right or it agitates you when you do something wrong.
Paul calls it his conscience, but you might call it your heart.
If Christianity is anything, it is a religion of the heart. You can talk a good talk and you can walk a good walk, but if your heart is corrupt, your faith is dead. You can have a person who goes to church every week, who lives an outwardly moral life, and who loves to talk about theology; everything about you from the outside can seem great. To everyone else you really seem to be a true Christian. But in reality, deep down inside, your heart is not right with God.
True faith is not outward only. It penetrates to you inmost being. Really, that’s where it begins.
Commenting on this verse John Gill said, “Every man has a conscience, but the conscience of every natural man is defiled with sin; and that is only a pure one, which is sprinkled and purged with the blood of Christ; and whereby a person is only fitted to serve the living God, without the incumbrance of dead works, and slavish fear.”
The Apostle Paul did not always serve God with a pure conscience. As a Pharisee he sought to serve God zealously, but his heart was not right with God. He had not yet submitted to Jesus Christ. His sins had not yet been washed away by Christ’s blood. Being so defiled, his faith was not true. All his works were dead.
Many people today are the same way. They do not have a clear conscience. Maybe they are like the Apostle Paul: They try to serve God, but they have not submitted to Christ as their Lord and received his righteousness. Maybe they serve, not with an aim of pleasing God at all. Perhaps they serve God because their conscience is plagued with guilt. They serve God not out of cheerfulness and faith, but it is out of a sense of fear. They think that they can turn away God’s anger or earn his favor by just “doing enough.”
But true faith is had when one can honestly stand before God without any sort of intimidation. True faith is had when you hold, not to you own ability or worth, but when you hold to Jesus Christ’s blood and cross alone.
So I need to ask, does this sound like your faith? The faith that has been described here, can that be said of your faith? Is your faith expressed in your speech, seen in your life, linked to our history or pure in your heart?
If it does not meet all of these criteria, then you need to beware. If your faith fails in one of these areas, it is not like a test in school where you might get a “B-.” If you fail in one area, your faith fails to pass the test of faith. A faith that fails even in one area is not true Christianity. And a faith that is not Christianity is not of God.
But if your faith does meet all of these qualifications, then you may rest assured that your faith is true. You may have confidence that you stand with the Apostle Paul in our blessed religion. And one day you will stand with Paul and all the other saints throughout history by Christ’s side in heaven.
This passage of scripture is like a Mac truck in how jarring it is to the senses. One reason is because Jesus’ line of argumentation. Throughout chapter 16 Jesus deals with the idolatry of riches, and this word on divorce seems to jump from out of nowhere at you.
But, of course, it is the solemnity of the words that rattles us the most. Jesus tells us that the sin of divorce (which is a great evil in and of itself) can be compounded by the egregious act of adultery.
Lord willing we can. And perhaps we can begin by simply starting with a summary statement of what Jesus says in this verse. I will suggest to you this theme:
Unlawful divorces cause adulterous relationships.
I. The Contention of the verse: Unlawful divorce.
Now, the key word there is “unlawful divorces.” That is Jesus’ contention. He is not speaking out against all divorces or giving a broad blanket statement on all divorce. He is dealing with those divorces that are unbiblical in nature.
Of course, no divorce is good. We know that God hates divorce and we should recognize that no divorce is desirable. But there are some divorces that are biblically justifiable. And as we take a look at the broader scope of Scripture, we find that there are two grounds for divorce. The one is adultery and the other is desertion. Matthew 5:32 is something of a parallel passage to what we have here. In that passage Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
So he makes that exception. We also find in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul telling us that if you are married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever wants to separate, then you are to let them do so.
Now, again, there is some difference of opinion on these texts, especially the 1 Corinthians passage. But this has historically been the belief of the Reformed churches (See WCF 24.6). And in these cases, remarriage will not result in adultery. You are free to remarry.
What you should understand though is that is not what Jesus is talking about in this verse. Jesus is here addressing an unlawful divorce. He is speaking out against divorces that are not warranted by Scripture. And this becomes apparent when you understand the context.
II. The context of the verse:
First, you have to understand the historical context. In Jesus’ day getting a divorce was almost as easy as getting a hamburger at the McDonald’s drive through window. The standards for divorce had been softened to the point where marriage had become almost trivialized.
For instance, one Rabbi said that you could get a divorce if your wife burned your dinner. Another Rabbi, writing much later, said that you could get a divorce if someone prettier came along.
Now, these might have been extreme examples. But you can see that it didn’t take much to bail out on a marriage.
I would suggest to you that getting a divorce in Jesus’ day was akin to our own. We find ourselves in a similar situation today because the only reason you need for a divorce today is that you are incompatible. In most states all you have to do is say that you have “irreconcilable differences” and you can be divorced.
We even have gone so far as to permit this odd phenomena of “no fault divorce.” That is to say, you can go to the judge and say, “Neither of us are at fault, we just don’t want to be married anymore.”
But that was the kind of thing that was going on in Jesus’ day. Divorce had become justifiable for virtually any reason and no one seemed to have a problem with it. The religious leaders were even countenancing it.
And when you look at the literary context you can find this to be true too. Throughout the book of Luke Jesus condemns the religious leaders because they were doing all kinds of gymnastics with God’s law. You may remember that we looked at the passage in Luke 11 where Jesus pronounced the woes upon the Pharisees and lawyers. They were guilty of twisting God’s word and bending it and outright contradicting it just to suit their own delights.
And you will remember that we read in our immediate context that the Pharisees were lovers of money. And they were justifying themselves in the sight of man. In other words, they were boasting about being men who upheld the law. But in actuality they were breaking it and trying to cover it up in order to make themselves look good.
Then Jesus says in verse 17, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the law to become void.”
I think JC Ryle sums it up well when he says, of the Pharisees, “They had lowered the standard of the law of divorce. You have allowed divorce for trivial and insufficient causes. And hence, while you make your boast of the law, you are by your unfair dealing with it, encouraging adultery.”
So when we understand the context, we will understand that Jesus is speaking of these unlawful divorces. He’s talking about a divorce that occurs that does not have biblical grounds. And he says that this kind of divorce is what gives rise to adultery.
And that really brings us to the content of our passage this morning.
III. The content of the verse
Jesus is saying that if you walk out on a relationship without lawful grounds and then you remarry, then you are committing adultery. Or, if you marry someone who has divorced his or her spouse without just cause, then you are guilty of committing adultery.
Why is this? It is because, in the eyes of God, you are breaking the covenant that exists between you and your spouse. Even though you have reneged on your vows, those vows have not been annulled.
You have to understand the gravity of that covenant. When you stand at the alter take those vows that is not something that you can terminate at your whim. Even though you do not want to acknowledge the marriage, that does not mean that the marriage no longer exists.
We can think of it in terms of a basketball game. If you are playing basketball, you have to keep the ball on the court. Once it crosses the out of bounds line, the game stops. Now, if you are one of the players out on the court. You might decide that you want to step out for a second. So you decide to go over and stand by the bench. But the game is still being played. And even though you are off the court, you are still considered a part of the game.
Now someone on your team can pass you the ball. But as soon as they do that, the referee will blow the whistle. That’s a turnover. That’s the rules of the game. You cannot stand there and yell at the referee, saying, “Hey, I’m off the court. I’m not playing. That doesn’t count.”
The truth is, you might have left the game, but that didn’t end the game. The rules of the game are still on. It doesn’t matter how you feel or what decision you make along the way. You don’t have the authority to change the laws of the game.
That’s the way it is with marriage. A marriage isn’t over until the Lord says it is over. He has laid down the law when it comes to ending a marriage. You can’t just say you want it to end. You might walk out on that marriage, but the game is still on and the rules of the game are still in effect.
So if you leave a marriage for an unbiblical reason, and then you get married to someone else, you are committing adultery.
IV. Concluding remarks regarding the verse
I want to make a couple clarifications before we wrap up. I want to be clear on a few things.
1. First, I want to speak to those to whom this passage addresses. That is to say, if you are one who has divorced someone unlawfully, what should you do?
If you have been convicted by this message, you might wonder how you ought to proceed. The question obviously arises, “Does God want me to end the relationship that I am currently in?” Let me say that is not the response that the church has historically given.
There have been some who have said that this second marriage is an illegitimate marriage and therefore breaking it off would be the right thing to do and returning to your first husband/ wife is agreeable to the will of God.
However, we do not believe that you should divorce again. The vows that you took in this second marriage are real vows. Though you should not have done it in the first place, it does not invalidate the reality of those vows and binding nature of them. It is our belief that this second marriage is still a legitimate marriage and ending it would only compound the sin of divorce.
But that does not mean that nothing should be done. You do need to do something. You need to still repent in so far as you can. It certainly means confessing it to the Lord and acknowledging before him that you have committed a serious error. It may also mean that you need to confess to your present spouse and/ or your ex.
You can be assured that the gospel promise is true in these cases. God can forgive. And he can even bless your current relationship. So no matter how things currently stand or how much sin has been compounded, you can be sure that the Lord will pardon you if you seek his mercy.
2. Secondly, I would like to address those who have been the victims of an unlawful divorce. We acknowledge that in many cases there is the divorcer and the divorcee. There is the one who divorces, and there is the one who is divorced. In other words, you might have been one who did not want to see the relationship end. You may have sought to do everything in your power to prevent that from happening. However, you could not stop your spouse from walking away. The divorce was, in some respects, inevitable in that regard.
The question arises, what ought you to do? Should you remain single, or are you permitted to remarry?
We should begin by saying no one should be hasty to remarry. Even if your spouse divorces you, you will want to hold out the hope of reconciliation. However, the answer to your question is that there is a great chance that you can remarry.
Of course, you will want to talk to the elders and have them evaluate your situation. But you may be within your rights as a child of God. Your spouse has either proved to be an unbeliever who has deserted you, or he has committed adultery. These, as we discussed above, are the two legitimate grounds for divorce. Thus, in the Lord’s eyes, you would be free to remarry.
3. Now, I would like to speak to anyone who is single. This passage has a word to those of you who are not married or divorced. If you are looking to begin a relationship and would like to be married, there is something here you need to heed.
Before you enter into a relationship or begin to get serious with a person, you need to make sure that this person is biblically eligible.
A verse like this reminds us that we are to make it our business to marry only one who is a Christian. But beyond that, we want to make sure that the person you are becoming involved with is not unlawfully divorced.
Again, a person may not be married in the eyes of the state; He or she may be legally divorced. But in the eyes of God, they may still be bound by the covenant of marriage.
You must understand that this person is off limits. You are not permitted to marry him or become anywise intimate with him/her. That would be a breach of God’s commandment and you would be committing adultery.
4. I would like to conclude by reminding each of you of the power of the gospel. Each and every one of you should recognize that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. And it teaches us that there is no such thing as “irreconcilable differences.” That is a blatant denial of the power of the gospel.
The gospel is in the business of reconciliation. It reconciles us to God, and it reconciles us to each other.
The Lord Jesus came into this world to restore that which is broken. He came to bring life to that which is dead. And if you would ever find yourself in a situation where you are contemplating divorce (and have no grounds to do so), then you need to look to Christ and trust in the healing power of the gospel.
Of course, none of us should let our marriages deteriorate and come to the point where you are contemplating divorce. You should do everything in your power to preserve and protect your marriage, including seeking the church’s counsel and discipline.
But Jesus’ words here may be summarized well by Winston Churchhill’s rousing call to England in WWII. “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up!”
The sum of Christ’s teaching is that we may not give up without biblical grounds. We must never take the easy way out of a marriage and simply get a lawyer. We are obligated by our vows to have and to hold this person for better and for worse; for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.
No matter how hopeless things may appear to you, you must renounce your desire to give up and you must trust Christ.
It might seem hopeless to you, but that is why the gospel is good news. It flies in the face of hopelessness. It gives hope where none exists. And when we avail ourselves to Christ’s appointed (proper counsel and church discipline) we allow the gospel its opportunity to rekindle the flames of love and renew a broken marriage.
In a magazine called Christian Reader Erma Landis writes:
“For decades, anyone living within five or six miles of the hat factory in Denver, PA set their watches and clocks by the sirens the factory set off five days a week. At 5:30 a.m. the wake-up siren would begin the day. The lunch and quitting time sirens would follow at their designated times.
“The siren system was eventually disbanded. But one day a friend of Landis was reminiscing with the time keeper about his job. He asked the man who would sound the siren, ‘What did you use to determine the exact time?’ With a twinkle in his eye, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a child’s Mickey Mouse watch.”
That day everyone learned an important lesson: Some experts are not as authoritative as they seem.
Setting one’s clock is certainly not a major issue in one’s life. But the authority you choose to be the standard for how you live your life is of the greatest importance. That’s why we must demonstrate care in choosing who or what is to be the guide for our lives.
As we begin to study this second letter of Paul to Timothy, a good question to ask is “Why should I listen to you?” The Apostle Paul will be giving us specific directions on how we are to live our lives. As a result we may begin to wonder “Why should I listen to this guy? What kind of authority is he?”
If you are asking that question, then today you will have your answer. In these opening verses the Apostle Paul shows us that he is an authority we can trust. We can set our lives according to what he says because he is a man who has been gripped by Christ’s authority, who has been invested with Christ’s authority, and who dispenses well Christ’s authority.
Christ is the creator of the universe and head of the church. As a result He is our ultimate authority for all matters of life. So we must listen not to men, but to Christ, and him alone. And in order to convince us that we should listen to him the Apostle Paul shows how Christ’s authority under girds his authority.
When we look at our passage we find that we can trust Paul because he is a man who has been gripped by Christ’s authority.
I. He has been gripped by Christ’s Authority
The very first word we read is the word “Paul.” The word Paul means “little.” So our letter starts out “The Little One.” But Paul didn’t always think of himself as “The Little One.”
We know from the Bible that Paul used to go by the name Saul. Saul was most likely his Hebrew name and Paul was most likely his Roman name. It wasn’t uncommon in those days for Jews to have a Jewish name and a roman name. And earlier in his life Paul preferred the name Saul.
There is something big about the name Saul. Saul was the name of the first king of Israel. To have the name Saul was to glory in the excellence of Israel. It was perhaps a mark of the greatness of Judaism. It was Hebrew pride.
But in the book of Acts we read about how Saul/Paul encountered Christ on the Road to Damascus. It was a clash of the titans. Here comes big Saul mounted on his horse and suddenly Christ appeared to him in all His splendor. Saul was thrown down from his horse—in the posture of prostration and humility. His eyes were blinded because he was not in the slightest bit worthy to look upon the exalted Christ. A few pages later you see Saul (the great one) now being called Paul (the little one).
This man had been gripped by the Authority of Christ. No longer did he flaunt himself as Saul, the Great Hebrew. He no longer glories in his excellence. The only thing he flaunts now is how little he is in comparison to Christ.
Humility is one of the hardest virtues to develop. That’s because we are always comparing ourselves with other people. When you compare yourself with other people you will always come out on top. For some reason we always see the flaws in other people. And somehow we are blind to our own limitations and defects.
But when you truly encounter Christ you cannot make such a blunder. When you come face to face with God, your imperfections and limitations become immediately clear. The richness of His glory drives you to your knees. The inexpressible greatness of his divine majesty cuts off any self exaltation. His supreme being weighs upon you. The pressure is so extreme that you cannot even lift your face to behold him. When you are truly gripped by His transcendent authority you come to grips with your “littleness.”
Paul was just such a person. He recognized that he was “the little one” in comparison to Christ. And because he understood his littleness, he may speak as Christ’s agent. Because he understood the authority and supremacy of Christ in such a personal and experiential way, he has the authority to speak on Christ’s behalf.
Proverbs 11:2 says “With the humble there is wisdom.” Isn’t that true? Who would you rather take advice from: Someone who flaunts their resume? Someone who always introduces himself with his title and position of rank? Or would you rather listen to someone who says, “I don’t know much, but I do know this much: I’m not much, but Christ is.” Most likely you are going to listen to the humble guy—the guy who knows where he stands and won’t stand anywhere else.
Since Paul has been gripped by Christ’s authority, we know that he knows where he stands. And since we know that he knows were he stands, we may trust what he is going to say in this letter.
But his words are trustworthy not only because he has been gripped by Christ’s authority. They are also trustworthy because Paul is invested with Christ’s authority.
II. He has been invested with Christ’s Authority
After he introduces himself as “The Little One” Paul says something about his office. He says that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.”
This is to make sure that we know that Paul does have some clout. Once we see “The Little One” we might be tempted to brush him off. But he points out that he has authority to speak because Christ has invested him with authority in the church.
I just said that titles and positions are not everything. But make no mistake: they certainly are something. A General in the Armed Forces ought to be saluted. A father and husband ought to be respected. That’s because they are positions of rank and influence. Here Paul is pointing out that he holds a position in the church that entitles him to our attention.
He announces that he is an apostle. An apostle is a person who represents someone else. Literally translated, the word apostle means “sent one.” Apostles are ones sent by Christ to represent Christ (or to speak on behalf of Christ). In those days they didn’t have Network Television to get a sovereign’s messages out. They had to send messengers out to make the king’s proclamations in different lands and regions. And that is what an apostle of Christ does. He goes forth on behalf of King Jesus to make His proclamations known.
And don’t think that he came by this position on his own. Paul makes it quite clear that he did not earn the position with his own cunning or through self promotion. He got it “by the will of God.” God appointed him to this work. God invested him with the authority he needed to serve in this capacity.
In a lot of places you can get your place of rank by simply having enough money. All you have to do is slip a few hundred dollars to the right person and—wala: you’re the head of such and such a department or lord over thus & such a region. Paul didn’t get his authority that way. It came straight from God, by an act of God’s own will.
He has authority because he is an apostle (one sent by Christ). He has authority because this office came to him by the will of Christ (i.e. it was God’s desire that he serve in this way). And he has authority because this office is “according to the promise of life that is in Christ.”
What exactly does that mean? “The promise of life” is the salvation that comes through Christ. Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection, secured eternal life for his people. But those people need to be organized and led. They can’t be just running around here on earth like a mob. They need leadership. They need people to guide them.
That’s what Paul means when he says that his office is “according to the promise of life that is in Christ.” The logical conclusion of the salvation of God’s people is the leadership of God’s people.
Don’t forget that! We live in a day where people buck against authority like crazy. And the problem exists in the church too. Church officers are dismissed without a second thought. People will say, “Hey, I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. All I need to do is follow Jesus. I don’t need these elders or deacons telling me what to do.” Well that’s not true. Christ has appointed church leaders that you are to follow. Moreover they are there because salvation demands it! Leaders are there because it is “in accord with the promise of life.”
And this letter must receive your full consideration because it comes from one who is a divinely appointed leader/messenger. You better listen to Paul because when you listen to him, you are listening to Christ.
You must listen to the Apostle because he is gripped by Christ’s authority. You must listen to him because he is invested with Christ’s authority. And you must listen to them because he dispenses well Christ’s authority.
III. He dispenses well Christ’s Authority
No one would listen to a person who doesn’t use his position right, would they? You wouldn’t willingly listen to someone who was a tyrant. No. You want someone who not only holds a place of authority; you want someone who rightly uses his authority. Well the Apostle Paul is that kind of person. He not only holds a place of authority, he dispenses well his God given authority.
Look at the second verse. Look at how loving Paul is when he greets Timothy. He says, “To Timothy, my beloved Son. Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You notice the affection. These are not words of a tyrant. These are the words of a loving father and mentor. Timothy had been under Paul’s tutelage for some time and a strong bond had developed between them. And so he greets him with the utmost affection. Then Paul bestows a blessing—a blessing of grace, mercy and peace. He exercises his God given authority in the most meaningful way possible: He prays for the prosperity of his young disciple.
A position of authority is obviously a great privilege, but it is also a great responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. Those of us who God has appointed to be superiors must never seek our own welfare first. Instead we must seek first the welfare of those who are put under their care. It does not matter if we are an elder, a mother, an employer, a husband or a big brother or sister, we are given that lot in life because God wants us to look after those under us. He has given us that place of prominence so that we might demonstrate Christ’s superlative love.
And what is the chief way that Christ exercises his authority? Certainly it was in laying down his life for his sheep. But it is also expressed in his continual intersession for us. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus prayed. Set times were appointed in the day for prayer. Sporadic nights were given to prayer. And even now, as he sits at God’s right hand in heaven, His chief work is prayer. Until He comes again He will never cease coming to His Father on the behalf of his people.
Paul then, uses his authority well when he prays for Timothy. What better things could Paul seek on Timothy’s behalf? He asks that Timothy may receive Grace. Grace is that unmerited favor of God. He asks that God would rain down all from heaven all that Timothy needed in life, but had forfeited because of his sin. Mercy is that sweet blessing that keeps God’s wrath from being poured out. Peace is the wholeness / or complete wellness of person. It is the financial, emotional, physical health that enables a person to carry out one’s duties in life.
This prayer is not just a formalized greeting. It is a superb illustration of how one is to use his God given authority. Paul not only occupies a place of authority, he exercises his authority with the utmost proficiency. And as we see Paul’s competence in handling his authority, we must consider well what he says in the rest of his writing. We may listen to him because his authority is not being used for his own welfare. It is being used for our welfare and for our greater prosperity in life.
In his book In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tells the story of a captain who had to submit to a greater authority.
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge in order to keep eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant they were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’“
Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”
The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’“
“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
The captain changed his course immediately.
If you are asking the question, “Why should I listen to you?” You have your answer. Paul is the lighthouse grounded upon Christ. Our God has invested him with authority so that he may serve as a beacon who will direct us how we must navigate our lives here on earth. He knows where he stands: He has been gripped with Christ’s authority. Therefore he will not venture to lead us astray. Let us then act like that sea captain and humbly submit to his every word.
Some of you might be hip to the PBS TV program called Antique Roadshow. The show records ordinary people who bring in their relics in order to have them appraised by a professional to see if they are of any worth.
It's kind of funny that the show has been on for almost 20 years. The only drama is the suspense that is created as you await the final judgment as to the value of the item under scrutiny.
Yet the person who owned the painting had for many years stowed it away in their basement. It was a treasure that—at least to them, had no real value. At least not until they came to the Antique Roadshow.
All that time they treated it every so flippantly. It was just a common piece of household junk.
But once they came to grips with its real value, they reacted differently. Their response was immense as they immediately began to treat it differently. They began to be very careful in the way they touched it. They wanted to know how they should care for it. How could they best protect it and preserve its value? In a word, they were ready to do anything within their power to retain the painting’s newfound glory.
It is often the case that the men treat the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the same way. Many people do not have a high esteem of Christ and care nothing for his gospel because they have no real appreciation of its value.
As a matter of fact, that is the case with the Pharisees in our passage here. The first verse that we read tells us that they ridiculed Jesus. They sneered at him because they had no regard for who he was or what he had to offer them.
But if we listen to what Jesus says in this passage, we will see that he plays the part of a spiritual appraiser. In the words that he speaks he highlights for us just how valuable the gospel really is. And once he does that, he shows us how we then ought to respond to it.
In order to heighten our appreciation for the gospel, Jesus first highlights our need for it.
I. How much we need the gospel [14-15, 17]
As you look at this passage, there is something that Jesus says that has the potential to make you sick to your stomach. In verse 15 Jesus says, “God knows you hearts.”
As a matter of fact, the passage is something of a spiritual x-ray. You get to see right into the very chests of the Pharisees. In verse 14 it tells us that they were “lovers of money.” That’s interesting, especially given the very next verse. In the very next verse Jesus says, “You are those who justify yourselves before men.”
How is it that they know that they were lovers of money? How is it possible if they were busy covering it all up? That’s what justifying your sin really is, after all. It is spiritual slight of hand. It is a magic trick that makes bad things disappear. It is making that which is evil sound perfectly fine. It is tricking the people around you (and perhaps even yourself) into thinking that there is absolutely nothing wrong.
How is it then that Jesus and the gospel writer can know that these guys were greedy pigs? It is because God knows it. It is because there are no secrets with God. Everything sin, every evil thought, every covetous desire that you have tucked away inside of you is as plain to him as if it were written in the sky.
The old saying goes, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Actually, that’s not true. You can fool all of the people. And some people are so good at it that they can do it all of the time.
But what really matters is that you cannot trick God. You can’t fool Him because his all seeing eye takes note of everything. And in particular, he sees those things that he really can’t stand.
Look at the end of verse 15. It says, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Now, we understand here that Jesus is talking specifically about man’s pomp and adoration of wealth. But we have to keep in mind that God sees the heart and his eye takes particular notice of that which displeases him.
Think about it this way: I have a friend who is into the auto body business. He fixes dings in cars for a living. So, he spends a lot of time looking at fenders. And, from what I understand, he is really good at what he does, and something of an expert in his trade.
One day we had gone out for breakfast together to catch up. As we were walking out of the restaurant, he pointed to a car right in front of us and said, “Awe, man! That’s terrible. I can’t believe they paid for that.” He looked at me and could tell that I was puzzled. I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. He said, “Look at this fender here. Its obvious that they recently had that fixed. And the guy who did it did a terrible job.” Then he started talking shop and using terminology that is completely foreign to me. Something about needing buffing and the paint mix not being matched well.
Then he said, “Sorry. That’s just the thing I do. I notice these things. It probably looks perfectly fine to you.” And you know what? It did look perfectly fine to me. I couldn’t see any kind of defect in the thing.
But to him, it was all kinds of messed up. You see, his eye was trained in that kind of thing. He could see it because he had a much higher standard by which to measure it. As a result, anything that was askew in a fender could immediately be spotted.
That’s the way it is with God. We have to understand that God sees into our inmost being. And not one of our flaws can be hidden from him. No matter how it may be camouflaged or otherwise hidden from the eye of man—no matter how we try and dress up our sin and color coat it so that it is completely justified in the eyes of man, it cannot be hidden from God. Every defect of sin is an abomination in the eyes of God, and there is no possibility that it will escape his sight.
But our need for the gospel is not only due to the all seeing eye of God, it is also the result of the ever enduring law of God.
In verse 17 Jesus says, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the law to become void.”
Now this comes as a result of what we find in verse 16. Jesus says, “The law and the Prophets were until John.” Someone could take that to mean that the law and the prophets have passed away and are of no more value now that Christ has come. But that’s not what Christ means. He’s simply saying that they were the pre-cursers to Christ and the new age that he inaugurates. The law and prophets pointed forward to his arrival and to the dawning of the kingdom of God.
But just in case someone would think, “Oh. Well, I guess we don’t need the law anymore. That’s Old Testament stuff,” Jesus clarifies. In verse 17 he essentially says, “Make no mistake: The law of God will not be abolished. Just like the heavens and earth are permanent structures, so is the word of God.”
So there is no escaping the high holy standard to which God holds us. The law of God is here to show us what God hates. It shows us that we are condemned before God because it points out how we have failed.
If you’ve ever told a lie, then you’ve broken God’s law. If you’ve ever stolen anything or coveted something, then you stand as one who is guilty before God. If you’ve loved money and put fame and fortune above the Lord, then you have transgressed the law of God. All of these show us just how desperate our condition really is.
I often joke with my prison students that I have them write their papers just so I have material that I can steal from them. Well, I am unabashedly using one of their illustrations right now. One of my students used to be a professional dry waller. He installed dry wall for a living. So he would go in and he would hang the dry wall and then apply the dry wall compound. After that he would sand it all down. Once he got it looking nice and smooth he took a bright lamp and shined it on the wall. He says that when you shine that light on it, it is amazing how many little defects become apparent. It looked perfectly smooth to the ordinary eye, but the light exposed every single tiny flaw.
That’s exactly what God’s law does. Without the law, everything is just perfectly fine to us. As long as we do not have the light of its revelation, all is just hunky dory. But once you hear, “You shall not bear false witness. You shall honor your father and mother.” That changes things. Your sin has been exposed. You now realize that you are guilty before God and liable to His wrath and curse.
And once you do that, you should realize how valuable Jesus Christ really is. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. It is the only thing that can get you out from under the scrutiny of God’s eye.
You need the perfection of Christ’s life. You need the death of Christ to be the payment for your sins. Your only hope is to turn to Christ and hold fast to his mercy.
So hopefully you see how valuable Christ really is. He should be much more desirable to you now. And how should you respond to that? Well, you should respond should be to embrace him, and embrace him with great vigor.
II. How we must respond to the gospel 
I believe that Jesus highlights something of the intensity of this in verse 16. He says, “Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached and everyone forces his way into it.”
The image here is of people barging though the gates of heaven. The word “force” here is rather strong. That’s why some versions translate it “violently enter.” There is a sense in which this movement into God’s kingdom is something of a stampede. The idea that is being communicated is that these people will use excessive measures in order to gain access to it. This includes overcoming any obstacle that may be laid in their way.
No matter what difficulties may be posed, not matter what discouragements may be laid in his way, a person will press his way through them all so that he might be a part of God’s company.
I believe that John Bunyan illustrated it well in his book Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s main character saw a vision wherein there was a stately palace which was greatly crowded. There were guards all around the palace. Some stationed on the walls, and a good sum stood in front of the gate to the palace. Just before them stood ordinary men who wanted to go in, but dared not for fear of the guards.
Yet, out of the midst of them stepped one stout looking fellow. As he advanced towards the doorway he drew his sword from its scabbard and put a helmet on his head. He then rushed forward towards the guards. They soldiers met his charge and laid upon him with deadly force. Yet the man was not at all discouraged. In Bunyan’s words, he “fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely.” Bunyan goes on to say that this man received many wounds. Yet nevertheless he pressed forward and cut his way through everyone of them. He would not be stopped until at last he had entered the palace door.
All of this describes what your response to Christ must be if you are going to enjoy eternal life. It is expressive of the tenacity of your faith. It describes the determination and the devotion you must have for Christ if he is going to enter into a state of salvation.
In a word, the metaphor describes how you must have a singular, unrelenting faith in him.
You must understand that becoming a part of the kingdom of Christ only requires you to trust in Christ. It is as simple as that.
But you must also understand that there can be so many things that impede that faith. A mountain of blockades can be laid in your way keep you from following Christ.
Satan will do everything possible to keep from losing you. He will no doubt cast before you every obstacle that he can. He will taunt you with the treasures that you might lose.
The world will no doubt oppose you too. The mass of humanity that is still in darkness will be like a tide pushing you back. People will ridicule you and think that you are strange. They will tell you that religion is for fanatics and that you should just temper yourself. The mass of unbelief will virtually gang up on you in order to keep you from remaining faithful to Christ.
But just when you think you have reached the tip of the peak, you will find that your own flesh will be a barrier that wants to shut you out of Christ’s kingdom. This might be the greatest opponent you face. For you will have to submit yourself to Christ and renounce the desires of your own heart.
And he who truly wishes to be saved will cut through them all for the sake of the gospel. Because he knows that it is only through Christ that he might enter into the kingdom of God.
This is radically different than the easy believe-ism that is so common today. The evangelical world is filled with a yippy skippy kind of Christianity. It is a soft belief that has no demands upon you.
But those who hear Christ understand that the response that he requires is a violent one.
Napoleon is not by any means an example of Christian virtue. His conquests were much due to his coveting land and power. But his military tactics and his mental determination were no doubt admirable.
There once was a time when one of his field marshals rode up and exclaimed, “General, I fear the enemy is too great and the battle is lost.” Napoleon is said to have cooly looked at his watch and replied, “It is then time for another battle. Summon the army to a fresh charge.”
The lands that he desired were so prized that he would not give up. He would do everything in his power to force his way in.
The kingdom of God demands a similar response by each and every one of us.
Despite our having lost every right to that domain, the Lord has provided a means by which we may obtain it. There is good news of eternal life in Christ Jesus. If we would like to clear our guilt and enjoy being a part of this glorious kingdom, then it is incumbent upon us to turn from everything that we now hold dear and hold fast to him. And should there be any blockade—even if the host of hell itself would seek to stop us, we must be willing to raise a fresh charge and cut our way though.
In this passage Paul likens preaching to a gift. When he was ordained with the laying on of hands, he was set apart for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel.
And Paul writes this to encourage Timothy to use that gift. And he does so by saying that we must “fan it into flame.” Some of the versions will say, that it must be “stirred up.”
The idea is that the gift is analogous to a small spark or a little ember that is in danger of burning out.
But what I want you to see is that in this passage Paul provides some kindling for preaching God's word. That is to say, there are two things that are said here that should encourage us to be vigorous in our preaching.
You'll note that one of the things that Paul says is that the gift of preaching is divinely given.
I. The Gift of Preaching is Divine in its origin
Paul highlights this when he says that this gift is “of God.” Now, you should understand that he didn’t have to add this. He could have simply said, “fan into flame the gift that is in you.” But he didn’t do that. He found it necessary to underscore the fact that there is something inherently supernatural about preaching. It is "of God."
That it is something that is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit should help offset the burden of responsibility that is placed on us. We are to fan it into flame. That’s our responsibility, and a great one at that! But here is a reminder that this gift is not something that is natural to us or based on our ability. It isn’t derived from our personal expertise or some inherent eloquence with which we were born.
Being that its origin is found in the kind hand of the Holy Spirit, we can rest in knowing that ultimately it is not our skill that will make it effective.
A lot of people struggle with the whole divine sovereignty-human responsibility matrix. The Bible posits both truths and really doesn’t try to explain them. You know, “Work out your salvation, for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure.” The Bible states this interchange very matter of factly. And a lot of people struggle with how that can comport intellectually.
I admit, there are a lot of things in Scripture I don’t really understand. That whole trinity thing, how Christ can be fully God and fully man. I just haven’t been able to grasp those yet.
Well, this is another one. But instead of being something we get in a mental tussle over, it is laid forth as a means of comfort to us.
I think that is what Paul is doing here. Hey timothy, you need to fan into flame this gift. It is your responsibility to preach and not let this thing be snuffed out.
But here’s the good news: This is God’s gift that you are stirring up. This thing that you are doing is something that is heavenly, and you can be sure that the Spirit who put it there will be right there to help you all along the way.
So, in order to help us stir up our gift, Paul reminds us that it is divinely given. But you’ll notice that he doesn’t just hint at how divine it is. He gives us a small indication of how powerful it is.
II. The Gift of Preaching is Overwhelming in its Potency
Paul tells us that we need to “fan in to flame the gift of God.” And it is by no means a stretch of the metaphor to say that preaching is a fire. When it is kindled it carries with it an inherent power to destroy and effect God’s purposes.
You might hear the echo here of what God says through the Prophet Jeremiah, “Is not my word like a fire, says the Lord. Like a hammer that breaks the rock.”
This is just another confirmation that the primary way we effect reform is through the simple preaching of the gospel. The Bible talks about how foolish preaching seems. And it does seem so foolish. It is so simple. It is so plain. But it is powerful.
And Satan would love nothing more than to squelch every trace of preaching. It is a complete menace to him and it vexes him because it is like a cannonball crashing down upon his kingdom.
And you can think of preaching as the incinerator of sin.
I am a die hard Calvinist. As such, I have a very bleak view of human nature. This is how much I believe in man’s depravity: For a while, whenever I got a new Bible the first thing I would do is take a highlighter and turn to Romans 3 and highlight the passage that says, “No one does good, not even one.”
And in the face of such calloused depravity, how in the world are we going to accomplish anything? How is it that the kingdom of God can be advanced at all? The answer is right here. It is through the firestorm of preaching.
And so, brothers, I would encourage you to kindle again the gift of God that is in you. If you are a man ordained to the office, let your lips burn hot with the truth of Christ’s word and may you make it your goal to melt the pews every time you enter that pulpit.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.