THE ANCIENT CHALLENGE AND
THE NOW CHALLENGE ARE THE SAME
Woodstock '99 was held last weekend. The slogan of the original Woodstock thirty years
ago was "Three days of peace and music." At Woodstock '99, about 200,000 people
attended the last night. It ended with about 50,000 of those people starting a bonfire,
then torching the concession stands, then torching the equipment trailers, and finally
setting fire to some of the set.
- I want to use this event and its ending as an illustration.
- Some of us sitting here literally cannot grasp that event or its fiery end.
- We could not be tempted to attend a rock concert, and certainly not that one.
- We are repulsed by the attitudes and words in the song lyrics.
- We will never grasp why anyone would burn the entertainment they attend.
- Some of us sitting here can understand the appeal of the event and the emotions
of the people who started the fires.
- You have no personal interest in that kind of concert.
- You understand the song lyrics are destructive.
- But you have accurate insights into the mind set that would set the fires.
- Some of us sitting here know exactly why people attended and exactly why people
set the fires.
- You frequently are around people who think as they thought.
- You clearly know the appeal of the concert, and you fully understand how it
could turn violent.
- In this assembly there are at least three reactions to what I just said.
- Some of you are saying, "How could anyone sitting here understand anyone
who thinks and behaves like that."
- Some of you are saying, "If we refuse to try to understand people who are so
different to us, a lot of people will never listen to us."
- Some of you are saying, "The church does not understand the world around it,
and I doubt that the church will ever understand me."
- Our God specializes in doing the impossible.
- God always has specialized in doing the impossible.
- Building a nation from one child born to a ninety-year-old woman and a one
hundred-year-old man was truly impossible, but God did it.
- Creating a special people for Himself from the enslaved descendants of this
elderly couple was impossible, but God did it.
- Creating His unique kingdom, the church, from "every tribe and tongue and
people and nation" was impossible, but God did it (Revelation 5:9).
- We spend a lot of time studying and talking about the church that God built
through Jesus Christ.
- Too often the focus we have on the church is an injustice to God's work
through Jesus Christ.
- To make a nation out of the slave descendants of ninety- and one hundred-year-olds seems to us a huge impossibility.
- To begin with that nation and make a global kingdom comprised of people of
all languages and cultures is, in comparison, an incredible impossibility.
- People who declare themselves to be God's people always have struggled with
the same problem.
- Ancient Israel never trusted God or what God did.
- They believed that God made them a nation.
- They just never understood God's purpose in making them a nation.
- As a consequence they always thought of themselves as special, but rarely
thought of God's purpose as special.
- We have never truly trusted God or what God did.
- We believe that God made us to be His church.
- We just do not understand God's purpose in making us the church.
- As a consequence we think of ourselves as being special, but rarely think
that God's purpose is special.
- We make the same mistake that Old Testament Israel made: we fail to grasp
how special God and His purposes are.
- We have much greater faith in our concepts than our God; we trust our
concepts more than we trust God's purposes.
- Consider the magnitude of the impossible thing God did when He created the
church through the redemption of Christ's blood.
- God took people who believed in Christ from:
- Jewish people who had lived their lives in religious isolation for centuries.
- Proselytes, converts to Judaism from peoples who worshipped idols.
- God-fearers, people who had believed in many gods but who had become
believers in Israel's God, but had not become converts.
- People who were disillusioned with all gods.
- People who worshipped the Roman gods.
- People who worshipped the Greek gods.
- People who worshipped the mystery religions from the East.
- And God made one spiritual kingdom out of all of those people who placed
their trust in God's redemption through Jesus Christ.
- Precisely what was it that all these people had in common?
- Did they all speak the same primary language? No.
- Did they all share a common culture? No.
- Did they all know the Jewish scriptures? No.
- Did they all have similar social positions in life? No.
- Did they all have a similar way of looking at God? No.
- Did they all have the same customs? No.
- Did they eat similar foods? No.
- Then what did they have in common? Only one thing: faith in Jesus Christ
and the God who sent him.
- "David, that is impossible!"
- For people, yes, that is impossible.
- For God, no, that is not impossible.
- Consider Ephesians 2:11-16.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who
are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the
flesh by human hands--remember that you were at that time separate from Christ,
excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise,
having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly
were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace,
who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by
abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in
ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus
establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross,
by it having put to death the enmity.
(The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
- Before Christ, there was the wall of impossibility separating Israel from people
of other nations.
- The people of other nations had one of two choices: either stay on the other
side of that wall, or convert to Judaism.
- In Christ and through Christ God destroyed that wall--it was a done deed!
- It is not that God will destroy it at some future time.
- When Christ was resurrected from the dead, God destroyed the wall.
- Now any person from any background in any nation can approach God.
- Now God has established peace in Christ for any person in any nation.
- God made (past tense) both groups into one.
- God broke down (past tense) the wall of separation.
- That did not and does not depend on everyone thinking alike, or looking at
the world alike, or approaching problems alike; it depends on what God did
- Did these Christians to whom Paul wrote understand that God had destroyed
the wall of separation? No.
- Did they believe and trust as fact that God destroyed the wall? No.
- They behaved like the wall still existed.
- Paul said, "God did it! God reconciles! Believe it! Trust it!"
- "Stop building walls in the church! Accept and trust God's peace in Christ!"
- We are a loving, caring, involved congregation, but we face an enormous
- The "right now" times we live in are called the postmodern or postchristian age.
- I want you to consider four terms.
- The modern age: that time when people believed that absolute truth
answered all questions and solved all problems.
- The Christian age: that time when Christian principles governed society.
- The postmodern age: the time when people reject the existence of absolute
- The postchristian age: the time when society is not governed by Christian
- Many of us lived in what was called the Christian age or the modern age.
- That was the time when society was regulated by Christian principles.
- The modern age, basically the same age, was when people believed
absolute truth solved all problems. It was the key in all concerns.
- Some of us were born too late to live in the Christian age or modern age.
- You have not lived in an American society that accepted Christian
- You have not lived in an American society that believed absolute truth
solved all problems.
- Your whole life you have lived in what is referred to as the postmodern or
- Because of that, in the church, among Christians, all of us do not look at the
world in the same way; we do not see problems in the same way; we do not
look for solutions in the same way; we do not seek answers in the same way.
- That creates a very real, all-the-time problem among Christians.
- Those who come from the age of absolute truth tend to make every
question, every issue, every concern a question of truth.
- And we discredit ourselves because every issue is not a truth issue.
- Those who live in the age of no absolute truth tend to reject all absolutes.
- And we discredit ourselves because absolutes definitely do exist.
- Both groups of Christians believe that God sent Jesus to allow us to be a
part of God's kingdom and to be forgiven of our sins.
- However, much too often, each group of Christians seriously damages their
- We do not have to look at the world alike, or solve problems in the same way,
or find solutions in the same way, or seek answers in the same way.
- But we all must see God's full work in Jesus Christ, God's full purposes in
Christ's death and resurrection, and God's true purposes in His people.
[Prayer for us to trust the God who does the impossible.]
Converts from Judaism who worshipped at the Jerusalem temple and converts from
idolatry who worshipped many gods did not see the world alike or see divinity alike or
see much of anything else alike. But all of them saw Jesus Christ for who he was and
what he did, and all of them saw the work of God in Jesus' death, resurrection, and
ascension. And God did the impossible. God made them one. God destroyed the wall.
God is not about building walls in the church. God is about tearing walls down so that we
all, in Christ Jesus, can be the church. The ancient challenge continues. Will we busy
ourselves building walls? Is that what we are about? Or we will be about learning to be
God's new creation in Christ Jesus?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 August 1999
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