This morning I want to share some thoughts with each person who considers himself or herself a Christian. If you regard yourself a Christian, I am sharing with you. I want to begin by asking for God's presence in a special, powerful way.

[Prayer: "God, my prayer is very simple. Do what You always have done among Your people. Shake us up. Trouble our minds. Knock the crust off our hearts. Help us wake up and repent."]

November and December are difficult months for me personally. It is a time of enormous joy, and a time of incredible agony. There are many contributing reasons. One primary source of the agony is what I see happening in people's lives. Sometimes the pain I see threatens to overwhelm me.

November and December highlight two devastating realities. The first reality involves Christians who live by the "it doesn't matter" philosophy. In their choices, they commonly say, "It doesn't matter." In their behavior, they commonly say, "It doesn't matter." In their pleasures, they commonly say, "It doesn't matter." In their entertainment, they commonly say, "It doesn't matter." Then November and December come and unmask crises. Then, in naive ignorance, Christians in crisis ask, "What's wrong, God? We go to church."

The second reality involves Christians who are certain they have the answers. "I know how to produce the right religious results! I know what makes marriages successful! I know what works in rearing children! I know what works in the universal church! I know what works in a congregation! I know the rules, I know the priorities, I know the objectives--just plug my system in and let it rip!"

Then November and December reveal moral tragedies and relationship tragedies among Christians. And we are astounded by the fact that (a) our answers are not working (b) our system is ineffective.

  1. I receive great spiritual blessings when I learn how to examine Bible teachings and situations through "then eyes" instead of "now eyes.
    1. Learning how to study with "then eyes" is a never ending process.
      1. Often it is not fun, but always produces rich spiritual blessings.
      2. It is never fun to learn that your focus and understanding are flawed.
      3. It is always a powerful blessing to come closer to God.
    2. May I encourage you to look at a situation with "then eyes" instead of "now eyes?" The situation is found in Matthew 11:2-6.
      Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
      1. The situation: Herod the tetrarch placed John in prison because John condemned him for taking his brother Philip's wife (Matthew 14:1-12).
        1. Luke 1:5-25 and 57-66 inform us that John was conceived through a special act of God and was born to serve a special mission for God.
        2. Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:2-11, and Luke 3:2-20 inform us that John was a powerful evangelistic force in Israel as he prepared the people's hearts and minds for Jesus.
      2. This is the way that I always looked at John's question from prison:
        1. God gave John a special mission before his birth.
        2. As an adult, John was a powerful preacher in Israel.
        3. John was imprisoned and could no longer preach to the multitudes.
        4. In the isolation of prison, John wondered, "Did I accomplish the job God gave me to do?"
        5. So he sent disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus was the person John was to introduce to the people of Israel.
    3. When you use the "then eyes" to look at Bible teachings, you ask questions. The question I ask you to consider is a "what if" question.
      1. John 1:29 plainly states that before Jesus' ministry, John recognized Jesus' true identity and presented Jesus to his disciples as "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
      2. John 1:32 plainly states that the Holy Spirit confirmed to John that his identification was right.
      3. What if confusion caused John to ask his question?
        1. What if Jesus' work and actions confused John?
        2. At the time of conception (not birth), the angel Gabriel informed Mary that Jesus would sit on King David's throne, and that he would rule the descendants of Jacob forever in an endless kingdom.
        3. In his ministry, Jesus did not look or act like a king.
        4. Jesus demonstrated no desire to be political.
        5. Jesus was to be God's sacrificial lamb and to achieve God's purposes by using methods and an approach neither used nor seen in Israel.
      4. What if John asked, "Are you the right person?" because he did not understand what was happening?
        1. What if John's question was not primarily produced by his prison experience?
        2. What if his question came from the fact that he could not understand Jesus' actions?
          1. Jesus was attracting multitudes.
          2. But Jesus was making no move toward the throne of Israel.
        3. What if Jesus was not causing to happen what John thought should happen?
    4. I think Jesus' answer provides us powerful insights.
      1. Instead of explaining what he was doing, instead of saying, "Yes, John, I am the man," Jesus quoted from Isaiah and told John's disciples to report that they saw and heard to John.
        1. The Isaiah statements Jesus sent to John come from Isaiah 35:5 following and Isaiah 61:1.
        2. The context of Isaiah 35:5 is God's promise to restore Israel, and the context of Isaiah 61:1 is the restoration of Israel's relationship with God.
      2. This is Jesus' message to John (Matthew 11:5,6).
        "The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
        1. Had ever the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers receive cleansing, and the deaf heard as had occurred in Jesus' ministry?
        2. Had ever the poor had God's good news preached to them in Israel? No!
        3. Were devoutly religious people taking offense at Jesus? Yes!
        4. What if Jesus was saying to John, "You may not understand what is happening, but what is happening is what God intended to happen."
      3. One truth is clearly evident: God did the unexpected in the birth and life of John; God did the unexpected in the birth and life of Jesus; and God did the unexpected in presenting the gospel.
    5. Throughout Israel's existence, Israelites placed their faith in the system.
      1. Obviously, Jesus was not the system.
      2. Jesus declared, "Place your faith in God, not in the system."
      3. "The gospel is not found in your system; the gospel is found in God's son."

  2. Please think about some insights that we Christians need to understand.
    1. The gospel's power is not found in a religious system; it is found in a Savior, the son of God, God's sacrificial lamb.
      1. Haven't we learned that the realities of spiritual existence in an evil world cannot be addressed by a system?
        1. You and I will never be rescued from evil by a system.
        2. Systems control, label, and condemn.
        3. Systems destroy hope by focusing on failure.
        4. Systems declare it is all up to us; systems declare it is a matter of human performance.
        5. Nothing is as lifeless, as empty of mercy and compassion, as unforgiving as a controlling religious system.
      2. Haven't we understood that spiritual existence in an evil world is possible only through a Savior?
        1. God's Savior can rescue us from anything.
        2. God's Savior destroys human failure.
        3. God's Savior guides instead of controls, releases instead of labels, and frees instead of condemns.
        4. God's Savior destroys failure by giving hope.
        5. God's Savior says, "I did for you what you can never do for yourself."
        6. God's Savior is the source of life, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

  3. I want to share a personal conclusion; it is the result of over forty years of Bible study, working with Christians in crisis, and being in crisis.
    1. I fully understand this is my personal conclusion.
      1. I fully understand that many will not agree with my conclusion.
      2. I fully understand that your agreement makes me neither correct or incorrect.
      3. I fully understand that I am no more than a human, and not inspired.
      4. This is from me to you; think and use God's wisdom.
    2. My conclusion: I find enormous irony in the fact that fifty years ago the system we believed would establish faith and stabilize godliness is, today, destroying faith and making godliness look ridiculous.
      1. Some of our own Christian adults take that system and justify anything they wish to justify, "There is nothing wrong with X. The Bible does not condemn that."
      2. Because of the system, some of our own Christian adults look at the godless forces devastating our marriages and destroying our homes and say, "Don't be ridiculous! That is perfectly harmless! There is no way that is the cause!"
      3. Some of our own children use the system to declare, "That is not evil! That is good! My friends aren't evil, and they do that. It is not an evil influence! It does not hurt anybody! Besides, its fun!"

  4. This one simple thing grieves me deeply: we produced a lot of people in the church who know volumes about the rules and regulations of the system; we produced too few people in the church who have a genuine, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
    1. When someone with love and concern tries to awaken us to the obvious, it is too easy to react rather than think.
    2. We watch too many of our teens abandon faith, too many of our young adults justify unspiritual lifestyles, too many of our marriages fail, too many of our homes become hollow shells, and too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ trade spiritual existence for being religious.
    3. What happened? Why can we be more concerned about being religious than being holy? Why can we be more concerned about technicalities than godliness? Why can we be more concerned about self-justification than purity?

What if God sent you, personally, a messenger. The messenger said, "I understand that the West-Ark congregation exists to be God's community. What in the West-Ark congregation says to you that the congregation is seriously dedicated to God's purposes?" You had to give an answer. What would you say?

Would you say, "Those blinded by evil see. Those made lame by ungodliness walk. Those who had the leprosy of sin are cleansed. Those who were deaf to God hear. The spiritually dead are made alive in Christ. We share the good news of Jesus with the poor. And Jesus never offends us."

Is that happening in your life? Has your blindness turned to sight? Do you walk in righteousness? Are your sins cleansed? Has your deafness become hearing? Have you been raised to life in Jesus? Do you share Jesus with the poor? Does Jesus never offend you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 December 2000

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