Have you noticed when desirable results occur, everyone wants part of the credit. "I had something to do with that! I encouraged the person who helped the person who knew the person who had the idea!"

But no one wants any part of the responsibility for undesirable results. "I did not have anything to do with that!" "It is not my fault!" "Don't blame me." "Don't look in my direction!"

Because congregations are composed of people, congregations tend to do the same thing. If it is good, we want part of the credit. If it is bad, we had nothing to do with it. We were not even associated with it.

Christians as individuals and as congregations love built-in explanations that relieve us of responsibility. We not only like to declare it is not our fault, but we like to verify it is not our fault.

  1. Years ago as the church we used a built in explanation, and we as the church often used it to explain away anything we needed to explain away.
    1. Permit me to verify I am not making this up.
      1. I need you to respond to some questions by raising your hand.
        1. The questions are easy to answer.
        2. I promise I do not plan to embarrass anyone.
        3. I just want you to help me verify the fact that I am telling the truth.
      2. First question: all of you who were members of the Church of Christ in the 1950s or the 1960s, hold up your hand. Thank you.
    2. I want us to read a scripture that should be familiar to everyone who raised their hand.
      Matthew 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
      1. Second question: how many of you heard this scripture used as a explanation text in a sermon or a Bible lesson?
        1. If you don't mind, hold up your hand.
        2. Thank you.
      2. How were these two verses commonly used? As an explanation.
        1. "Why do so many people go to 'X' instead of assembling with the church?"
          1. "X" was what every "X" needed to be.
          2. "X" could be a ball game or it could be a PTA meeting.
        2. These two verses were the explanation.
          1. "The Lord said the gate to destruction was wide and the road was easy to travel, and a lot of people are traveling that road."
          2. "The Lord said the gate to life is small and the road is narrow with only a few traveling it."
          3. "Look around. We are the few. The people who do 'X' are more in number than we are. They do 'X' because that is the broad, easy way to travel."
        3. We even created a term based on these two verses: "the straight and narrow."
          1. "I am a part of the few; I am walking the straight and narrow."
          2. "You are a part of the many; you are taking the broad, easy way."
        4. Of course, we always decide where you are; you never decide where we are.
      3. Question three: [Do not raise your hands if this question makes you uncomfortable. I am not trying to embarrass anyone; I just want you to think.] have you heard those verses used in that way?
        1. If you do not mind, if you have heard those verses used in that way, hold up your hand.
        2. Thank you!
    3. I want you to think about the meaning of those verses. [I want you to think.]
      1. Who said that? Jesus said that.
      2. In what situation did Jesus say that? Jesus said that in the Sermon on the Mount.
      3. To whom was Jesus preaching on that occasion? Matthew says that multitudes were there and his disciples came to him when he sat down (5:1).
      4. Who made up the audience who heard the Sermon on the Mount? Jewish listeners in Galilee who followed Jesus near the Sea of Galilee.
      5. Did the majority of the first century Jewish people accept Jesus as the Christ? No.
        1. While we are impressed with the number of 3000 who were baptized in Acts 2, comparatively speaking, that was a few of the Jewish people.
        2. While we are impressed that multitudes of Jewish people turned to Jesus in the book of Acts, comparatively speaking, that was a few of the Jewish people.
      6. Was Jesus talking about the whole world, all mankind? Not in that context.
        1. In context, what was the wide gate and the broad highway that was easy for the Jewish people to travel? Religion as usual with the priests, the animal sacrifices, and the temple.
        2. In context, what was the narrow gate and the difficult path for those first century Jewish people? The truth that Jesus was the Messiah that God promised Israel.
      7. Was that statement given by Jesus 2000 years ago as THE explanation of why people do not listen to us today? No.

  2. Consider a very similar statement that Jesus made to the Jewish people.
    1. Read with me Luke 13:23-30.
      And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."
    2. What is the context of this statement?
      1. Since the gospels declare that Jesus taught only Jewish people (Matthew 10:5,6; 15:21-28), he was talking to his own people about his own people.
      2. If you examine chapter 13, the whole chapter focuses on the first century Jewish people.
        1. He talked about Galileans who died while they were offering sacrifices.
        2. He taught in a synagogue and condemned the synagogue leaders for opposing a miracle he performed.
        3. He talked about God's kingdom being like a mustard seed and yeast.
        4. Just after that statement he received a visit from the Pharisees.
        5. In response to their visit, he expressed his grief for Jerusalem.
      3. Jesus made this statement, and he talked specifically to a Jewish person about the Jewish people.
    3. Look at the content of the statement.
      1. Someone asked Jesus are just a few people being saved.
        1. A lot of people wanted his miracles.
        2. A lot of the Pharisees opposed him and everything he did.
        3. He often encountered opposition in the synagogues by the leaders of synagogues.
        4. While big crowds followed Jesus, it was obvious to this person that Jesus' message was not reaching the Jewish people.
        5. Many Jews were not accepting his message.
      2. Jesus used two illustrations:
        1. The first was a narrow door that a number of people could not pass through.
        2. The second was a house locked up at night to keep violent people and thieves out.
          1. Once darkness came and the house was locked up for the night, the man of the house was not about to open the door.
          2. If someone tried to get him to open the door, he would say, "I do not know you. You are up to no good. Leave."
      3. Jesus said there will be enormous grief when many try to join their ancestors [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets] in God's kingdom only to learn opportunity is passed.
        1. They will not be allowed to join the feast.
        2. But they will see a lot of people there who were not Jews at that feast [from the east, west, north, and south], people that they did not think belonged there.
        3. These people who are not Jews will be in the kingdom enjoying the feast [the banquet or feast was a common symbol of life with God], and many first century Jews would not be allowed to enter.
    4. I want to ask you to consider a perspective.
      1. First, I ask you to notice that one person asked the question, but Jesus addressed his answer to "them."
      2. Second, I ask you to consider that the person who asked the question included himself among the saved.
      3. Third, I ask you to consider Jesus' response.
        1. "Do not be concerned about how many will be saved."
        2. "Be concerned about being one of the saved."
        3. "People you would exclude from the saved (people who were not Jews) will be included, and people like you (the first century Jews) can be excluded."

  3. Do you have any idea about how much God loves you?
    1. Have you ever considered God's enormous investment in His love for you?
      1. Think about all the time God patiently spent preparing to send His son--from the first sin to Jesus' birth.
      2. Think about letting your only son leave home knowing that he was leaving for a horrible life and a painful death.
      3. Think about the loneliness of Jesus' ministry.
      4. Think about the crucifixion.
      5. Think about your forgiveness--every day all of us need forgiveness.
      6. Think about the mercy--have you realized how much mercy is required every day to forgive you?
    2. Do you realize that God loves every other person as much as he loves you?
      1. Even those with a different color skin, a different culture, a different language, tattoos, body piercing, different hair, a different set of problems, or a different lifestyle.
        2 Peter 3:8-13 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
      2. Time means nothing to God.
      3. People mean everything to God.
      4. God values you.
      5. Not one person you know is without value to God.
      6. God wants every person to respond to His love.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 April 2001

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