Change and Live
Becoming a true Christian requires change. This message focuses on five takeaway points that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 on what we need to change.
What if a trusted authority figure said that you had to make a difficult and enduring change, and you had to do it soon or it would impact your life sooner than you think? Could you change? Could you make the necessary changes that it would take to spare suffering or even prolong your life? Think about that. Do you think, “Yes?” Think again. The odds are, according to behavioral scientists, that 9 to 1, we might not. 9 to 1, that we might not make those changes. When they talk about this, they illustrate it with the matter of health care. We all know about health care. It’s always in the news today. It’s always on our minds and it’s a major, major issue in our world today. But people who study it, and have to focus on it, understand that a small percentage of the population consumes the majority of the health care budgets in the United States of America. A small percentage of people – somewhere between, maybe, 15% or 20%, I’ve heard – consume the majority of the health care budget. And the majority of the diseases that are treated in that majority care are largely behavioral. The diseases are caused by things that we do or don’t do. 80% of the health care budget is consumed by five behaviors: smoking, drinking, eating – either too much or the wrong kind of food – and stress. And the fifth is not getting enough exercise. Those are the five common reasons for much of what has to be treated in our world today and they are behavioral – eating, drinking, smoking, stress and not enough exercise. A lot of us can take care of the smoking. A lot of us can take care of the drinking. And most of us manage the eating pretty well. That stress – that’s a hard one. That stress is a hard one – and getting enough exercise. But these are some of the facts that people are challenged with. Heart surgery patients studied two years after their surgery are found that 90% of people have not made necessary changes to prolong the benefit of the surgery – that many actually go back to some of the habits that led to the surgery just two years earlier – not in every case, but in many, that happens – which raises the question, “Why is change so difficult?” Why is it so challenging? And why do we fight changes at times, even when we know that it’s in our best interest to make the changes?
One of the things that, again, behavioral scientists have learned as they study this and try to get to the bottom of it, is that they have learned that change most often happens – a lasting, effective change most often happens when people’s feelings are reached, when their emotions are reached, when people’s hearts are reached. When you do that, you get to the real core of their life, of their need and what impacts them, then there’s a greater likelihood of change that will take place. It’s an interesting thought, to get to the story of the person, to get to really what makes them tick. We’re here on the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost is about change. It’s about dramatic change through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. When we read in the account of Acts chapter 2 of that first Pentecost, we read Peter’s powerful, short, effective sermon where he called them to repentance and then we read on that three thousand people were baptized on that day. In that day, it says – every pastor / every preacher’s dream that even one person would repent and change, but three thousand! None of us have achieved that yet. We all have a lot of work to do to live up to that. Three thousand people made that change and were baptized and became part of the Church. The means of that change that they took part in that day and what is available to you and I today on this day of Pentecost and on every day of our life, the means of that change began fifty days before that key event. Fifty days before today, in other words. The means of that change began and it bears us going back to look at exactly what happened fifty days earlier from that first day of Pentecost, at least in Acts 2, and what took place so that we can understand what it is that we should be connecting with, and helping us to make that deep change in issues and matters of our heart in our lives that this day is all about. We go back fifty days in the gospel accounts, we come to John, chapter 20. Please turn over there, John chapter 20 beginning in verse 1.
John:20:1The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. – Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Vs. 2 – Then she ran and came to Simon, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Vs. 3 – Peter went out, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. Vs. 4 – So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. Vs 5 – And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Vs. 6 – Then Simon Peter came and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, Vs. 7 – and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths… Vs. 8 – Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and he believed. Vs. 9 – For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Vs. 10 – Then they went again to their own homes. Vs. 11 – But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb… and when she finally looked up she saw two angels in white, one at the head and the other sitting and she wondered where the body of Jesus was and what had been done with it. And then in Vs. 14 – she turned and she saw Jesus standing there and she did not know that it was Jesus. Vs. 15 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said, “You carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Vs. 16 – Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Vs. 17 – “Do not cling to Me,” Jesus said, “for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to the brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ” He had not ascended. She couldn’t touch Him.
Now, we know from another account in Matthew 28 that later in the day Christ appeared to the disciples who held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Where He would not allow Mary to touch Him, He later allowed the disciples to touch Him. Somewhere in that interval Christ had ascended to the Father and He had been accepted as a sacrifice for all mankind’s sins. What happened and what had changed, more importantly? This is not something that we always really focus on for a period of time to really understand, but something dramatic did happen. What happened was Jesus Christ was accepted as the wave sheaf offering before the Father. That was read earlier in the sermonette in Leviticus, chapter 23, verses 10 through 14, that describe that offering of a wave sheaf on the morrow after the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. And with that event began the early spring harvest. One Bible dictionary mentions that that event symbolically typifies the beginning of God’s harvest of human lives. That’s what started and we understand that. And we understand how we count to come to this very day on which we are meeting to keep the Feast of Pentecost. It’s a unique day among all the Holy Days. It’s the only one counted, always falls on the same day of the week every year while the others will float along with the days of the week. And the means and how we got to this have been a very import matter for us as we have grown through the decades in the Church to this. But it all begins with that morning event, on the morning that Jesus was resurrected – that is, that day when He was to be accepted as the wave sheaf offering. We understand this meaning in our whole observance of the Feast of Pentecost / the Feast of Firstfruits.
1 Corinthians:15:22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. says – As in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive. Vs. 23 – But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. And down in verse 35 it talks about the resurrection and the sowing of the body. Verse 38 – God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
Christ is the first and the firstfruits come afterwards, those that are Christ’s at His coming. We understand this to be a part of the Church in the story of what the Church is as this firstfruits harvest, this period, this age prior to the first resurrection and all that that pictures. But when we go back to that event that took place with Christ ascending to the Father, we have something profound to think about. And in doing so, I’d like for you to turn over to Hebrews, chapter 9. To be honest, I had not really focused on it in the way that I did until this year in the Passover service when this verse kind of hit me here in Hebrews, chapter 9, and verse 11, where it speaks of the role of Jesus Christ as High Priest where it says:
Hebrews:9:11But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; – But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Vs. 12 – Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
With His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place. There was a moment in time when Jesus entered the Most Holy Place with His blood for the first and only time, if you will, and that was on that morning of His resurrection from the time that He first saw Mary to the time that He later saw His disciples – in that interval of time, Christ entered the Most Holy Place with His blood. For those of you who really think these things through, by my saying ‘a moment in time’ I know that that doesn’t really fit because Christ was a spirit being and He entered eternity and there’s no time in eternity, but we won’t go too far down that road. It’s too early, we haven’t had enough coffee yet. Let’s just understand what we do from the wording and realize the significance of that moment and what it means. There was a moment when the One who had been the Logos, who had emptied Himself of that divinity, came down, born of a woman, lived a righteous, perfect life and died, and now resurrected – there was a moment when that Logos, now the Messiah, the Lamb of God, returned to the Most Holy Place with His blood to make atonement for sin once for all time. And in that moment, there must have been a shout of joy from all of the angels and that scene that we read about in Revelation and in Ezekiel or Isaiah of the throne of God, where we get little glimpses of the scene of angels and elders and crowns being passed down and shouting of joy and hallelujah, and hallelujah seemingly ongoing and worthy is the Lamb, it says. And Handel made a wonderful piece of music out of it and it doesn’t even begin to explain and help us to grasp what that moment was and really what that moment is. Because when Christ entered with His own blood into the Most Holy Place, He’s there as one sacrifice for all time for all man and it’s there and it is for you and it is for me. He was then ready to assume His role as the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
In thinking about this, I wonder what must that have been. There was a section of Isaiah that came to mind, back in Isaiah chapter 63, that I think gives us a little bit more insight into that moment when Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, entered the Most Holy Place with His own blood. If you will, turn back to Isaiah chapter 63. This is recognized as one of the sections of Isaiah that is speaking of the servant or the Messiah, and verses 1 through 6 are very interesting when read in the context of what we just read in Hebrews:9:12Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. in this concept of Christ entering into the Most Holy Place at that moment as the wave sheaf offering, ascending to His Father and being accepted. You read Isaiah chapter 63 beginning in verse 1 and you have really a scene that is set up here of a watcher on a wall seeing someone coming from afar. And there’s a call and response element here in these first six verses. And if you look at it from that perspective and then you understand what it is saying, it maybe gives a little bit of an insight into that moment and little bit of appreciation. The watcher on the wall says in verse 1:
Isaiah:63:1Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. – Who is this who comes from Edom, With dyed garments from Bozrah, This One who is glorious in His apparel, Traveling in the greatness of His strength?—… Who is this – is the question – that goes. And then traveler, the one that is coming, the Messiah says, …”I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” Does that not, perhaps, echo a bit of what Jesus said when He entered into that Most Holy Place, coming in His righteousness, mighty to save? And then the call goes again, Vs. 2 – Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? And He responds, Vs. 3 – “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes. Vs. 4 – For the day of vengeance is in My heart, And the year of My redeemed has come. Va. 5 – I looked, but there was no one to help… echoes of Psalm 22. …And I wondered That there was no one to uphold; Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; And My own fury, it sustained Me. Vs. 6 – I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, Made them drunk in My fury, And brought down their strength to the earth.”
It’s an interesting scene, these first six verses. I like to kind of couple them with what we seen in Revelation chapter 4 at the throne of God and to that moment when Jesus entered into the Most Holy Place with His blood. It was a wonderful moment and as that acceptance began, Jesus then became our intercessor, our High Priest, active on the throne of God as our High Priest. Back in Hebrews 9 as it says in several places throughout Hebrews, it gives us great encouragement and great comfort when we really understand the role of Christ. In Hebrews 9 and verse 24 it says:
Hebrews:9:24For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: – For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; For us! He is there as our advocate, for us, making intercession for us on a ongoing, 24/7 basis. Except for Him it is not 24/7. It’s just that way for us, but He’s always there. In the darkest of nights when we’re the most fearful Christ is our advocate. When all have left us and we think we are all alone and we’ve been betrayed, we have no friends or we look glumly into our future, we’re not alone because Christ has entered into the Most Holy Place with His blood. And He is there to make intercession for us. And that’s the scene that you and I must keep in mind. No matter what happens with our lives, no matter what course it takes, Christ is our intercessor.
Back in John, chapter 14, He said this is exactly what it would be on that night of nights before His death. John, chapter 14, beginning in verse 15, He said to His disciples:
John:14:15If ye love me, keep my commandments. – “If you love Me, keep My commandments. Vs. 16 – And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— Vs. 17 – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you… as He speaks of the Holy Spirit. And then He says in Vs. 18 – I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you… He comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the life we now live, we live through the faith of Jesus Christ in us, as Paul says. So He says, I won’t leave you alone. I will come to you. But the Spirit of truth is the means by which that happens to take place. Down in Vs. 25 – “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. Vs. 26 – But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Vs. 27 – Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Vs. 28 – You have heard Me say, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’… I will not leave you orphans, He said, I’m coming back to you. …If you loved Me, you would rejoice… Joy. If you loved me – and, of course, they couldn’t at that moment, they didn’t fully understand – but later they did rejoice. …you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.
And so, as He said to Mary Magdalene that morning, I have not yet ascended to My Father. Don’t touch me. And then He did, and He was allowed to be touched and everything has been different since then and we have access to that.
Now, I said that Pentecost is about change. What makes us change? I’ve been at this for forty plus years, as a baptized adult, fifty plus years as just sitting in congregations from a young teenager on, and sometimes I look at my life, as we all do usually around the Passover time or perhaps at other moments when we’re forced to, and I say, “I thought I’d changed on that.” Why haven’t I made any progress? Change is hard to do at the levels that we talk about at times in the Church. Now, there are a lot of other changes that we have made and we’ve walked away from, certain behavioral habits that I mentioned at the beginning of my sermon that do lead to obvious health problems. Many of us have just walked away from those and they are no longer a part of our life. But it’s some of the softer one, the emotions or the spiritual dimension, that we still struggle with and we need to change. And we come to services each week, we come to this day of Pentecost and the meaning of God’s power and the Holy Spirit within us and we’re reminded of this as this connects back to the Days of Unleavened Bread, the putting out of sin and the Passover experience – there is a connection during this front part of the Holy Day experience that is very personal for each of us. It’s very important as we think of the power of God’s Spirit in us and Jesus Christ living His life within us and really what that means. I’ll be the first to admit, I have not done way enough in thinking about that in my own personal life to really grasp what those scriptures are that I’ve read, that I’ve taught and understood – or thought that I understood so well through the years, about Christ in me and developing that relationship, because He’s gone to the Father and the Father has initiated that process of calling and conversion in us, in my life, that has made me, hopefully in time, an heir, a co-heir with Jesus Christ.
Well, what makes us change? We can change, at times, by fear. We can be scared out of our wits at times. A diagnosis with a development that may come up. I had a man show up at my door one time, he was a non-member mate of a member, and his wife had told him that night she was leaving him. It was over. His behavior had led to that decision and he came to my door, knocked on it in the dark of night, a broken man. The fear of losing his wife made him turn around and change and he did change his behavior that was leading her to want to leave. Fear, sometimes, can do that.
We can change, at times, by facts that may be presented to us. Sometimes we’re a bit more logical in terms of rationally looking at a situation and we run the numbers, we do the math as we say, and we say, “I’ve got to change.” I’ve got to change a behavior, a habit, a practice and we’ll make that change. Sometimes we will change by a crisis that will come upon us. My father was a very heavy smoker all of his life – a couple packs a day – except for the ones that I used to steal out of his pickup truck, but that’s another story, I’ll tell you that, not today. One day in his early 60’s, he developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. Cough drops didn’t help. Cough syrup didn’t help. And he woke up one morning and he quit, just like that. Put them away. Never bought another one, never smoked again in his life after a whole lifetime of smoking. You know, sometimes I think at least in his area of life, he was an anomaly, not the rule because I’ve known and I’ve seen many others who, when faced with that dilemma can’t do it, won’t do it. They continue on in that or another type of behavior that they need as a crutch.
This is one of the things I’ve learned over the years in counseling people and usually – now this goes back thirty to forty years – in the early part of my pastoral ministry when we had a lot of prospective members calling us and at times you’d be visiting as many prospective members or inquiries about the Church than you would visiting with just member visits. And we had a lot of growth in that time and you’d run across a lot of different people. You walk into their trailers, you walk into their homes and you see where they are in their life and you talk to them about the truth and what they need to learn, some of the behaviors that they need to change. And you look at people and you realize that they are lonely or they’re depressed. And I recognized this probably far too late in my ministry, that just telling them to quit this habit – whether it was alcohol or maybe smoking – was by itself not enough, because at times I would never go back or maybe after two or three more contacts, they may not have made it through the door of the church, whatever. I began to realize over the years why that cigarette was so important, why that bottle of Jack Daniels was so important to them or why that pecan pie that they ate all by themselves, was so important – that they were lonely. They were depressed and that took the edge off of their life. That was their hope and their meaning. And if you took it away, they were still lonely and depressed because they hadn’t substituted anything more meaningful at that point, a tonic. If they were going to continue to live longer with chronic emotional pain, to them it wasn’t worth the price, which gets us back to understanding what it is that makes us change, what motivates us to change.
And one of the things that finally dawned on me after looking at my experiences with people, looking at my own and doing a little bit of study on it, was to realize that joy is more of a motivation than fear. When you can reach people at an emotional level and listen and understand why they engage in a certain type of behavior, whether it is certain blatant physical matters that are going to harm their life like smoking or alcoholism, when you can get to the emotional part of it, and you can begin to work with that and help a person through that and show them that there is hope – and the words of the gospel and the truth of God is the greatest most important hope that any of us can hold out to anyone – the hope of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin and a relationship with God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the joy that comes from that as a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. When that can be presented and you can reach people at that emotional heart-level, it’s a greater motivation to change than fear. And I feel that if we can build on that and if we can learn that, then those that God will bring to the Church and to the truth will be those who will stay and not just be here because of a fear of a tribulation, of a time of trouble, but they are building a relationship with God that is based on joy and the relief that comes from the forgiveness of sin and the purpose of the meaning of life. When one is convinced that they will feel better and have a better quality of life, they’ll change behavior when they can be convinced of that. They will change their behavior more readily in a permanent way.
Before I moved over here to Cincinnati about a year and a half ago, for several years I had a membership at a health club just a block and a half from my home in a suburb there of Indianapolis. It was one of these LA Fitness clubs that you see, you have them around here in Cincinnati – I have one just literally one minute out my front door. And I bought a membership there when it opened and we’d go and I like to swim. That’s been my favorite exercise. Occasionally I would lift weights, but over the period of time that I was going in, I noticed there was one individual working out, pumping iron out on the machines and he was intense, he was focused, he was working hard. He didn’t lift free weights and then talk for thirty minutes to the cute girls over on the next machine. He stayed with it. He was pumped and I looked at him and it always seemed as I walked through the weight area into the locker room, he was kind of a fearsome looking guy. He was one of these guys that had tattoos all down his arms, all down his legs, all of his neck. And not only tattoos, but studs through his nose, on his mouth and he was really a fearsome looking guy. And he was huffing and puffing on the weights and I started calling him ‘Tattoo Guy’. But while he was lifting weights, I’d usually go swim. We didn’t cross paths.
One day we happened to cross paths in a section of the locker room and I was kind of looking at him and thinking, “I’m going to hurry up and get on out of here.” He looked worse that a Māori Warrior just in terms of what he – he was buff. He had just come in from his workout and he said, “Oh, man, I really love, you know, the rush that I get from working out.” I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Well, I used to do heroin, I used to do coke, I used to do Meth and that was how I got my high in my life.” He said, “Now I get my high by lifting weights” – pumping iron and the rush he got from that and he would spend a couple of hours a day every day in there doing this, going through his routine. It was his substitute to keep him from going back to the drug habit. And he said, “Yeah, I was in and out of jails several times, I finally just had to stop.” So I got intrigued by his story, and I said, “Well, Tattoo Guy,” I really didn’t say that, but I was thinking it in my head, “what motivated you to change and kick your drug habit?” And he said, “My little girl. My little girl. She came to me and she said, ‘Daddy, I don’t want to visit you in jail anymore. I want you to be with me.'” That was what got him finally to change his habits – get into the gym and work out to keep that rush going. It was the joy of his little girl and the times that he knew he was missing with her, had with her and help her that motivated him to change. Becoming motivated to a change of behavior requires, at oftentimes, an appeal to the emotions – not a superficial, outward emotion, but deep into the inner emotions that really do drive us.
When Peter spoke to the assembled people there on that day of Pentecost and he said, “You have killed this man,” that was an emotional appeal that got to those people. And they said, “What do we do?” When they were struck by the reality that now they had killed the long prophesied and anticipated Messiah and that this Jesus of Nazareth was the One, and that what they were observing with the others that morning was, indeed, of God, undeniable, they were hit at the deepest part of their emotions and they were willing to change and they went through that change and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The message of Pentecost for all of us is very straightforward. Change and live. Change and live. That’s the message that we should be focused on every year at Pentecost. We are among the firstfruits of God, a very special group in the great plan of God. Turn back to Romans, chapter 8. Beginning in verse 18 through the end of chapter 8 of Romans is a beautiful passage and I think that this one was tailored by God through Paul for the firstfruits – for you and me and for every other group of firstfruits that have gone before us who have read these verses. As Paul must have been pacing back and forth – when you read Romans, I don’t think Paul wrote Romans sitting down. I think he wrote it pacing back and forth the way that it just rolls out. And when he got to this part here, this climactic crescendo of the latter part of chapter 8 of Romans, I think he was worked into an intensity about his message that whoever was maybe writing it down – he had a scribe writing down his dictation – had a hard time keeping up. That’s the way I like to imagine this part of Romans. I think he was writing it for the firstfruits because he mentions the firstfruits in verse 23.
Romans:8:23And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. – We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit. And the language he uses here – Vs. 18, suffering. Vs. 20, the creation subjected to futility. Vs. 22, the whole creation groaning and laboring with birth pangs together until now. And we who are waiting, we who are saved, in Vs. 24 – saved in this hope. Vs. 26 – Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And that beautiful Vs. 28 where all things work together for good. And reference in Vs. 29 to those predestined to be conformed – the group of people, the firstfruits predestined – a group that would be conformed to His image to be the firstborn among many brethren. He’s called and he’s justified. And he goes on in that beautiful last part to talk about all the things that will never separate us from the love of God and all that will keep us in His grace, even our own weaknesses won’t keep us from there. Nothing will separate us from the love of God, he says (Vs. 35) And in Vs. 33 he says – Who shall bring a charge against the elect? It is God who justifies. Vs. 34 – Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us…
He is our advocate who has entered into the Most Holy Place with His blood – once with His blood – making intercession for us, helping us who are the firstfruits – a one-time category of people in the great plan of God. Throughout all eternity, there will only be one group of firstfruits. There will only be one group of firstfruits. And from what we understand from the Bible, from God’s plan, there are going to be firstfruits from every generation of mankind upon this earth. A few from the time of Noah, from the period of Abraham and the patriarchs, from the time of the monarchy in Israel, from every generation. I think that there are going to be firstfruits who are going to rise in that resurrection and be a part of that group. Those who make it to that designation, who endure to the end, will have been tested and tried in every conceivable manner, to be proven loyal to God, the Father, and to Jesus Christ and will endure to the end. And in return God promises to be with us, to intercede for us, to be our comforter, to be our help to live His life within us, to advocate for us to the Father when we need truly an advocate and no one else can do it in the way that He can – or no one else will. We can know and be assured of that hope.
God promises us to be made sons in His image – radiant, eternal beings shining as the sun as Christ does – sharing in the glory which Christ had before His human birth, which He vacated and returned to – co-heirs with Him for all eternity. It’s an awesome, mind-bending reality that is promised to us. It’s why it is a better resurrection, that Hebrews 11 talks about, to which we work and to which we strive. And the process will be long and there will parts of it, as we all know, that will be very painful – undoubtedly so. But it’s what God has promised to us and it is what the firstfruits are all about. Nothing less. God means what He said. He is going to deliver on what He promised to all of us who are in that category and to all who endure to that time. Is it worth it? I think it is. I think it is and it’s my heart’s goal and yours, my wife and you as well, to keep at it, to keep going to the throne of God, to that grace and help in time of need and to keep changing because, like you, I want to live forever, too. I want to be a part of that firstfruits. I don’t know all as to why it will be a better resurrection, I’ll just wait and find out when I get there because I know it will be worthwhile. Sometimes we want to know every answer to every thing that we ask – some of these matters – but it’s the glory of God to conceal a matter and God does keep some things to Himself about eternity, the glory that we are going to inherit and a lot of things that we’d like to know about. But He keeps that to Himself. It’s almost as if He says, “I’ve told you enough. You get there. You learn all of this right now as it’s laid out, you get there and then I’ll fold the curtain back.” And it won’t be a little man running levers and wheels, it’ll be awesome. It is worth it. It is worth it.
So what do we need to change? As I said earlier, it’s usually some of those soft things which are the hard things. In Ephesians 4 – we’ve been drawn to Ephesians 4 in recent months as a Church. In verse 16 of Ephesians 4 we drew our current vision statement for the United Church of God. But there’s more than just verse 16 in Ephesians 4. Paul does go on and in verse 25 he begins to talk about some of the things that we always need to work on. And I know that a lot of you like to have takeaway points from a sermon. You like points. Well, I don’t have any points for you this morning, but Paul does. He’s got five of them right here beginning in verse 25. Let’s just read what he says. And I’m going to read it to you from The Message Version, which is a paraphrase, but puts it quite well. Verse 25 for the first point:
Ephesians:4:25Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. – What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all, and when you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
No more lies. No more pretense. And that’s more than just speaking a lie, a bold-faced lie. That’s living a lie. That’s being a true Christian. That’s being a true Christian beyond even the law of God that’s true in how we live and think and live our Christianity out as Christ lives within us. And we speak truth to our neighbor. We are willing to be truthful. A couple of years ago I came to a point in my life where I said, “I’m going to become more truthful,” – not that I was running around telling lies, but I said, “I’m going to be more truthful in my ministry and in my relationships, and if it needs to be said, I’ll say it with God’s grace and not just cover it up and appease, because I don’t want to make any waves or whatever.” And I’m not talking about turning tables of the temple upside down. That’s not what I’m talking about. You come to a point where you – at least I did – you realize, “I’m going to be truthful, more than I have been.” I don’t go around telling lies and I don’t think you do either, but it’s the life that we live that I think Paul is speaking to here. We’re all connected to each other. And to live a life of truth, to be a true person that can be counted on, what you see is what you get, no guile. No guile is a goal for all of us. That’s point #1.
Point #2, he says – Vs. 26-27 – Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
There is a righteous anger. There is a time to be angry against sin and you, where it may be manifest itself to the point of disrupting a group or the Church, be angry, you wade in and don’t let political correctness or all of this talk about not wanting to judge keep you from nailing something that can destroy a reputation of a person, of an institution, of a church or a body of people or another individual. Get angry when it’s necessary, work through it and then move on. Don’t let it linger because, indeed, Satan can get a toehold if anger gets down in our hearts to the point of bitterness.
Point #3, he says – Vs. 28 – Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.
An attitude of giving can sum that up. Being able and willing to give away of yourself within bounds and within reason, but to have everything, but not possess anything. To have everything that you would want, everything that you might be able to buy, you can have everything, but don’t possess anything. Be willing to walk away from it. Be willing to allow it to be used for the good of others. That’s the balance. That’s the key.
Point #4, – Vs. 29 – Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
Put away evil, slander and gossip. Watch the way we talk, nothing foul or dirty coming out of our mouth.
And then, point #5 – Vs. 30 – Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
Five good points from the apostle Paul. Five takeaways from the apostle Paul. Christ’s life in us, the life of the One who entered into the Most Holy Place on that morning after His resurrection, that was accepted and became our advocate and intercessor. That life in us, our High Priest, is the gift that we should not and cannot take for granted, because it is by that power of His life within us, the Holy Spirit, that we can change. We can change the way we talk, the way we think, the way we look at things in this life and we can change and align our lives with the hope of the firstfruits, those predestined as a group in the great plan of God to be a part of those who would be in that first resurrection, as a part of that early harvest. That’s what we have been called to. That’s what we have in front of us. All of that is worth the change. Change and live.