Challenged to Change
A Life Free of Stress and Strain
2 Corinthians 5:21
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I don’t know how you learned to swim but I learned to swim in Belfast. My dad took us to the public baths, as we called them, and then of course he held our chins and got us to kick and taught us the breaststroke. I noticed there was a real difference, the way I felt inside when my dad held my chin and when my brother held my chin. Now, my brother was two years younger than me but I don’t think it would have mattered if he had been two years older. I remember when dad held it that I would relax. I knew this man will never let me drop, he just wouldn’t. And whether I could make it or not, he would keep holding me up. When my brother held my chin, I wasn’t too sure how concentrated he was or how faithful he would be.
So, there was a difference in my whole body. Every muscle was relaxed in one case and most muscles were pretty tense and strained in the other case. It has helped me right from those days to know when I was having faith and when I wasn’t. You could say that I believed in my dad and you could say that I believed in my brother. But I would probably say, “Yes, I believe in him (my brother), but I don’t trust him.” I think that has helped me through the years to see that sometimes I would say I believed in someone or I believed in something but I didn’t really trust.
I have been able to tell when there was a kind of a strain in my life through not really-really believing. So if you would have asked me, “Didn’t you believe in your brother?” Yes, I did but I didn’t trust him. I didn’t relax in his arms and so in actual fact, I didn’t believe in him. That’s the truth of it. I just said that I believed in him but when it came to the moment of trusting him with my life or trusting with not drowning or some other dreadful thing that would have taken place in the baths of Belfast if he had dropped me, when it came to that, I didn’t really trust him deep down.
I think that might help some of us this morning. One of the difficulties you and I have when it comes to communion is that we can’t really tell in what way we don’t believe in Jesus. I encourage you to believe in Jesus and you encourage me but we can’t really put our finger on the way in which we do not believe Him. And so, we believe in Him as hard as we can and we take communion. But then we go out and we feel, “Well, we have believed.” Yet somehow, we sense there is a deeper rest that we could come into.
Well, brothers and sisters, I think that that’s one way to do it. Check yourself, even during this communion service and after it. When you get back into the ordinary everyday life, check and see if there’s still any strain or stress in your muscles, in your body, even in your face. I don’t know how many of you have done this, but sometimes at night just before I have gone to sleep, I have thought, “Am I frowning?” And it’s amazing when you think for a minute, “Yes, I am frowning.” Or sometimes I suddenly realize, “I am tense.” You never thought you were tense, but you are tense. There is a strain in your face or a strain in some of your muscles or the way you’re holding your eyes and it shows that there isn’t complete restfulness.
Now, that’s lack of faith. That’s lack of trust. You understand, I am not saying it to you to beat you over the head with it. I am just saying that there is a place where you may not be trusting God deep down and you may not be entering into all that you say you believe about Jesus.
Now, I’d ask you to apply that to the four differences that this dear — I mean you can’t think of words dignified enough to talk about this dear person — our dear Savior. There are four mighty things that our dear Savior has wrought for us by His death on Calvary. One of them, if you look at it in First Peter, is the one that all of us were brought up with whether Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Lutheran. We all know this about communion. This is the one that everybody talks about.
First Peter 2:24, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” That’s what all of us know from the first mass that we ever went to or the first communion we went to. You knew you were coming here because Jesus, God’s Son, had borne your sins in His body on the tree. And that’s why you were able to confess your sins so freely — either to the priest or to God or to somebody else. You know Jesus has borne that sin for me. He has borne the punishment for that sin. I will not be punished a second time for that sin. He has borne my sins in His body on the tree. The pain and the agony that I should have borne in purgatory, in hell or wherever, has been borne by Jesus on the Cross and so I can afford to confess this and to admit that I have done it. That’s the first thing you ought to examine yourself on.
Are you trusting in Jesus in regard to the sins that you have committed this past month? In other words, is there any of them that you’re still covering up because you are afraid of what God may do to you or what man may do to you? Is there any sin that you have committed this past month or before that, that you’re still not ready to admit because you feel, “Well, I am not sure if I will be punished for it?” Now, that’s not trust.
Trust is, “Lord Jesus You have borne my sins in your body on the tree. You have borne the death penalty for them and I won’t be asked to die for them. Lord I believe that. I trust you and now I admit to you John, or I admit to you Jean, or I admit to you, my wife or my husband, I have done this and I am sorry. I am heartily sorry. I have confessed this to God and I know Jesus has borne the penalty for it. I want to show Him and the world and you that I believe that. I admit that I have done this thing and I am telling you I have finished with it and I will never touch it again.” That’s in regard to your sins.
Now, you need to check, are you trusting God in regard to your sins? One of the things you need to do when you come up to communion this morning, is to quietly make that agreement with the Father about your past sins. Now, that’s only one of the things God did in Jesus’ death loved ones. Jesus’ death achieved far more than that and I will show you one of the others.
Second Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Now you see that’s not just bearing our sins in the plural. But for our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin. Now God took you as you are with your built-in evil habits that you cannot control, with your personality that is filled with vices that you cannot overcome. God put that into Jesus, His Son and He destroyed it there. He made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin so that you might become righteousness in Him.
Now, how does that apply? How do you show you trust that? You’ll show it tomorrow when you fall for the seventy-seventh time on whatever it is. For some of us, God isn’t getting to us about alcohol, that’s not our problem. For some of us, God isn’t getting at us for smoking, that’s not our problem.
Some of us are permitted to do many things by God that others aren’t. Some of us aren’t troubled by any of those things. But whatever is the besetting sin that trips you up and gets you to say, “That’s me again. I can never overcome that.” That’s not trusting what God has done for you in Jesus.
It’s failing to trust that God has changed you in the Savior. Loved ones, trusting that you have been changed in Jesus, that God has made Jesus to be sin for you, means never again, ever saying, “I am hopeless. I am helpless. I can’t stop losing my temper. I can’t stop drinking. I can’t stop taking drugs. I can’t stop being irritable.” Loved ones that’s not trusting. That’s not trust. That’s why, taking communion this morning means not only being real in your intentions and honest in your heart, it means that tomorrow you will act in accordance with that. Unless some of you say, “Oh brother, what if I don’t, what if I don’t?”
The dear Savior died for you. He is not looking for the first time you trip up. He is not looking for the first time you fail, to cut your head off. He’s right beside you. All He needs from you is an expression of your trust, “Lord I do believe that I was changed in you. I don’t look like it and I feel very much the same person as I was last week. But I know you have changed me. Lord I am going to live in the light of that. I am going to storm right in here and I am going to be the kind of person you want me to be.”
Half the time you are beaten before you fight the battle. Do you see that? Half of us destroy ourselves before we ever go into the interview. Half of us have the sin beating us to the ground before we ever face the sin because we are so lacking in confidence in our own ability to live in victory. Loved ones, trusting Jesus means really believing that He was made to be sin for you and you have been changed. You’re a different person. You’re a new creation and you can do it. But, God did more for us in Jesus’ death than that. I will show you it.
Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” It helps to know Greek for that one. The English word ‘world’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘cosmos’. We get it you know in cosmology and cosmological. The ‘cosmos’ in Greek is not just that sky out there or the trees. It’s not just this floor. It’s not just the rock and the mountains. It’s not just the world, the physical world that we see.
The ‘cosmos’ in Greek is the whole world system that man has set up independent of God. A world system that operates as if there is no God. That world system controls all the finances of our world, controls all the psychological movements and currents in our world. Controls all the soulish attitudes that we have to each other, controls all the spirit of criticism in a certain city or the spirit of preoccupation with materialism in a certain region. In a casino, it would control all the worry and anxiety and the mixture of greed that is found as the old roulette wheel spins. It controls that.
It’s a whole world system that is set up on this guy being afraid of that guy and this woman being afraid of that woman. It’s the whole world system that runs our businesses and all the organizations of our world. It’s that world system that brings pressure upon you in regard to things that are going wrong in your life. It’s that world system that causes things to go wrong in the job, that bring strain and stress into your work situation, that brings chaos, and disagreement and misunderstanding into your home situation. That world system has that whole thing organized.
When you can’t meet your bill, your monthly bill, you know there’s something that grips you like that doesn’t it? There is something that grips your heart. You steady the pen in your hand, you sit back and say, “Now wait a minute, all that happens is that I lose this car or I lose this stereo”, but there is something that grips you. I had a friend, a dear old attorney that used to say, “Well this month I didn’t think I was going to get it cranked right around, it looked as if I wasn’t going to crank it right around.” And that’s the way he regarded a system of debts and the money that he had available to pay them. I think many of us find ourselves gripped by certain things — either by the financial difficulties that we have, or difficulties in our family life. That’s the cosmos that is gripping you.
It’s a whole world system that has us in a half-nelson and can control us like a puppet or a marionette. It controls our emotions and our feelings and our thoughts and all our reactions. It controls our nervous system and sometimes our appetite in our stomachs. That world system was crucified with Christ. God took the world system that affects you with all its subtle psychological and financial currents and He destroyed it in Christ.
Part of taking communion this morning means coming up to this table and saying, “Lord Jesus, I lay at your feet the parts of the world system that are destroying my life. I lay at your feet the things that are causing me strain and tension that I am worried and anxious about. I believe you destroyed them. I believe it’s done. Lord Jesus, to show you that I believe in You, I let all the strain pass away from the muscles in my face. I let all the tension drain away from my body as I relax and trust that you have destroyed the world system that would destroy my life.”
Loved ones it’s important that you go out of here this morning into your home situations or your business situations trusting that God has put that all right in His Son’s death on Calvary. It’s important that you do that. So, this morning at communion, will you not just trust God in regard to your past sins, not just trust Him in regard to your victory this coming week and this coming month, over sins that you’ve had trouble with, but will you relax? Will you relax about the circumstances of your life? Will you relax in God? Will you trust Him?
I can see it almost going through your minds at this moment when I look at your faces. We all have little things there. We all have little things, little strains and stresses, little things that we’re still facing that are unresolved in our lives. Now what we’re saying is: God resolved those in His Son Jesus and He is going to manifest that to you in good time and meanwhile He’s saying, “Leave that burden down, just leave it down and let it rest here at this communion table. Just leave it on the altar and walk away today with a free and a light spirit, trusting.”
Then I bring you back to my dad and me in the water in Belfast. You know when you are trusting and when you are not, you know that. So as you receive the bread and the wine loved ones, ask Jesus’ Spirit, “Lord, show me if I’m not trusting, if I’m not trusting in Your death completely, show me.” Because loved ones finally, it’s due to His death that any of us have any life and it’s due to His death that any of us have any victory. And actually everyone here, who has any ability in business or academia or in the professions, knows that.
We all do what we can brilliantly do, but finally, if we look at the success we have had, we’d almost say it was luck. But we really say it’s to the moves of providence. Because the fact is, that we men and women actually achieve nothing. God just allows us to think we’re doing something, to give us something to do while we are here on earth. But it’s really Him that has achieved it all in His Son’s death. And that’s why it’s so important that you and I live in reality this morning and
lay our burdens down. We are to lay them down at His feet and go away from the communion table with peace and rest in our hearts. Now, will you stand loved ones and receive the invitation?