Challenged to Change
Daily Salvation and Victory
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Let’s start by turning to Psalms 78, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought. He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them. In the sight of their fathers he wrought marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the water stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. He cleft rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He smote the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?’ Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel; because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; and he rained down upon them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance. He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind; he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sands of the seas; he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their habitations. And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved. But before they had sated their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them and he slew the strongest of them, and laid low the picked men of Israel. In spite of all this they still sinned; despite his wonders they did not believe.
So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror. When he slew them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast towards him; they were not true to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often, and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested him again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel. They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them for the foe; when he wrought his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan. He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams. He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them. He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust. He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost. He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts. He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels. He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague. He smote all the first-born in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led forth his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won. He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God, and did not observe his testimonies, but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers; they twisted like a deceitful bow. For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their grave images. When God hear, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among men, and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe. He gave his people over to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage. Fire devoured their young men, and their maidens had no marriage song. Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation. Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine. And he put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting shame. He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves. He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded for ever. He chose David his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from tending the ewes that had young he brought him to be the shepherd of Jacob his people, of Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skilful hand.”
Of course as you read that and read the other references to God’s seemingly external love, you know you’re just overwhelmed. I think I’ve mentioned to you before that it almost seemed absolute foolishness to me. I thought, “He’s never going to do anything with this lot if he just keeps on going like that.” It almost seemed senseless to me at one point in my studies because you’d read this kind of thing. You’d read how God forgave them and then the next day they were rebelling against him and then he’d forgive them again, then the next day – there are even other parts that you and I have read together where he promises that he will redeem them. He redeems them. Even now we know that there is a general understanding among us in prophecy that God will eventually draw back Israel to himself.
I used to think of it almost on an ad hoc basis. Ad hoc is a committee that you create just for that particular purpose. It’s one that you just create there to explain that instance and that’s the way I used to look at this forgiveness and this mercy. I thought, “Oh yeah, God didn’t really know they were going to do that so, of course, he was hoping now that they would obey him and then they let him down and he showed mercy.” So he created a merciful forgiveness for that particular
moment. It was silly of me, but I thought he would be kind of surprised each time it happened.
Why I read this was I wanted us all to see that this was not a surprise to God. This was not a surprise that immediately after he supplied manna and quail, they would rebel against him. Or immediately delivered them from bondage, they would make a golden calf. This was not a surprise to him. I think we have to face that fact in our own lives. I mean we may like our high opinion of ourselves or maybe our naïve opinion of ourselves. We like to think, “Well, I didn’t know I was going to do it so how did he know?” Well, the fact is he does know. He knew what we would be like me at my worst and you at your worst; he knew what we would be like. He knew that from the very beginning.
And that seems to be it. In a way it’s the great assurance for us but, in another way, it’s the great astonishment to us — the thing that confounds us. “Now wait a minute, wait a minute, you mean God made us all inside his dear son and he knew full well that each one of us would eat away at his vitals, at his insides, at his vital parts?” Yes, that’s it. That’s it. That’s the situation, God did do that. And if you say to me, “You mean he not only did that but then seeing that destruction take place inside his son he raised his son up and didn’t extract us from humanity, didn’t cut us out, didn’t excise us and throw us away as rotten fish, but he actually raised us up also? Even knowing that then over centuries, and centuries we would do those things?” Yes! Yes.
And you know if you say to me, “You mean, if I do even worse things than I have done, if I let him down even more than I have let him down, if I fail my best ambitions and my highest desires, and my greatest hopes, you mean he has committed himself to keeping me inside his son?” Yes, that’s what that means. The word is very definite. It’s a parenthesis in the verse we were studying today, Ephesians 2:5. It’s by “grace you are saved.”[‘sesosmenoi este’ in Greek] It is what they call a periphrastic past and ‘este’ is you are. You are, or you have been saved by grace but actually the periphrastic past as the emphasis on your present state and it really means you are saved. You’re a saved person by grace. You at this moment are saved.
I don’t know if you’ve fully let that sink into your heart and your mind because we are so used to wanting in some way to make a contribution to it, or to think that we can make a contribution. And it’s so easy to say, “Well, yeah, yeah I know I’m saved if I have faith.” Well, today’s verse says you know, “God made us alive together with Christ by grace,” you are now saved because the Father did not excise you or throw you away like rotten fish when he raised up his Son. He made you such a part of his Son that when he raised his Son up there was nothing else he could do but raise you up also and he chose to do that.
It really means that our Father has made each one of us and has agreed in his own heart, “I love this man, I love this woman even to the very abbess of death and I love you and I have made you part of me, and I will hold onto you.” And that’s really what salvation is — that God has done that. We’ve often said it before; that what we see around us is the world as it would be if that had not happened. That’s what God is giving us here.
I don’t know how Joanne will look in heaven, or Trish, or Marty, or Martha, or me, or Joe, or Renee, I don’t know how we look but I know what we are now is not what we are actually in Jesus. What we are now with our weaknesses and our wrong ideas, I think the imperfections to our bodies are unimportant because we get a new body and it’s a body like the transfigured body of Jesus. The weakness we have, the errors that we have, the rebelliousness we have in our hearts, the independence of our spirit that all is what would have been if we had not been crucified and raised
up in Christ. Those things are non-existent, those are destroyed.
I would often wonder, “Well it is interesting, isn’t it? When you have those moments of introspection, self preoccupation which lead, of course, almost automatically to depression and to sadness, why are those moments so miserable? Why are they actually so miserable?” I mean there’s a whole misery and loneliness about those moments. And then I suddenly realized because they’re nothing because it doesn’t even exist — it’s destroyed in Christ. When we give any attention to what has been destroyed in Christ, we’re giving attention to something that has ceased to exist. So, of course, there’s a darkness and a loneliness that comes from it. There is.
Our error is, I think, that we get into that pride, or selfishness, or independence, or rebellious spirit, or critical attitude, or depression and self absorption, or disgust with ourselves, we get into that and we think that that’s really there, that that’s real. It’s not real! Those things have been destroyed and why there’s such an atmosphere of death and darkness about them is because we’re looking at nothingness and the only thing that actually exists is each one of us in Jesus. We have been made alive in Christ.
So in a sense, it’s not now, “Am I believing today?” Or, “Have I enough faith today?” Or, “Can I kind of work myself up to it; feel that I am in Christ today?” It’s simply a down to earth fact, you have been made alive in Christ and you are saved. It’s only in that state that you exist and the other state that you look at from time-to-time indeed, the state that you were born with and that you lived in for a number of years, that state no longer exists. The only reason it appears here in this world is so that we have a choice. God is saying to us, “This is what it would have been like and I do want you to see it so that you are choosing me of your own free will.”
So will you think about it and think about the degree to which you really do exist in that state and the truth is you don’t exist in that state at all. You have been crucified with Christ, and you have been made alive in him, and you are a saved person. God has you in his arms. And if you say to me, “You mean he’ll hold me in his arms even if I kick his teeth out?” That’s what it looks like, because he won’t let go of his Son. That’s what it looks like.
Let us pray. Dear Father, we can’t believe that little insects like us would be given that kind of guarantee by the one who has power of life and death over us. But Lord, we bow down low before you today because we see that you have given us that power. You have put yourself under us so that we have an assurance of your steadfast love that never ends. And yet here we are with our wills free.
Oh Father, how can we do anything but run into your arms and thank you, and begin to rejoice that you have made us alive in Christ, and you have raised us up with him, and you have saved us, and you regard us as people who are part of yourself, and you will regard us thus in these coming days. So Father, we would look up and praise you and thank you for your goodness to us.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us today and forevermore. Amen.