Does your life resemble this old truck? Do you feel broken-down? Are you worried that your life isn't worth much? Well, I encourage you to read on. Second Baptist was honored to welcome the Reverend Dennis Ashley to the pulpit this morning, and he brought us hope for our broken-down lives.
The text for this morning was taken from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Verses 17-20 read:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (NIV)
Did you read that? You can be made new! Your old, broken-down life can be traded in, just like an old, broken-down car. It is something that God wants to do for you for free. There are no hidden costs, there is no small print, and there is no expiration on the deal. Reverend Ashley assured us that "God will take you as you are, and lovingly begin to make you new." God has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people's sins against them (verse 19). You are not being renewed to judgement, but to freedom in Christ Jesus!
So, what can you expect from this new life? We heard about four things that will be renewed during this reconciliation to God: Your heart, your hope, your holiness, and your home. Let's look at each of these a little closer.
Do you have a broken, grieving, aching, or hard heart? In Ezekiel 36:26, God says "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." God will give you a heart transplant! Just like your physical heart can break down and stop working for you, your spiritual heart may be due for a change. Your broken-down heart can be replaced with a heart that is full of joy, gladness, rejoicing, and tenderness.
Hebrews 6:19 speaks of hope as an "anchor for the soul." Isaiah 40:31 says that "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." God invites us to come into his presence without fear or embarrassment. He will be the rock that we can anchor our lives on. He will not let us be pulled apart by the waves. He is waiting to help us.
Reverend Ashley asked what we would say if someone asked us "Are you holy?" My answer? "Ugh, No!" The problem is that we think of holiness as perfectly following God's list of rules. Do you know anyone who can do this? Do you look at your past and say "not me," and your future and say "probably not me, either?" We can't do anything about the past, and we don't know what will happen in the future, but we can have help in the now through the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit can be found in Acts 10:38: God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power...he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. And the Holy Spirit is available to us! Luke 11:13 says "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Again, we find no strings attached. The Holy Spirit is free for the asking!
Do you know that you can live in the Kingdom of Heaven? In Matthew 5:3, Jesus says "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." God's kingdom is waiting to welcome all of us broken-down people! This is encouraging to me. In John 14: 1-3, Jesus comforts his disciples. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled; he is going to prepare a room for them in his father's house. So, you will be able to live in God's kingdom, in God's house!
I am going to go off the sermon here. I don't believe that we have to wait until we die, or Jesus comes back, to work toward God's kingdom. In Luke 17:21, Jesus tells some pharisees who are asking about the kingdom of God that it is "in their midst." I have no reason to believe it has gone anywhere, but I believe that we are not seeing it. God doesn't want to change us so that we are acceptable to him. As Reverend Ashley said, God wants to lavish his extravagant gift on us. He is not keeping a ledger of everything we've ever done so that he can punish us. He already accepts us and wants to be reconciled to us. And when we are, we will have the power of the Holy Spirit, not just to gain holiness for ourselves, but to effect change in our world that will bring the kingdom of heaven to those who are suffering. When we know how to trade in our broken-down lives for God's new, improved models, we can help others to do the same. We can truly be Jesus' ambassadors. We are meant to follow Jesus' example, and his instructions:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.