Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1451
June 28, 2020 Galatians 6.11-18; Matthew 4.12-17
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“The Focus – Jesus Christ”
Galatians 6.14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Matthew 4.17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Citizenship (Phil 3.17-21)
I want us to go on a short journey today. It is a journey through the Bible and into the kingdom of heaven. Like many of you, I have been thinking about the world and our country and the craziness and utter foolishness that is going on. We tend to think that this is “unprecedented”, a word, like many more that is beginning to lose all meaning. As I think about these things and the incoherent arguments on various topics, I want to go to Scriptures for perspective. This is not just our truth; this is the truth...for us and our world even if the world has dismissed it. The first passage I want to examine is Phil 3.17-21,
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
In one way this passage haunts my thoughts about our place in the world. We are citizens of heaven and we await the Savior. We are so intertwined in Christianity as well as patriotism or nationalism that we might lose our focus for our identity. There is a delicate balance between God and country, one that the Bible itself seeks to protect. It can become easy to idolize things and ideals and commitments to the point that we forget our main focus of Jesus Christ. And yet, we live in one, if not the most unique nations ever. We understand that what has been created and what we are trying to maintain is a nation that is built upon the biblical principles of freedom and faith, justice and order. This makes our discernment about these things all the more confusing. Now, I know some will say they are not at all confused or troubled by such thoughts. My only concern to start this morning is that we not become too earthly minded. Paul notes that those who are enemies of the cross set their minds on earthly things. If we see anything in this day and time, it is that there are many enemies of the cross and...their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame. While I do not have the time to go into this now, I believe that many Christians are falling into movements these days that have the appearance of love and justice and goodness, but are deeply flawed by other motives. My point in this first consideration of Philippians, is that we all consider our citizenship in heaven, our waiting for the Savior, our minds set on heavenly things, our focus on Jesus Christ. This is not to say that we have nothing to do but wait. But it is to say that we must act in light of our true citizenship and conduct ourselves through word and deed with thoughts that come from God’s Word and led by God’s Spirit.
Condition (Gal 2.20)
Our citizenship has been granted by our condition in Jesus Christ. Paul writes in
Galatians 2.20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. This is what makes us citizens of heaven. Christ died for us and we too have been crucified with Him. This is why Paul writes later in Galatians 6.14, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
I am so deeply grateful to live in USA. I am as proud as anyone for the blessings and the freedoms and thankful for the history and the sacrifices that have been made to bring us to this point. But I also seek to balance this understanding that the world has been crucified to me and I have been crucified to the world. Even though we love our country, it is still of this world. It is not the kingdom of God. Yes, we try to make it as close as possible by depending on God in our government, or we used to, in commerce, or we used to, or in society on the whole, or at least we used to. That is to say our first loyalty and in reality our only loyalty is to Jesus Christ and our loyalty to our nation is in so far as it remains loyal to Jesus Christ.
We have not had nearly the persecution of other believers as we have seen historically and even in our lifetimes in other countries. But we know that many many people in our nation hate us because we claim Jesus and hate Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus said it would be...
John 15.18-19 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 17.14-17 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
We are in the world but not of it. We are American citizens and striving to maintain some remnant of Christian foundation for our country. This can only be accomplished by God’s grace and by realizing that we are first citizens of heaven. Anything less may bring us into idolatry. Anything less may lead us into paths that are not of God. Let me quote Paul again, this time from Romans 6.11 on our condition as citizens, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. This is who we are as a people, dead to sin, dead to false narratives, dead to all ideologies not based on faith in Christ, dead to movements that do not center in Christ. And we are alive to God. He is our life, the source of life, the creator of life, and only in God will we find who we are and what we are to do.
Consummation (Eph 1.7-10)
There is a final verdict already in place. It is in the consummation of all things.
7In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
When all is said and done, in the fullness of time, all things will be united in Jesus Christ. At the completion of God’s purposes and plans, “everything is gonna be alright!” We can do a lot of things to make things as right as possible in the meantime, but within all our efforts, within all our hopes and dreams for today, there is the knowledge of what is to come. There is a certainty of hope for the future. There is more beyond the chaos of today. Greater things are coming in the fruition of time and the purposes of God.
The Focus on Christ (Gal 6.14)
In the meantime between today and tomorrow, how shall we conduct ourselves in the midst of false narratives, lies about life, opposition to God and Church? How are we to be in the world and not of the world? At the moment all I can think about is repeating Galatians 6.14, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. I could say a great deal about racial justice and rioting and protesting and viruses and anything else going on in the world. But in the end I know that the only thing I really know is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. As I said last Sunday, I have been debating whether or not to put my thoughts into the kingdom of social media. Is it worth the effort? How many old friends might I turn away? How many family members will unfriend me? But then I think that even if I do start tackling the web, I can only do so from one perspective and that is from the cross.
This is how I think every Christian should look at the world because this is how I interpret the Bible looking at the world. We cannot let the ways of the world or the thinking of the world into our frame of reference. We cannot get swept up in movements that are not of God. It is not about social justice, but about God’s justice. They are not always the same. It is not about movements that are apart from Jesus Christ. It is not about human efforts to change systems or to govern on our own strength. It is only in Jesus. And this will bring scorn and scoffers out of the woodwork. The world will have nothing to do with this. Politicians will sometimes quote the Bible with zero understanding of what they are saying. Some companies claim to follow Jesus, but sell out to mob mentalities and demands at the drop of a hat. I’m not going to name names this morning, but I will let you explore who I may be referring to.
This is what I discern for today. We focus on Jesus Christ so that we can discern the focus of Jesus Christ. Does what we say and do have anything to do with Jesus’ focus? And that leads me to our last point, the focus of Jesus Christ.
The Focus of Christ (Matt 4.17)
We can look to many things on which Jesus focused, but let’s narrow it down to the beginning. Jesus’ very first sermon was very short and to the point. But there is something to be said for the first words he spoke when His ministry began. There is something we might learn about His particular focus for His time on this earth. Matthew 4.17, From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repent. First thing. Repent. Turn away from sin and death and turn to life in Christ. This is our message of the cross. Sometimes I imagine what I would say if I ever got to testify in a congressional hearing. You know, we see all the time the panel of witnesses giving testimony on Russian interference or racial justice or some other topic that Congress has no plan to do anything about. What might we say? I would like to imagine that I would have the courage to say, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But this is what I see as at least a major focus of Jesus. Repentance and the kingdom of heaven. He did not come to change Roman policies. He did not come to created economic prosperity. He came for the hearts of men and women. He came to set us free from the injustices of the world and the sins that bind and the fear of death. He came to call us to something bigger than this world. He came to seek the repentant, the humbled, the followers, the lovers of God. He came to introduce us to a kingdom not of this world, but a kingdom that keeps us from becoming part of the world and its ways.
My message today is to stay focused on Christ and discover Christ’s focus. What was His focus? Not overthrowing government...not realigning society….but to do the will of His Father – this was His food! To love God and neighbor. To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Jesus was inwardly disconnected from the rulers of the day, the social constructs, but His presence and teaching and miracles had a tremendous impact on the society. He entered the world but the world never entered Him. He lived in His kingdom, in the mindset of heavenly kingdom Words and beliefs and perspectives. He was not affected by the ways of the world, or mob mentalities, or the manifestos of those who hated God.
This is my wrestling for today, committing to Jesus and His kingdom and His way and His thoughts in such a way that we are set apart from the chaos of this world and focused on the cross so that others may come to repentance and come to see the kingdom of heaven. My hope is that people who think the world is all there is and their philosophies are all there is will be able to see more, much more in Jesus Christ who is Himself the kingdom among us. Our purpose is to share in the view that Jesus had of the world. In His view God has filled the world with good things. Yes, there are some things that have permeated the world in evil ways, but this is only temporary. God is active in the world. God is active in the Bible. God is active in our lives. You all know that I spend a lot of time in the Psalms and I often encourage you to do the same. I agree with Dallas Willard who wrote, “If you bury yourself in the Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life…We learn from the Psalms how to think and act in reference to God. We drink in God...” (The Divine Conspiracy, p.65). This, I believe, is how we are to live, not in reference to what the world does, but in reference to what God is doing, has done, and promises to do. Our lives are not defined by the world...not by racism, not by economic status, not by ability to produce, not by fame, not by anything of the world. Our life comes from above (John 3) not from anything below (of earth).
We seek to repent and nourish a Kingdom perspective. All that is going on today is of little consequence compared to the kingdom of heaven. What matters in the end of all the hashtags of things that matter, is Jesus. #Jesus Matters. #God’s Kingdom matters. That’s not to say that we do nothing about what matters to people today or ignore it, but it is to say that we take a proper perspective toward all things. Perspective from the Bible deeply affects our thoughts and actions toward anything and everything. We are citizens of heaven seeking to call others into the kingdom of heaven. We are crucified to the world and the world to us. One day God will bring it all to consummation in Jesus Christ. In meantime, we focus on Jesus to discern Jesus’ focus. Only in Christ will the world be changed.