Sunday, August 12, 2012

God's Right to Choose

Texts:    Isaiah 41:8-14; John 6:28-51

     SERMON TITLES ARE TRICKY things.  For awhile I thought I'd call this message, "Whose Right to Choose?"  But that might've been a distraction.  Some of you might've spent first two-thirds of the service thinking, "Oh, goodness, is she going to preach on That subject?" and I wouldn't have blamed you one bit.  Even if you thought I might be upholding the position you take yourself, you still might've wondered why on earth I'd march in here and raise such a controversial matter.

    So instead, the sermon title is "God's Right to Choose."  And even though this message won't tackle the subject of abortion, we will be exploring another subject that's been just as controversial in the history of the Church.  And that's the doctrine of God's sovereign right to choose who shall be saved.

    But with all the issues facing the Church these days, especially with all the divisions and troubles facing us in the PC(USA), why bring up a matter nobody cares about any more?  Ask any average Christian about how we get saved, and they'll say you have to make a decision for Christ.  That God gives us evidence about who Jesus is, but it's up to our own free wills whether we come to him or not.  Only those hyper-intellectual folks in the Reformed camp keep pushing the idea that salvation is all up to God.  Right?  Isn't that the popular opinion?  So why should I rake up the matter?  Why not just let sleeping dogs lie?

    First of all, dear friends, because our Gospel reading from St. John clearly teaches that we made our decision for Christ because God the Father first made His decision for us.  Second, because if we take the credit for bringing ourselves to faith we rob God of His rightful glory.  And third, if we go around thinking it was up to us to get ourselves saved, we might well worry about whether we can keep ourselves saved.  No, we need more assurance than that, and it is only the doctrine of God's sovereign choice that is faithful to Scripture, that gives Him the glory, and can keep us happy and secure through the temptations and perils of this earthly life.

    Our text from John 6 is a portion of Jesus' Bread of Life discourse.  You remember that He fed the 5,000 on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and how the crowds chased after Him.  They wanted to make Him king so He could keep on feeding them with miraculous physical bread the rest of their lives.  He must be the Messiah! they think, and that's what the Messiah should do.  Jesus is no politician.  He bluntly tells them they're wrong.  No, He tells them rather to work for the food of eternal life, which He, the Son of Man will give them.  For He is the Son of Man who has God the Father's approval.

    The people conclude that to have eternal life, you must have the Father's approval.  This is true.  And to get God's approval, they assume, you have to do some kind of work to please Him. Well, we'll see about that.

    So at the beginning of our reading the spokesmen ask, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"  Another way to putting this is, "What must I do to be saved?" or "How can I earn eternal life."  Jesus' answer is, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

    Did you notice how our Lord put that?  It wasn't, "The work God requires from you is to believe in Me."  No, it's "the work of God."  Right here we see that belief in Christ is the only way to eternal life, but that belief is not something we do for ourselves, it's all God's sovereign work and grace.

    The crowd wasn't comfortable with that.  They understood that Jesus was referring to Himself.  But if they were going to accept Him as the bringer of eternal life, they weren't going to be hornswoggled, no, not them!  Hey, Jesus, you gave us earthly bread, can you give us some physical bread from heaven?  Let's have some manna and see you outdo Moses, if you can!

    Jesus teaches them, and us, that the true bread from heaven is not the manna God gave through Moses in the wilderness long ago.  The true bread of heaven is Jesus Himself, whom the Father has given.

    We need to remember that and take it to heart.  Too often people see Christianity merely as something that'll make life better for us in this world, and then, oh yes, fire insurance when we die.  And when Christians suffer in this life, unbelievers jeer that our religion "doesn't work."  Or we ourselves wonder if God doesn't love us any more.  No!  No matter how much we may lack the bread of this world, no matter how much we may suffer from grief or want or trouble, God Himself gives us Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven, and Jesus has given us life that can never be diminished and never be taken away.  As our Lord says in verse 35, "He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

    We must come to Him if we are to have eternal satisfaction and eternal life.  Again, in verse 40 Jesus says, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life."  But how can we come?  How can we look to Him and believe?  It's our sinful human nature to reject Him!  Jesus says to the people, "You have seen me and still you do not believe."  In verses 41 and 42 they grumble and complain that He dared to claim He was the Bread from heaven.  Wasn't He just the son of Joseph the carpenter?  Never mind the multitude He fed yesterday with a few loaves and fishes.  Never mind all His healings and exorcisms and the dead people He'd raised!  They were too clever to believe He was able to give them eternal life!

    Let's not deceive ourselves.  If we'd witnessed for ourselves what Jesus did we wouldn't automatically believe.  It takes more than great information about Jesus to bring us to faith in Him.  Even some atheists are willing to look at the historical evidence and admit that Jesus really did do miracles and He really did rise from the dead.  But those facts aren't enough to compel them to believe in Him and be saved.

    No.  Salvation is the singlehanded work of God the Father.  "All that the Father gives me will come to me," says Jesus.  To be saved, we must be given to Christ by the Father.  In verse 44 Jesus states, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."  And the word translated "draw" doesn't mean to attract or to woo, it means to drag a dead weight, like hauling a wrecked car out of a ditch, or even to pull someone against their will, like dragging a lawbreaker off the jail.  Because when it comes to Jesus and salvation, we are dead weights.  We are criminal offenders against the holy law of God.  We cannot help ourselves into salvation.  Until God's saving grace comes upon us, we don't really want to be saved.  Eternal life in Christ is the gift of God and comes from Him alone.  Moreover, the choice of  who will inherit eternal life belongs to God and God alone.  He alone has the right to choose.

    But why does the Father choose to save some and passes others by?  The exact choice of who shall be elect and who not is hidden in the mind of God.  But in various places in Scripture, such as Romans 9, we read that His purpose is to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, even us, whom He has called.  God works out His purpose in the mystery of election, and it will bring Him the praise and glory that is His due.

    Some preachers can be heavy-handed with this doctrine. Believe me, I know. I sat under a preacher like that for several months just after I graduated from college.  He probably didn't mean to, but I and a lot of other members of the congregation got the idea that the world was full of people just yearning for a chance to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved, but God arbitrarily chose some for heaven and purposely sent the rest to hell, even if they were seeking for heaven with all their might.  And this was supposed to bring God glory.

    The fact is, we don't start out good, or even neutral.  St. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that all of us were born dead in trespasses and sins; like everyone else, we were the proper objects of God's righteous wrath.  Jesus Himself in John 3 tells Nicodemus that "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."

    Brothers and sisters, God does not need to choose for anybody to go to Hell!  The Scripture says nothing about God electing anyone to be lost.  Why?  Because tragically, it would be redundant.  God doesn't need to condemn us; we condemn ourselves by our sinfulness and our sins.  The people of this world demand justice.  O, let me never demand justice, for if God exercised His justice on us not one of us could be saved. Our entire salvation depends on the injustice of the sinless Son of God dying in our place!

    No, the thorny question is not, "How could a loving God choose some to be condemned?" but "How could a holy God choose any to be saved?"  As Charles Wesley wrote in his hymn,  "Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

    But some will worry, "If salvation all depends on God and there's nothing I can do about it, how how can I know if I'm chosen?  How do I know if I'm saved?"  To you I say, "Do you want to be saved?  Do you believe not merely that Jesus died and rose again, but that He died and rose again for you?  Do you look at your past attitudes and actions, especially those things you thought were going to put God in your debt, and see how foolish and wrong they were?  Do you want to do better, not because God will punish you if you don't, but to show how thankful you are for Jesus and what He's done for you?  That is the Father drawing you, dragging you from death to your new life in Christ."

    And because your salvation had nothing to do with your goodness or anything you deserved, the Father worked it according to His sovereign choice, you how can relax and be confident in His love.  Jesus says in verse 37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away."  God is not going to change His mind tomorrow about giving you to Christ!  In verse 39 our Savior says, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all he has given me, but raise them up at the last day."   Our Lord repeats this promise in verse 40 and 44. God's choice of you is forever!  By His choice He saves us, He keeps us, and one day, by His unchanging choice He will raise us up in glory in His heavenly kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    We have this sure and certain hope of the resurrection, because God chose Jesus Christ to be the living bread who came down from heaven.  For the bread of life is His flesh, which He gave for the life of the world.  Whoever comes to Him will not hunger, and whoever believes in Him will not thirst.  God has exercised His right to choose, and all satisfaction, all joy, all fulfillment of life and bliss of heaven are found in Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord.  In Him we are chosen, in Him we are saved, in Him we find eternal life.  Be at peace, for by God's gracious choice He will keep you in Jesus His Son, and Jesus  will surely raise you up at the last day.

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