Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018
“Back To Basics”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist in our lifetime, died this past Wednesday. He was only 1 year short of living 100 years. When he came to the old Mile High Stadium in the mid 1980’s I remember attending and being amazed at the thousands of people who filled the stadium. In his lifetime he preached in 185 different countries and territories and all told to over 210 million people, in person, throughout his long ministry. He preached until he was 87 years old.
I’ve read a number of his books, I received his Decision magazine, I went to his School of Evangelism and I’ve always been impressed with his clear teaching. Billy Graham wrote, “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.” Billy Graham always handled the basics.
Today’s sermon is called “Back to Basics” and is based on Romans 5. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1-2) These are all foundational things. These are all basics in the Christian faith. Words and thoughts like faith, grace and peace are central to who we are and what God is doing for us.
What is the foundation of your life? Who is that foundation? Some people live by the motto, “God helps those who help themselves.” Such words emphasize our work. You can’t be lazy and get ahead in life, right? That motto, for a Christian, fails. It crumbles. It is opposite of what is the basic of God’s truth.
Here is the basic situation we find ourselves in, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
Here is a basic thought – We desperately need the mercy of God. In just a few words we are described like this: “powerless”, “ungodly”, “sinners”, and that we chose to stand against God – “God’s enemies” (verse 9).
In 1996 Dr. Graham received the Congressional Gold Medal. He offered these observations about our country, “America has gone a long way down the wrong road. We must turn around and go back and change roads. If we ever needed God’s help it is now…If we ever needed spiritual renewal, it is now.” “What is the problem? The real problem is within ourselves…I believe the fundamental crisis of our time is a crisis of the spirit. We have lost sight of the moral and spiritual principles on which this nation was established – principles drawn largely from the Judeo- Christian tradition as found in the Bible.” Graham called for repentance when he spoke. “What does repentance mean? Repentance means to change our thinking and our way of living. It means to turn from our sins and to commit ourselves to God and His will.”
If you want to build on something you first must build on a broken heart. Nothing good comes from an arrogant, self-sufficient heart. God can’t live there. God is not needed. But if you seek Him, you will find Him. One of the Church Fathers said, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”
What is basic? Faith in God is basic. We trust in Jesus for our forgiveness. We trust in Jesus for our eternal salvation. We trust in God to give us strength and direction. And it is so simple. We trust in God’s word. We trust what He says. We trust what He has done. Paul writes, “Each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:10b-11)
Faith begins with a heart that looks straight at Jesus for every need of the soul. Every sin He paid for. Where we have failed He has succeeded. His death was the gift to bring us a clean heart and joy in life. Paul in Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have seen saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In a devotion from Billy Graham titled “A Simple Message”, he tells the story, “The great Swiss theologian, Dr. Karl Barth, was probably in his generation the greatest theologian in the world, and a great philosopher as well. I did not always agree with him, but he was my friend and I respected him. While he was in this country, a student at one of the seminaries said, ‘Dr. Barth, what is the greatest truth that ever crossed your mind?’ All the seminary students were sitting on the edge of their seats to hear some great, profound, deep, complicated answer. Dr. Barth slowly raised his great shaggy gray head and looked at the student and said, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”
Basic isn’t it? Taken for granted, right? But it is true. Have you ever considered how deep and meaningful John 3:16 is? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16, 17 too)
It is basic. We find ourselves needing a Savior, we need forgiveness of our many sins, we need peace with God, we need healing in the soul, and Jesus brings it. He invites us to believe that what Jesus did by His death and resurrection is sufficient for our eternal life.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace is a basic gift from God. We have become a society that is no longer at peace. We have too much violence and there are too many conflicts and wars everywhere. And I read that we are doing some of this to ourselves. People post something on Facebook or other forms of social media, without thinking what they are saying, and soon they have a divided group in front of them. Peace is gone.
The peace that Jesus brings is much than how we commonly consider peace. Peace is when everyone gets along, right? Peace is when the wars are done and the killing has stopped, right? Peace is when no one is hollering, right? That is peace. But the peace that Jesus Christ brings is much more than some bad thing that ends. It is all the good that begins. It is an inner joy of calm and rest assured that God has all things in His hand, including us, including today, tomorrow and every day. Jesus is the one who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Have you ever run into a person in the midst of chaos who seems to be in control? Maybe they just don’t know what is happening!! They don’t have a clue how bad things are!! But maybe they do, and still have a calm that God alone brings.
You have to know the basics if you are going to do anything in life. You have to have these basics if you are going to have substance in your soul – where we stand, or fall, with God because of our sin and our great need; the absolute confidence in God’s rescue through Jesus Christ and the peace and joy that follows confidence in this good God.
God’s timing in bringing us the basics is absolutely perfect. At the right time God shakes us up, showing us the ugliness of our heart. At the right time He tells us that a change is in order. In His perfect timing He brings us the assurance that we are loved and cleansed and treasured. In His time He does His work. That is what He says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” At just the right time. Trusting in God’s time for anything and every thing is basic (though not always easy).
Some time ago, maybe after Parkinson’s had left him weakened, or some of the other ailments caught up with him, Billy Graham wrote, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
The basics are sin and repentance, grace and faith and peace. The basic truth is that all this leads us to the culmination of life – our eternity, heaven, resurrection of the body, life everlasting.
Some day we are going to say the same as this man who will have a long line of people shaking his hand and giving him an embrace because he led them to Jesus. We are going to say, “I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
When we get back to Jesus we are back to the basics. Amen!!