Archive for the ‘1 Corinthians 9:24’ Category

This Race Requires Great Faith

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Septuagesima, January 24th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” [1 Cor. 9:24]

Our lives of faith, your Christian life is like running a race.  It’s a peculiar race in that you aren’t competing against anyone, but rather to win you must finish the race.  And the prize you win for completing your race is a place reserved and prepared “for you” by Jesus Himself!

There are three ways we can run this race once we enter it, and they are:

  1. We can run with flawless execution and perfection, being careful not to make so much as a single mistake.
  2. We can run with a grumbling spirit.  That is we can run with the expectation of continuously being rewarded for each success and made whole through restitution for each time we feel we have been wronged.  Or…
  3. We can run with our eyes on both the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus Christ, Who is both the prize and the giver of the prize.

So what does it look like to run a flawless and perfect race?  Or rather, what does it take to live a perfect life?

In the tenth chapter of Mark we get our answer as Jesus meets up with a young rich man whom we are told He loved.  Listen: “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”

Now, I don’t know if you caught Jesus immediate answer, before He summed up the second table of the law of God, so I am going to point it out to you; listen: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  Here Jesus is asking this young man if he’s just throwing out and misusing that Word “good” in regards to Jesus or if he really understands what it means to call Jesus good.  You see, if he is just misusing the word good, then he has already sinned; he’s broken the first commandment, “You shall have no other God.”  However, if He truly means to apply one of God’s titles to Jesus, then He is a lot closer to eternal life than he believes.

Do you understand what Jesus is saying friends?  He is saying that goodness is perfection, which is something both man and creation lost long ago, when through the sin of Adam and Eve paradise was lost.  Since that time, there truly is nothing good accept God.  We are lost in our sinful state and simply alone with no help of ever finding our way back to God’s goodness, accept through the only man who is good on His own, Jesus Christ, Who is also very God.  So to think that there is a way that you can live your life out side of Christ that will be God pleasing is just delusional.

But what about living a forgiven, Christian life, and running in the race of salvation with sinful eyes that have been opened by faith in Jesus Christ?  Well then, that makes all of the difference, because you see Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, which alone brings us to the prize of eternal life.  So now with Jesus, we are in the race again.  But so many times we disqualify ourselves by running our race, living our Christian lives as grumblers; as if someone or some God, owes us some thing.

Running the race, living the Christian life as a habitual grumbler is simply the surest way to disqualify ourselves from finishing the race.

In our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 17:1-7), we see this truth playing out in a very bold way.  Think about it for a moment; these Israelites had witnessed numerous miracles that God used to free them from their bondage in Egypt.  Why they even saw a deep and vast river halted with an invisible wall holding the raging rapids at bay.  The muck and mire that should have been the river bottom was instantaneously dried and hardened and they were allowed to walk across with out so much as getting a drop of water on their feet.  But when the pursuing Egyptian army tried to follow and do the same thing, the wall disappeared and the waters devoured them.  It is this group of Israelites who are now grumbling because they are thirsty; they’re grumbling because they feel that Moses and the God who freed them isn’t taking care of them.  Do you understand the audacity of their demand?  Do you understand how their grumbling and bickering is a direct attack against Jehovah-Jirah, the God Who always provides?  Do you understand that we have that very same sinful grumbling spirit within us today?

The crowd that Jesus was teaching in our Gospel lesson (Matthew 20:1-16) did not understand this truth, so Jesus told a story designed to show them the truth, and give them the desire to repent.  In the story, Jesus is showing all who will listen, even us today, what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  In this Kingdom there are two ways to experience it: As one who’s running the race in time, and finally as one who has finished the race and is resting in eternity.

To run the race, to live the Christian life is a reality of grace.  That is, you come to realize that every good thing you have is simply an unearned gift from God.  To run the race is also another way of acknowledging that you don’t even deserve to be in the race.  In Jesus story, God is the Master, the Owner of the Vineyard.  He calls all to work; He excludes no one.  In Jesus’ story there are no other employers, only the one.  All may work and find gainful employment, but not all will respond.  But here is the part that blows our sinful minds, everyone is paid the same whether they worked all day or one hour!  Why?  Because the owner does not need them to work, He simply offers them the privilege of working for Him, in His vineyard and with Him,  all so that He may bless them and they may also know Him.

Can you believe that in our modern time, especially in our American culture, we still have Christians who think that they need to evaluate themselves and others so that someone comes out on top and someone comes out on the bottom?  But Jesus won’t let us get away with this spirit of grumbling and judging other workers of His vineyard.  He won’t allow our demands for reward and restitution to go unanswered while we are running in His race, towards His prize.  So what does He do?  He warns us.  He says, “Beware of this evil in your heart, because at the end of the race, “The first will be last and the last will be first!”

So what are grumblers like us to do?  We are to keep our eyes on both the prize and the giver of the prize.  We are to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ!

It takes great faith to enter and finish the race towards the prize of eternal life in paradise with Jesus!

There are two people in the Gospels who Jesus said had great faith, the kind of faith that saves.  They were a godless Centurion and a sinful Canaanite  woman. [Matthew 8:5-12; Matthew 15:21-28]  I trust that each of you are hoping to hear that same proclamation from your Savior as well.  But our problem, the thing that seems to get in the way of our hope is the truth that very often our conception or idea of great faith, is completely wrong.  So what does Jesus mean by “a great faith”?

A people of great faith believe that there is nothing great about themselves.  Like the Centurion, they too say,  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”  They like the centurion know what is wrong with themselves  and what they lacked.  But they have respect for the will and command of God.  They’re comfortable to let others brag on them, but they refuse to do that themselves.  These kind of people, these people of great faith, don’t think of themselves as an example of greatness.

The Canaanite woman didn’t think her faith was anything either.  She thought it normal to be compared to the dogs that the Jews kept as pets; dogs who had no right to eat the bread of the children.  And yet she believed that because of Jesus’ love for sinful dogs, He would hear her and help.  And to this belief, Jesus told her she had great faith.

So a great faith isn’t something the world would take notice of.  Great faith is not faith in oneself, but it is a faith that believes great things about Jesus.  The Canaanite woman continued to pray to Jesus: “Lord, help me.”  You see, she knew to Whom she was praying to; that Jesus was the only One Who could help her.  This is what a great faith knows.  It knows its own weakness, but it also knows the great power of the Savior.  So this kind of faith, this great saving faith says: “I am not worthy… but only say the word.  I am receiving the just reward for my sins, but Jesus, think of me.  I know I don’t deserve it, but I wait like the little dogs under your table, hoping that some crumbs may be mine.  Lord, if you will, you can.  Give me sight.  Heal my servant, heal my child, heal even me!”

But there is still one more thing that marks a great faith, and it is the greatest thing of all.  “Say only the Word Lord.”  More than anything else, it is faith in the Word of Christ.  Great faith, saving faith needs this Word.  By this faith, a sinner may take a hold of Christ’s promises of forgiveness and cling to it alone.  By ourselves, without this faith, we have nothing but mistakes and failures.  We’re prone to wander away from God and doubt that there is any faith to be had at all.  But then the Word of God is heard and the saying is believed to be true, “worthy and of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  And I am the chief of them.”  So a great faith, can exist in a person who feels nothing but weakness in himself, and it is this great faith alone that can say: “I believe Lord Jesus; help me with my unbelief!”

So we find that when we believe that our weak faith has disqualified us from running the race, from being a Christian, great faith born in the promises of Christ’s Word reminds us that we should  not base our hope on our feelings; we should not judge our progress in the race on victories, and we shouldn’t look for successes in life as encouragements to run with confidence.  Nor should we go poking around in our own sinful heart’s for some other source of a great faith.  Instead, God asks us to cling to Christ and His Word alone; to turn to Christ cross and there remain, strong in prayer and strong in His gift of great saving faith.  And as we wait there at Christ’s cross, He continuously teaches our hearts to trust in Christ alone, as we humble ourselves under the almighty hand of God, so “that in due time He will lift us up.”  Blessed are you runners, you Christians who are on the road of faith, because your gift of faith is great even though your spirit is poor, because already yours is the kingdom of heaven.  AMEN!