We must be a people that demonstrates what God wants human beings to be by the fact that we not only believe that He exists, but that we believe Him.
I have a couple of disclaimers that I want to give you as I begin this sermon. Brethren, I begin this message with a disclaimer and full disclosure. That should get your attention. Actually, that’s what it’s designed to do. I believe in an all knowing, almighty Creator God of the entire universe that fashioned man in His own image according to His own likeness for a grand and eternal plan. To further clarify this disclaimer, I would ask that you please note that I believe this Creator - that I don’t merely believe in His existence. And while this may seem like a nuance of semantics, there is actually a great gulf between merely believing in the existence of a creator and actually believing Him. And I know that taking such a position makes me intellectually challenged, but I’m okay with that. I’ve never thought of myself as an intellectual giant. And I know that in some quarters taking such a position would have me expelled from the halls of intelligentsia and would grant me uncomplimentary labels or worse, but that’s okay. I’m okay with that. However, believing that the Creator God has the ability and prerogative to impart favor upon individuals and nations does put me in company of less intellectually challenged personalities down through history.
Let me give you a couple of examples as we consider a few quotes. I’ll go to, first of all, a very famous one. This is one that all of you would recognize. And I quote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That was penned by a recognized intellectual giant, namely Thomas Jefferson, in his introduction to the Declaration of Independence. And I would just have you note that these words that we have become perhaps so accustomed to that we don’t readily recognize the basis and significance of them. In this quote you will note that the very foundation, the justification for the Declaration of Independence rests firmly in a self-evident truth. And that self-evident truth was not necessarily the rights, rather the self-evident truth was the existence of a divine Creator that was involved - so involved, in fact, in the affairs of man that it was Him that imparted these rights to individuals. Brethren, that’s a huge contrast from the place where this Country has arrived at today. We have departed so far from that point of that being a self-evident truth, something over which all the politicians of their day and all the denominations that existed didn’t even consider it necessary to debate. It was self-evident. That’s where we started as a Country. Where we have arrived at today is the point where it is impossible to teach the existence of a Creator God in their publicly funded school systems. Now think about that for a moment.
Second quote, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…” That’s a quote from George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.
And then here I have a third one. “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his (or her) conduct by the precepts there exhibited!” What a utopia, what a paradise would this region be. That was penned by John Adams, one of our first Presidents and also one of the founders of our Country.
And then finally here is a quote from a man widely accepted as having been wise in many things - Benjamin Franklin. He said this to kind of dampen the contention that was extant at the Continental Congress when they were debating the adoption of the Constitution that served this Country well for over two centuries now. He said this, “In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequently the superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national government. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend…” he asked the assembled. “…or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: ‘that God governs in the affairs of man.’”
Brethren, I quote these quotes that are part of our National identity to simply draw a contrast to this society in which we find ourselves today. And in doing so, I want to spend this afternoon discussing a topic with you as we prepare for the Passover that should be very positive and encouraging. And the topic that I would like to explore with you is the benefits of believing in a beneficent Creator, that the founders of our Country believed was the source for the rights that they fought and died for to establish a country that would be for the people and by the people. You know, we live at a time, brethren, that atheism has taken a very aggressive role and has - in a very short time actually - successfully deleted God from public life in the way that it was commonplace in our Country.
Let me give you an example. My dad is seventy-two years old. Now depending on your perspective, that can either be old or very old or not so old depending on where you’re at. In the scheme of things, though, seventy-two years is not that long a period of time. My dad was an Amish boy who went to public school at that time. At that time in public school they did things that today are unthinkable like, for example, beginning each day with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and a reading from the scriptures. Today that would be unthinkable. We would have law suits by the ACLU. And yet that was accepted as being commonplace not a very long time ago and that would have been about sixty years ago in a public school.
So, again, those are things for you to draw a contrast between where we’ve been and where we now are and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where we are headed. And then you take what we are going to discuss today in the sermon to just ponder over the many benefits of believing God even in an agnostic and atheistic world.
Let’s go to Romans, chapter 1. Rom. 1 does a good job of highlighting where we are at and, in one sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same because while Paul was writing to Roman society of his day, what we read here is an apt description of where we have arrived in our world today as well. We’ll begin reading in verses 7 and 8 just to set the stage.
Romans 1:7 Romans 1:7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×- To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 8 - First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
You know the brethren in Rome because of their faith - because of their belief not only in God, but a faith that believed God to the point that they ordered their lives in a manner that was very different from what we will read here in the ensuing verses - they were spoken about around the world. You see, brethren, the good thing, the opportunity that we have today is that being a light in a very dark world is becoming easier and easier. If we believe God, we cannot help but stand out and that’s a good thing and we should not shrink from it.
Dropping down to verse 18 - For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress truth in unrighteousness,
We are entering a time period where the suppression of truth is going to become more and more common. It’s just the way it works. I mean, we have already suppressed the truth that was self-evident. You know a few years ago in a public school over in Pennsylvania, the school board decided to teach as an alternative to evolution - or side by side with evolution - the theory that is known as Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is not classy creationism because it simply espouses the idea or the theory that because what we have served in this world including our very own beings is so complex that it couldn’t possibly have happened by chance. And yet, that particular attempt to teach that as an alternative was subsequently squashed. The truth was suppressed.
Verse 19 - because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
Verse 20- For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
Verse 21 - because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Verse 22 - Professing to be wise, they became fools,
I think in due course those that have put forward the theory of evolution will be shown to be fools as the scripture here states and, in once sense, it’s really not a stretch. I’ve always said that I would love to own a company that would devolve to a better state without any design, planning or intervention. I would challenge anybody to tell me of anything - product, process, anything that gets better all by itself. You know, what garden do you know left to its own that becomes more productive? You know, what process do you know that will of itself produce better products without the intervention of an intelligent engineer to make and process improvements? You know what, what computer program do you know that can program itself? And I know we speak of artificial intelligence, there is some truth to that, but the fact of the matter is that everything we observe gets worse unless something of a higher intelligence or someone of higher intelligence is making effort to improve it. To think otherwise would indeed be foolish.
Verse 23 - and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Verse 24 - Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
Verse 25 - who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Verse 26- For this reason God gave them up to vile passions…
You know, once we depart from self-evident truth, there are certain consequences that just happen. And there’s a huge difference between growing up and understanding that there is a benevolent, creator God that wants me to be here, that has a divine purpose for me for eternity, and going down to the local zoo and looking at the cage of the primate and saying, ‘Don’t I just feel wonderful to know that here is my distant relative?’ And yet, that is what intelligentsia has embraced. The consequences of embracing such and really what it is - it is a rejection of God resulting in what we are going to read in the ensuing verses that is simply the consequences of that rejection of the belief of God.
…For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
Verse 27- Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
God calls this ‘vile passions’, not the politically correct term ‘alternative life-style’. The question that we have to answer as the Church, as the ministry and as individuals is will we continue to believe God when quoting such becomes a hate crime? Those are scary thoughts and I would hope that we would continue to preach the undiluted word of God because to not do so we would become participants in the suppression of truth. Paul was writing to the Romans which, for those of you who know Roman history know that they also embraced in so called alternative lifestyles in that society. It didn’t seem to bother him to go ahead and put it on the line because he was passionate for the truth.
But now that we have looked at that, let’s read the remainder of the chapter and notice that other things that we may not consider to be quite as vile also are the result of not retaining God in our knowledge.
Verse 28 - And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
Notice the list: verse 29 - being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,
Verse 30 - backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Verse 31- undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;
Verse 32 - who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve those who practice them.
Brethren, this is an apt description of the society in which we live. Now let’s take a look at the benefits of believing God. Here we have seen the results of not believing Him, the results of denying Him, the results of suppressing the truths that in this Country were once considered self-evident. I went through this so that we would have a contrast upon which to look at the benefits of believing a benevolent Creator. Sometimes I think we look to God as the judge and a just God that issues judgment and correctly so. God is just, but we should never forget the benefits and that will be our focus today.
I’ll go over to Psalms 103, the hymn that we sang right before this sermon - and, by the way, Mr. Diemer and I did not talk, he must have been very perceptive to figure out the content of my sermon that I did not share with him. Ps. 103 and beginning in verse 1. Here we have a psalm of David that outlines the benefits of believing God.
Psalms 103:1 Psalms 103:1Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
American King James Version×- David wrote: Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Verse 2 - Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: (colon) And here we have an enumeration of benefits that we are going to explore in some detail.
Verse 3 - Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,
Verse 4- Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Verse 5- Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
David, of all people, learned to appreciate the benefits of believing and trusting in God and hence he wrote down here for all of us a list of five points that we will go through this afternoon on the benefits of believing God.
Let’s take a look at the first one that he enumerated. David said or asked his soul, asked himself to not forget the God who forgives all your iniquities. Brethren, is that a benefit? Is it beneficial to you as a human being - spiritually certainly, but perhaps we do not even think about the psychological benefits of believing that you were created by an all-knowing, beneficent God that has both the capacity and desire to forgive not some, but all of your iniquities. You know we live in a world where psychology attempts to deal with the consequences of sin. It is normal in humans to feel guilt if you do something that - you know, today to call something a sin or to consider that we have committed iniquities, of course, isn’t politically correct, but it is nevertheless a part of who we are. It’s just part of human beings and guilt is a natural result.
So then the question becomes how do you deal with it? Well, there are a number of ways that people deal with it. Most of them just try to deny a bad behavior out of existence. “Huh! What do you mean the way I behave was problematic?” You just deny it. So denial is one mechanism to deal with it. The problem with it is that after living in denial for years and years, the knapsack becomes pretty heavy or the closet becomes full of skeletons to the point where it becomes difficult to keep everything in the closet.
So we begin to see why it is extraordinarily beneficial to know and to believe that there is a God that not only is capable, but is desirous of wiping the slate clean. And, of course, we celebrate that in a formal manner every year at Passover.
So let’s take a look at some examples in the scriptures. Perhaps no one knew better the benefit of God wiping out your iniquities - all of them - than the author of this particular psalm, namely King David. David was, according to the Bible, a man after God’s own heart. David was a great man of God, a passionate man, but also a man that made egregious errors and committed horrendous sins. Let’s go over to Ps. 51 and just read through that as David outlines the benefits of believing a beneficent Creator. This was a psalm of repentance that David wrote after committing the sin of adultery with Bathsheba and furthermore conspiring to try to cover it up. I mean, the subsequent sins by human estimation at least were worse than the initial infraction. Notice what David did.
Psalms 51:1 Psalms 51:1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
American King James Version×- Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
Brethren, David recognized that God was both capable and willing to do what no human being can do and that is to blot out his grievous transgressions. I’ll comment on this a little bit later, but this is a passage of scripture that should be very encouraging to all of us. In counseling people whenever they have had difficulties you usually run into two extremes. It is an uncanny tendency of human nature to tend towards extremes. The one extreme is to fail to recognize that you’ve sinned and committed evil. The other one is to recognize it, but then believe that because the sin is so egregious, it is impossible for God to forgive you. Both, of course, are incorrect. This particular passage of scripture is a challenge to the latter because I have yet to meet someone that has committed sins that are greater than those that David committed when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and subsequently conspired to murder her husband to try to cover it up. We don’t usually meet very many people that are at that level. And yet, God was gracious and honored David’s request and blotted out his transgression. So whatever your sin, remember that God is able and willing to forgive all of them upon confession.
Verse 2 - Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
Verse 3- For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
Verse 4 - Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight– That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
David recognized something that is very important and that is that first and foremost the sin that he committed was against God although arguably it was also against his fellow men because the consequences of sin, that no man is an island, the consequences of sin affect other people as did David’s sin. I would suggest to you that the equivalent of National Enquirer, the local gossip mill in Jerusalem, was very busy during this whole episode. And I am sure that there were a lot of people that - and the Biblical record bears this out - that were grievously offended by the fact that a man of God, David the King, could do such an evil thing - all of which was true.
Verse 6 - Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
You see, God is more interested in truth than in the gravity of the infraction because the gravity of the infraction is really, in one sense, immaterial to God because He has the power to blot it out. What’s more important to God is that we have the will to truthfully confront and take ownership as David did for the infractions. You know, after conspiring and murdering and upon being confronted by Nathan - I’ve always marveled at the courage of Nathan to go confront the King who had the power of death in his right hand - to go and so clearly and unmistakenly, yet in one sense tactfully, confront the King of his sin. But what I marvel about more is the fact that David said, “I am the man. I have sinned.” It didn’t take a lot of words, did it, to make a truthful confession.
Verse 7 - Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Verse 8 - Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Verse 9 - Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.
Verse 10 - Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Verse 11 - Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
David recognized probably more than anyone in his time what happens when God withdraws His Spirit because he had seen that firsthand with King Saul when he was requested to come play for him to soothe his spirit. So he is pleading with God to not take away His Holy Spirit.
Verse 12 - Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
David recognized what we should as well, that while God was just on the one hand, He was extraordinarily benevolent and generous on the other. And one of the things that I might add is, one of the things we should be appreciative of as well, is the fact that the salvation plan - if you want to call it that - that is revealed to us from the scripture through the Holy Days that we have the privilege of celebrating each year - is the only logical explanation that I have been able to find that allows God to be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. No one is left behind and no one is allowed to get any slack, either. A God that is perfectly just and perfectly merciful is, indeed, a being that we should enthusiastically believe.
Verse 13 - Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.
And I would submit to you, brethren, that David to this very day is teaching transgressors God’s ways and converting sinners to Him because his example of transgression and repentance can be a marvelous encouragement to sinners today because it is challenging - although not impossible - to find someone that sinned at the magnitude and level that David did. In fact, it’s probably impossible when you think about it because David was, after all, a man of God. David was the King of Israel and yet, was capable of committing sin and crime of that magnitude - and yet God was also capable upon true repentance to blot the matter out. That converts sinners to God today. Through the fact that they are able to recognize ‘You know what? If God was able to extend mercy to that extent to King David, He may just be able to do it for me.’
Let’s go over to Hebrews 9. Heb. 9 gives us a powerful promise. Verse 13.
Hebrews 9:13 Hebrews 9:13For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh:
American King James Version×- For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,
Verse 14 - how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Here we have a powerful promise, brethren, that does what no one - what no psychologist - can do. And that is to not only forgive our sin, but upon repentance to purge our conscience from the consequence of sin. Sin has psychological consequence, particularly those that are sexual in nature. You know it is no accident that God said that the sexual relationship is such that the two become one flesh. And when that act is committed outside the confines of marriage, there are psychological consequences that will continue through life. Yet God promises that He is able through the blood of Jesus Christ to purge our conscience from dead works for a particular purpose. Notice it doesn’t just say that He is able to purge your conscience from dead works period, but rather there’s a purpose for that. The purpose is that subsequently such individuals are then able to serve the living God as David did. You know, David’s life, the psalms he wrote and the example he set were even more powerful after his deep repentance than before.
And if you look at Peter, for example, arguably the most effective sermon preached in the New Testament church was the one delivered by Peter on the day of Pentecost given by an individual that had denied his Lord and Savior only fifty some days prior - 53 days, to be exact. You see, one of Satan’s devices is that upon forgiveness he will then try to prevent us from doing what is written here in Hebrews and that is to effectively serve the living God. Peter could have easily said, “Look, I can’t possibly get up there and speak to these people. They won’t listen to me. Look at my record in the last 53 days.” It didn’t seem to inhibit the power of the Holy Spirit on that day, did it? More people repented in one single day than any other day that is documented in history. The interesting thing is that the formula for receiving this benefit from God is quite simple. You know, it is human beings that make things complicated.
Let’s go over to 1 John. The formula is very simple. It’s our human nature that makes it complicated.
1 Jo. 1:9 - If we confess our sins… I always am interested when I see the words ‘if’ & ‘and’ & ‘also’ because to me it’s what you call in computer technology, Boolean logic, you know: if/then/else. And here we have a formula like that. If we confess our sins, He, God, is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and - another operator in Boolean logic - to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. The formula, like I said, is very simple. If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive us all our sins, but He doesn’t stop there. The benefit doesn’t stop with the forgiveness of sin. He continues to benefit us by - as it says here - to cleanse us from all unrighteousness so that we are able to effectively serve the living God. David admonished his soul to remember that God is the God that forgives all your iniquities. I ask you today, is that a benefit?
Let’s take a look at the second one that he mentioned in Ps. 103. The second one that he enumerated was that he heals all your diseases (verse 3). Is that a benefit? Actually in contemporary terminology, when people talk about benefits in the context of employment, first and foremost one of the things that they are looking for are health benefits, which happens to be on the national stage right now. We are facing an historic weekend. And yet, maybe one of the reasons that it is such a huge issue is because we have forgotten that God is first and foremost our healer.
Let’s go back to Exodus, chapter 15. This is one of the first instances where God puts Himself forward as the great author of health care. In Ex. 15:26 He made this promise:
Ex. 15:26 - “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”
David recognized - as we do today - that God is the great healer. In fact, God is the only source of true healing. The body has its natural functions to combat disease that we can assist, but when it comes to divine healing, miraculous healing, only God can do that. And I ask you this, how can we expect God to be looking out for health on a national level if we deny He exists? Look at the billions we are going to spend, look at the political maneuvering that is going on in Washington this weekend to try to solve the health care crises. Now I will be the first one to tell you that health care needs to be reformed. I own a company, we have sixty-five employees. This last year our health care insurance premium went up by 35% and I could tell you horror stories on both sides of the agenda. Not to get into the political scheme, I just don’t understand how the Federal Government is in a position to make it any better. I don’t see that. What I see is a lot of political maneuvering and further example of how far the Country has departed from its ideals - and people, ultimately, will suffer. The reason we are at where we are is because we no longer believe God. And when we don’t believe God, corruption and unbridled greed run rampant. And if there is anything we should have learned in the last 18 months it is that unbridled greed does not produce benefits for the Country.
But what about us? What about you and me sitting in this room and this promise that God gave to the Israelites of old? Does it still apply? I’d have you note Deuteronomy, chapter 28, verses 27 through 29. You go there and you will find out that the diseases to which God referred here in Exodus are not unlike the diseases that are common to us today: cancer - well, let’s just go there. I think it’s worth looking at. Deuteronomy, chapter 28. The underlying principle, brethren, that we must never forget is this, God did not impose a system of laws and statutes and behavioral limitations to prevent us from experiencing the good life. He set forth laws and statutes to define how we can enjoy the best life. Somehow we’ve gotten that upside down in our society. We see God as limiting us from enjoying life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Deut. 28:27-29, this is actually one of the ‘blessing and cursing’ chapters and here are some of the curses for disobedience. When we dispense God from the national scene and no longer make God a part of our educational process, there will be consequences. Notice here:
Dut. 28:27 - The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, with tumors, with the scab, and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed.
Verse 28 - The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart.
You see, brethren, there is both the aspect of physical, biological illness and perhaps more importantly and closely connected, it’s hard to know which causes which in some cases, psychological well being - just plain, good old-fashioned sanity. When people defy God’s commandments and dispense with Him in their lives, both are the natural consequence.
Let’s go over to James, chapter 5. Here we have this benefit enumerated by James in the New Testament and it is something that we practice. It is, actually, a practice that we should avail ourselves of because it is a New Testament affirmation of the promise that God gave the Israelites and the promise that David recognized when he said He heals all your diseases. James, chapter 5. I’m going to read the entire context from verses 13 through 16 because as I was preparing this message it struck me - the context - the verses in the context of calling on the elders to anoint the sick and all that is mentioned there.
Jas. 5:13 - Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
Verse 14 - Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Verse 15 - And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Verse 16 - Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
If you didn’t notice, in the context of verses 13 through 16 are a number of what we would consider ‘key scriptures’ that we tend to lift out of their context to emphasize certain points and that is not problematic. I’ll highlight some of them. Notice this scripture: The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. That’s a scripture that we cite as a stand-alone scripture and appropriately so.
Notice another one: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another… That’s another scripture that we quote in isolation. But notice the reason that it is given. …and pray for one another, that you may be healed…
Notice in the context here of verse 15: And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up… It is really not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of when. I mean, ultimately all of us will eventually die. But that doesn’t mean that it invalidates this promise because in due course God will even raise those up that died of disease. It’s really not a question of ‘if’. The promise is sure. It’s the question of when.
Now let me make a statement so that we don’t mistake what I’m going to say. What I am about to say does not mean that everybody that is sick has sinned, but I think - given the context of what is being discussed here - we need to also ask ourselves the question: when we get sick, whether or not our lifestyle has brought about the disease or the affliction that we are now suffering from. I’ll cite an example. I’ve known for years that I should exercise and that I would benefit from it and that it would be good for me to do it and that if I don’t, in due course I won’t be able to do something that I enjoy and that is to ski downhill very fast. My dear wife committed me - you know, you get committed sometimes to uncomfortable things and what I got committed to come the first of this year was the chin. So bright and early three days a week at 5:30 in the morning, I get to go to the gym and work with a guy that gets me to do things that I otherwise wouldn’t do. And it is beneficial. There’s a health benefit for that.
Well, we need to ask ourselves - you know, I gave a sermon two weeks ago in Cambridge regarding physical health entitled ‘Food for Thought’. In fact, it was a rerun, I had given it here probably about eight years ago. And the question we have to ask ourselves when we go before God and ask Him for this benefit, what have we done to contribute to the problem and what do we need to repent of - putting it in modern parlance - change so that I don’t get sick again. Because we live in a society that has not only lost moral virtue, we don’t eat good food and it has consequences. So with all that in mind, let’s take another look at what we see here. We see here that if we are sick, we are to call on the elders and that should be the first course of action. Certainly we should go see a doctor and seek appropriate help, but God offers us this benefit. We need to use it. Use your - if I may use this analogy - if you’ve got this insurance card, use it.
Verse 14 - …call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Verse 15 - And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
So not only does God promise that He will heal us, He also promises that if we have ‘committed sin’ - engaged in, I’ll put it this way, we’ve engaged in behavior or in dietary habits that have contributed to us getting sick - He is prepared to forgive that as well. And, interestingly enough, the book that I cited two weeks ago by a doctor and it was funny because he listed the top ten foods we shouldn’t eat. And, of course, we would agree with about the first three or four of them because it listed things like lobsters and pigs and, you know, all these things and you just want to say, “Amen, brother. Amen, brother.” And then he comes down to things like coffee, like soda and all of those things that we may not be so comfortable with. And yet, he made this point: he said, “You know, God will forgive you for eating foods…” and he was referring to pork, “…He will forgive you for eating foods that He forbade us to eat, but your body won’t.” I thought that was an interesting approach on the topic. We cannot defy the law of gravity without consequence. And neither can we defy the laws of nature and health without consequence.
Notice in the same context here it says, verse 16 - Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed…
When we’re talking about healing we’re talking about more than just physical healing, we are talking about soundness of mind. God’s Spirit is a spirit of a sound mind and sometimes that involves confessing our trespasses to one another - a trusted person - in order for us to counsel through and to work through those issues. That’s what it’s talking about here.
… Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The context is healing. …The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
David knew and recognized that healing is one of the great benefits of believing God. I’m just suggesting to you that we take full advantage of that benefits package that God has given us.
The third one that is mentioned in Ps. 103 is that He redeems your life from destruction. (Psalms 103:4 Psalms 103:4Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies;
American King James Version×) Is that a benefit? Is it beneficial that God redeems our life from destruction? You know, we read in Romans, chapter 1, the path that leads to destruction - it’s that broad way that Matthew recorded. God redeems our life from destruction.
Let’s go over to Ephesians, chapter 6, and we will see how He does that. Eph. 6 and if you start in verse 1 and you read down through, it talks about relationships between servants and masters, parents and children. And it describes the ways that work, that are non-destructive. You know, God redeems our life from destruction by showing us the right way to live so we do not destroy ourselves or, shall we say, self-destruct. Verse 12 though points out the real battle.
Ephesians 6:12 Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
American King James Version×- For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Verse 13 - Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Then he describes how we are able to withstand these powerful forces and avert destruction.
Verse 14 - Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Verse 15 - and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Verse 16 - above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Paul recognized the importance of believing a beneficent God. He said, …above all, taking the shield of faith.
It is that firm belief in God that shields us from the fiery darts that come our direction. We live in a society, brethren, that has dispensed with the belief in God largely. There are still people that believe in the existence of God, but if all you believe is the existence of God, it doesn’t provide you with a very good shield. You have to believe God and then the shield of faith becomes a very powerful tool to protect you from destruction.
The fourth thing that David mentioned as a benefit was that he crowns you with lovingkindness and mercy (Psalms 103:4 Psalms 103:4Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies;
American King James Version×). Is it benefit for us to know that God is so merciful that not only will He forgive our iniquities, not only will He heal us from all our diseases, but in the end He is going to crown us with eternal life.
Let’s go to 2 Timothy. One of the things that I appreciate about Paul and, for that matter, all the men and women of God down through the Bible, there’s one thing they all shared. You had different personalities, you had in many cases of people that made big errors, but one thing they shared was passion and we live in a society where it’s cool to be, well, cool - you know, not excited about too much of anything. I learned that. I had the privilege of teaching a high school class for seven days as part of the Junior Achievement program and found it very difficult to get them engaged. I managed to do that by talking about - I started telling stories and departed from the curriculum and got them engaged. But, you know, we just live in a society where it’s cool to not be passionate. All of God’s men and women down through time were passionate. Notice what Paul said here at the end of his life. You know, his execution was eminent and he wasn’t down on his luck, feeling sorry for himself.
2 Timothy 4:7 2 Timothy 4:7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
American King James Version×- I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Verse 6 talks about the fact that the time of his departure is at hand. You know, he could have been bemoaning himself. Instead he says,
Verse 8 - Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
How beneficial is it, brethren, to know there is something more than this life, that God has a plan that extends into eternity and He wants to share it with us. I would submit to you that that goes beyond any benefit that we could materially enjoy in this life.
And, finally, David reminded his soul that God satisfies your mouth with good things and restores your youth as an eagle (Psalms 103:5 Psalms 103:5Who satisfies your mouth with good things; so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
American King James Version×).
What should we be willing to give up in order to enjoy the benefits God extends to us? Let’s go over to Mark, chapter 10 and in verse 29.
Mk. 10:29 - Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,
Verse 30 - who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life.
Jesus Christ said that even though we give up our families, even though we leave everything and follow Him, He promises hundredfold in this life. Now people might ask, “How is that possible?” You know, how many people in the Church do you know that have a hundred houses? I’m sure you know people - and I would count myself among those who have left families - in my case, I left a culture that had a five-hundred year identity. Those of you that know where I live, I don’t have a hundred homes, but I can tell you what I do have. And here is how I understand this scripture. I have a hundred homes around the world that I know I can go to if I travel, and I travel quite a lot. I mean, how many people do you know that could travel to Germany, to Thailand, to Kenya, to Africa, to - I mean, you name the place - and know somebody there of like mind that you can fellowship with? It has been one of the great privileges that I have had in my travels, that I have been in brethren’s homes from as far north as Northern Finland, 65 miles from the North Pole, to off the coast of South Africa. And it’s amazing, despite the cultural differences, there is an immediate bond. That is a benefit that broadens our understanding of our society - of our culture globally - in a way that most people cannot even begin to comprehend.
Psalms 37 is another psalm of David in this regard.
Psalms 37:25 Psalms 37:25I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
American King James Version×- I have been young, and now I am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.
How many people over the years have you known in the Church of God that were on the street begging bread? I don’t know of anyone unless they were there by their own choice. David’s experience was - and that’s been my experience - having been young, I’m not sure I’ve been old yet, but I have a few years behind me - I’ve never seen that happen. And you know why? Your brethren would never allow that to happen. The experience that I have had and observed is that the brethren of God are extraordinarily beneficent, a trait that they have learned from the God that they serve and they would never allow brethren to beg for bread.
Brethren, we live in a increasingly agnostic, atheistic, evil world that has departed from God, that will increasingly engage in driving God - the God that this Country knew - out of public life. That should be of concern to us. But of greater concern should be our commitment to not only continue to believe in the existence of the God that endowed all people with unalienable Rights, and I’ll innumerate different ones: the Right to repent, the Right to have a relationship with God, and the Right, upon repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Savior, to enjoy life eternal in a much better world. We need to not only perpetuate that belief, but to believe God, Himself, because it is not enough to just believe that God exists. We must be a people that demonstrates what God wants human beings to be by the fact that we not only believe that He exists, but that we believe Him. And the way we manifest the fact that we believe Him is by living our lives in the way that He instructed human beings to live. And, as we have seen, and as David recognized some millennia ago, there are great benefits by doing so not the least of which is the fact that He forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases, redeems our life from destruction, crowns you with lovingkindness and mercy, satisfies your mouth with good things and restores your youth. I mean, those are things that people want, but go to all the wrong places to find.
So open your Bibles, look forward to the season that we celebrate and enjoy the benefits of believing a beneficent, Creator God.