SIGNS OF THE TIMES SERMON SERIES
“DON’T FOLLOW ME, I’M LOST” – KNOWING WHERE YOU ARE GOING
MARCH 17, 1996
Last weekend I read in the paper that there was a huge bass fishing tournament being held at White Rock Lake over in Dallas. Because some of my favorite television fishing personalities were in the event, I decided to drive down for the final weigh-in of this magnificent event. There were two problems, though, as I tried to find White Rock Lake. Number one, I didn’t know where it was and number two, I have a horrible sense of direction. But that didn’t stop me from jumping in my car and seeking this place out. As I was driving for awhile, I thought to myself, surely White Rock Lake will be around the next bend, or after the next light. I believed I knew the general direction. After twenty minutes of driving aimlessly, I had that sinking, sick feeling in my stomach that said I was lost. But being a man, I didn’t even think about asking for directions. I said to myself that I could find it since I kind of knew where it was. Finally, after a long period of time which I will not reveal on this stage, I picked up my mobile phone. I believe that God invented mobile phones for me because I use my mobile phone to seek directions daily. I called my lovely wife. Lisa pulled out a Mapsco and guided me to White Rock Lake.
We can all identify with being lost, can’t we? And we know what to do once we are lost. As I look back on that story, I discovered that there are three stages to being lost. The first stage is when you are lost and you don’t know it. The second stage occurs when you think you are lost but pride and ego keeps you from asking for directions. The third stage is when you realize that you are lost and you do something about it. You say, “Help, I’m lost.”
In a crowd this size there are scores and scores of people who are lost in another sense of the word. You are not lost physically, but you are lost spiritually. There are three stages of being lost physically and there are also three stages of being lost spiritually. The first stage would be individuals here who are lost spiritually who don’t even know they are lost. The second stage would be men and women who down deep know they are lost but they say to themselves, “I can find my own way, pave my own path, forge my own future. I have a special deal worked out with God.” The third stage would be individuals who are in this Fine Arts Center, knowing they are lost and seeking direction.
In this session I want to provide you with a spiritual Mapsco that will guide you to a concept essential for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is impossible to have direction in this life unless we understand the concept of atonement. Human beings are an atonement conscious species. Webster’s defines atonement as “making amends or payment for offenses committed.” A couple of months ago when little Amber Hagerman was tragically and brutally murdered in Arlington, most of us said to ourselves, “Someone needs to be responsible for this crime. Someone needs to atone for this one. That evil act must be taken care of.” You see, this value of atonement runs deep through the heart and the fabric and the framework of who we are. Animals don’t have this atonement consciousness. We have a dog named Dominique. He is thirteen years of age and weekly he sneaks out of our back fence. The dog is amazing. When Dominique sneaks out in his clandestine fashion, the rottweilers who live next door don’t says to themselves, “Hey, Dominique is out again. He has broken Ed and Lisa’s law. He needs three days in solitary confinement.” They don’t say that. Animals do not have an atonement consciousness. We do though. For example, what if this afternoon, after brunch, you were to return to your apartment or house and discover that it had been burglarized. Let’s say that you find out that your neighbor has caught the burglar and he is behind bars. But eventually he goes to trial, is found guilty but gets off on a technicality. Wouldn’t something deep within your spirit cry, “Foul.” Wouldn’t you say, “This person needs to atone and make payment for the wrong he committed against me.”
This atonement mentality is not just a 20th century phenomenon. Study history. Every tribe, every culture, every people group has devised a system to make individuals who commit crimes and do things immoral to pay for the crimes. In some cultures, they cane you. In other cultures, they put you in prison. In other cultures, they collece a fine. In some cultures, the ultimate form of punishment is carried out, they take your very life. We have an atonement consciousness that permeates all of society.
Have you ever wondered why we have this atonement consciousness? Evolutionists have a hard time coming up with a plausible explanation for this value that we have. On the other hand, Christians don’t. We who are Christ followers say that the reason we have this is because we are made in the image of God and God did some serious atonement work, thus this atonement consciousness permeates all of creation. All we have to do is read the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. God gave man that high risk gift of freedom of choice, but along with that came the high cost principle of atonement. In other words, we have freedom of choice, but God say that if we rebel against Him, if we sin against Him someone will have to pay for the wrongdoing. And we know that Adam and Eve sinned. They ate the forbidden fruit. And when they did, the Bible says that they tried to hide from God. Genesis 3:7 says, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” They, Adam and Eve, made coverings for themselves. In Hebrew, the word is rendered Speedo. They tried to cover their tracks. That sounds very human, doesn’t it? I have sinned and I have tried to cover my tracks. You have sinned and you have tried to cover your tracks.
Yesterday morning, Lisa and I went on a four and one half mile run before breakfast. Lisa pushed EJ in his jogging stroller, he is four, and I pushed the twins, Laurie and Landra, in their double-wide jogging stroller. They are twenty months. Laurie and Landra were eating a bran muffin, having breakfast on the run. EJ was playing with two plastic lions. At about the fourth mile marker, as we are running, EJ says, “Mommy and Daddy, I want to say something bad.” We said, “What?” EJ replied, “I want to say something real bad. Would you cover your ears?” So we kind of winked at each other and closed off our ears with our fingers spread wide. EJ was doing some role playing with the two lions and here is what he said for one lion. “I’m going to kick your butt.” Now we laugh at that, but we do the same thing. EJ knows he does not say “butt” in our family. That is disobeying the rules set forth in the Young household. He wanted to sin and disobey his parents without suffering the consequences. He thought he could get away with it.
And Adam and Eve did the same thing. They tried to hide from God, to put on their brand new Speedos and cover their nakedness. “Oh, God, everything is fine. We didn’t sin, God.” God, though, met them and all creation held its breath to see what God would do when sin entered the equation. Would God wipe them out on the spot? Or would He say, “Adam and Eve, don’t worry about it. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. No problem. I will just wink at wrongdoing. I will gloss over it. No big deal.” What did God do? God made some shocking announcements. First God said, “Adam and Eve, from this day forward, all the universe will be adversely affected because of your sin. There will be pain in childbirth. The ground will not be as fertile. There will be problems in human relationships due to pride and ego and self-centeredness.” Then God said, and here is the humdinger, “Because you have sinned and because you are guilty, you will have to pay for your own sin in a place of condemnation forever.” That was not very popular.
Then, our transcendent, loving God does something that takes the breath away from Adam and Eve. He does something shocking. Genesis 3:21 says, and most people skip right over this powerful verse, one of the greatest verses in all of the Bible, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” This is the first glimpse that we have of God’s ingenious arrangement to bring in an innocent third party to take the penalty of a guilty sinner thereby satisfying the demands of justice and allowing the guilty party to go free. You see God’s dilemma? On one hand, God is holy. He can’t stand the sight or the sound or the actions of sin. On the other hand, He is tender and loving and Adam and Eve had captured His heart. They mattered to Him. He couldn’t stand the thought of Adam and Eve and their children and their children and their children spending eternity away from Him atoning for their own sins in a place of condemnation. So God took it upon Himself to arrange for an innocent third party to take the place of the guilty sinner thereby satisfying the demands of justice and allowing the guilty party to go free.
You see, Adam and Eve had never seen death. God, right before their eyes, took an innocent, everyday, average animal just hanging around the Garden of Eden and He killed it. Can’t you imagine the horror when they say the unnatural movements, when they heard the sounds of suffering, when they saw blood for the first time soaking into the soil? God, right before their eyes, skinned the animal, took the skin and covered their nakedness as if to say, an innocent third party has to spill its blood in order for sin to be covered and dealt with. You see the foreshadowing, you see the sneak preview. This is incredible stuff. This is the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
Some of you who have been here for awhile are saying, “Wow, Ed, you are kind of getting technical on me, kind of theological. I didn’t know you had that in you.” Substitutionary atonement, ladies and gentlemen, is the core of Christianity. It is what separates Christianity from all the other world religions. And if you don’t understand this concept, you will never spend eternity in heaven. Never.
So for the few moments that remain, I want to explain this concept to you the best I know how from God’s word and then, at the end of the message, I am going to give you the chance to apply substitutionary atonement to your sin problems. Our loving God went to great lengths to reveal this concept to us. He gives us picture after picture, nuance after nuance, story after story, illustration after illustration so that all of us would get it. That brings us to the book of Exodus. At one point in the history of God’s people, they were held captive in a place called Egypt. While they were being held captive the Israelites were sinning all over the place. The Egyptians were sinning all over the place. It was one colossal, sinful mess. God one day announced that it was atonement time, judgment time. God said that He was going to bring the hammer down. Yes, God is a slow to anger God but He does have a fuse length. He told all the people that a death angel would circulate on a given night and take the life of the first born in every household. Then God adds a PS. He said, “But, I am going to provide another way for your sins to be dealt with. If you will go out and pick an unblemished lamb from the herd, kill the lamb, sprinkle the blood on your doorpost, the death angel will pass over your home, sparing your first born.” Some people blew this off. They believed that was a ridiculous directive. Others, though, obeyed God. Can’t you imagine a Hebrew father walking behind his shack to his small herd of sheep, being watched by his oldest son, probably about eleven. The father carefully picks up the unblemished lamb, takes a knife out of its sheath and holds it air getting ready to thrust it into the heart of the lamb. What do you think his little son said? “Dad, what are you doing, that is my pet. That is the best we have. Dad, what are you doing?” And maybe his father turned to him and said, “Son, it is atonement time. It is either your life or the life of the lamb.” And those households who sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts were spared judgment. Don’t you see the foreshadowing? Don’t you see the sneak preview of substitutionary atonement?
Move to the Old Testament’s description of the sacrificial system. When someone would sin grievously, an animal would be sacrificed, blood would be shed and once the blood was shed, the priest would then tell the guilty sinner that he could go free, his sins or her sins were forgiven. Tens of thousands of innocent animals were being slain in every city, in every town and in every village. People knew as they walked away from the dying animal that an innocent party had to die because of their sins. Once a year there was a day called the Day of Atonement. The priest would use two goats. The first goat he would kill and this would symbolize the forgiveness of Israel’s sins corporately. The next goat he would release into the wilderness to symbolize that the guilt had been removed. That is where we get the term scapegoat from. You see again the foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice? You see substitutionary atonement in Exodus, you see it through the sacrificial system.
Then push the clock forward a couple of hundred years. In 800 BC a man named Isaiah hits the scene. Isaiah begins to hold crusades on prophecy and he said this Isaiah 53:5. “But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds, we are healed.” I am sure that made their heads spin. His listeners were saying, “This sounds like one day God will send a human being to be the ultimate sin sacrifice. Animals are bad enough, but a human?”
Then we read of John the Baptist preaching in the desert. One day Jesus of Nazareth walked up to him and John said, “Behold, this is the Lamb of God. This is what we have been talking about for years and years and years. This is what the sacrificial system has been foreshadowing. It is Jesus.” And when Jesus began His teaching ministry, He said words like this in Mark 10:45. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” In John 10:15 Jesus said, “I lay down My life for My sheep.” Yes, Jesus lived a sinless life. He was betrayed, battered, beaten, falsely accused and He hung on the cross bleeding to death before humanity. You think Adam and Eve cringed the first time they saw death? You think the eleven year old Hebrew got nauseated when his father killed the prize lamb? How do you think the saints in heaven felt when they saw the second person of the trinity paying the price for your sins and mine, something that we do not deserve. We don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve it after my best baptismal service, or my best funeral service, or my best sermon, or after having a seminary degree or studying Greek or Hebrew. Neither do you. You don’t deserve it even if your parents were on the mission field for forty-five years, even if you have sponsored dying and starving children. We don’t deserve this. We are the ones who turned our backs on God. We are the ones who have shaken our little, puny fists in God’s face. We are the ones. We don’t deserve it. But for some reason, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. We have captured God’s heart. We don’t realize how loved we are. It cost Him the life of His Son. The Bible says that one day we will all face God. We are going to stand before a holy God. The issue on that day will not be whether or not we have sinned. That will not be the issue. The issue will be who will pay for our sins. Basically we have two options. The first option is that we can pay for them in a place of condemnation forever. We can atone for our own sins. Or, the second option, Christ, the sin substitute, can. Two options.
What if you knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that exactly ten minutes from now you would face a holy God. I think a fair question to ask you would be this. Who is going to pay for your sins? Will you pay for them in a place of condemnation forever? Or have you arranged for Jesus to take care of them. You see if you have received and applied the atoning work of Christ in your life, you have a sin certificate in heaven and across it is a notation PAID IN FULL. You have applied Christ. But if you haven’t, you have a sin certificate in heaven and the stamp on it says, YET TO BE PAID. Maybe it is time for some of you to step across the line and make this decision. You can’t say you don’t understand it. A five year old can understand it. Understanding is not the issue, applying it is, turning from your pride, your self-sufficiency, your ego and saying that you turn to Jesus and apply what He did for you on the cross 2,000 years ago. That is the issue.
Some here know Christ personally. And it is so easy, after you have been a Christian for awhile, to take for granted this awesome gift. Today I want you to worship God and worship Jesus for what motivated them to do this so that we can have life eternal.
So, folks, what’s it going to be? I know how tempting it is to change the channel of your mind, to put this off, to backburner this. Don’t do it. Maybe today is the day that you settle the score. Basically we have two options and you know the implications of both. It is your call.