I remember when I was much younger, we kept appliances like washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators as we could. When they broke down, we called a repairman to fix them. It was not until they could no longer be fixed that we even considered buying something new. But today – whether appliances, computers, clothing – whatever . . . it seems the ‘old’ is not nearly as valued as what is ‘new.’
And that wasteful and careless idea often spills over even into theology. You might remember what happened in Athens when the apostle Paul was invited to the Areopagus to talk with their intelligentsia. They brought him to their meeting place and said to him: (Acts 17:19-21) “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
And so it is today; The ‘old’ is just not as attractive to many people as is the new. They prefer newer versions of the old, old story. Updated versions more sensitive to the sensibilities of modern men and women; Versions that preach more tolerance of the way people choose to live. Versions more friendly than the uncharitable words of those New Testament writers such as St Paul who wrote: “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
New versus old – which brings us to the theme of today’s message. What is the ‘old’ message, that old, OLD story? And an important follow-on question: is that story still relevant to life now – and to life in eternity?
I know most of you already KNOW the old, old story. And you already agree that the old, old story is absolutely relevant to our lives in the 21st century. But as St Peter wrote to his audience who already knew the old, old story, I am here before you this afternoon because “I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder.” (2 Peter 1:13)
So, by way of reminder, let’s go to the beginning of the story where it all began: In the Garden of Eden. It’s important, by the way, as we begin here that we pause a moment to recognize that before Adam and Eve fell into sin, they apparently and routinely spent time in the very presence of God who walked with them in the cool of the day.
But do you know that our God wants to routinely visit with you and enjoy your company – today? No, it will not be as it was in the Garden. That kind of fellowship won’t occur until we reach the home the Lord Jesus is in the process of building for us. You’ll find that promise, for example, in the first few verses on John 14. You’ll also find such allusions in 2 Corinthians 5 and Revelation 21. And we will also find in Revelation 20 how the old, old story will have its completion. Here are some verses from that chapter:
(Revelation 20:11, 14-15; 21:1-4) “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them . . . Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. . . . He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
Oh! I’ve read the back of the book. So have many of you. And we know how the old, old story ends! All who believe the story and OBEY the story will one day enter that new eternal home and live forever in the physical presence of our God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But let’s go back to the beginning to understand not only the end, but also the in-between, even to understand the times in which we now live.
After God finished His six days of creation He called His work of creation, ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). No sin. No corruption. No disease. No death. No loss. No separation.
But before long Satan entered a serpent and spoke seductive lies to Eve. She then offered the forbidden fruit to her husband who was ‘with her.’ When he ate it, “the eyes of both of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7)
And so, sin became scripted into the DNA of every person born from those two parents. The next think we know, Cain murdered his brother Abel, and Lamech boasted about killing others for striking him. On and on it went, and on and on it continues. Have you been following the horrific evil that has been unleashed once again in our world?
I am certain one of the reasons the gospel message – the Good News message – doesn’t impact humanity as it ought because virtually all of humanity, with rare exceptions, are unwilling to acknowledge our utter and incurable sinfulness. Jeremiah made that clear in the 17th chapter of his prophecy. St Paul followed that up in his letter to the Christians at Rome: (Romans 7:18) “For I know that nothing good dwells in me.” And Isaiah added, (Isaiah 64:6) “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” The Hebrew word used here by the prophet describes menstrual rags.
Just last month I asked a retired missionary if she believed she was a wretched person before coming to Christ. She shook her head and told me she was not ‘wretched’ before she came to faith. And I wondered if she remembered the hymn we so often sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” And what is it the great St Paul said of himself? (Romans 7:24) “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”
Unless our utterly holy God opens our eyes to our true nature, we will never fully understand just how utterly disqualified we all are from heaven. Sin is so much a part of our nature that it has thoroughly corrupted our minds to the point that we CANNOT see our sins as God sees our sins. No wonder even the best of us do not realize how much we deserve eternal judgment for our sins and rebellions and treasons against the King of the Universe. If we DID really understand that, would we live like so many of us do – doing life ‘My Way’, as Sinatra and others have boasted?
Thankfully, the old, old story doesn’t end in Genesis chapter three with the introduction of sin into the human genome. The story continues with God's RESPONSE to their fall. You may remember what He did: He shed blood in order to cover their nakedness with animal skins.
Why did He even bother to do that? The answer to that question is easy if you know and believe the old, old story. God created us for one purpose, and that was to love us – you and me. He created us to have deep, intimate fellowship with Him, and for us to enjoy each other’s presence day after day forever.
But sin thoroughly corrupted the human race. So – and speaking only in human terms – what was God to do? How would the absolutely holy God, the Creator who cannot permit sin to be in His Presence, the Almighty One who demands JUSTICE against sin – but who also desires to live with the one who has sinned – what was God to do to accomplish both, and yet not compromise His holiness?
Again, the answer is easy if we know and believe the old, old story. It all has to do with death and blood sacrifice. And the theme of a blood sacrifice that began in the Garden spread like a healing thread throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Exodus chapter 12 tells of the Passover Lamb whose blood covered the homes where the Jews remained safe from the Angel of Death. Leviticus chapters 16 and 17 speak of the sacrificial blood, when sprinkled on the altar by the high priest, covered the sins of the people. Here is Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”
The prophets continued the theme of blood when they turn our attention to the Lamb of God whose sacrificial blood would finally fulfill what those ancient sacrifices were meant to foreshadow. For example, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Messiah’s virgin birth and incarnation. You might remember the name Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 means ‘God with us.” You’ll find those promises in chapters seven and nine of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Then in chapter 53, Isaiah spoke of Messiah taking upon Himself all of our sins. He was to become our substitute, covering our sins with His atoning blood with covering far greater and deeper and higher and broader than the covering God provided for Adam and Eve. The apostles then told us how Messiah’s blood purchased for us eternal forgiveness and a place in the New Paradise of God. You’ll find examples of those promises, for example, in Matthew 26, Luke 22, Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1.
When Jesus died on that cross, He took on Himself the FULL wrath of God against sin – but only the sins of those who have made Him their Lord and Savior. All others who have turned their backs on the Messiah’s sacrifice will experience God's full wrath on themselves at the final judgement.
Here is a portion of what He promised through Isaiah: (Isaiah 53:5-6) “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
Were it not for God's love and His mercy toward sinners, no one ever born would have anything to look forward to after death except God's wrath and a subsequent eternity in the lake of fire. That’s why Jesus warned (John 3:36) “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
And it is why the apostle Paul wrote: (Ephesians 2:4-5a) “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.”
We have to get that last sentence: He made us alive TOGETHER WITH Christ. That is the only way to avoid God's wrath – to be alive in/with Christ.
Oh, we must hear this: God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God loves you and me. That is why He fully united Himself with His creation is such a way as to actually feel physical pain, and hunger, thirst, weariness, and even physical death. The old, old story tells us on every page of holy Scripture of God’s inconceivable offer of forgiveness, despite even our most egregious sins. For example, consider King David. In the Bathsheba incident alone David broke three of the inviolable Ten Commandments: Coveting, adultery, murder. And it is important that we understand Moses did not provide any means of attaining forgiveness for those sins. By LAW, David’s since required his death. But God responded to David’s deep repentance and graciously, lovingly, mercifully forgave every sin.
And what about the apostle Paul – guilty of blasphemy against God, and the murder and torture of Christians wherever he could find them? Listen to what he tells us in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:15-16): “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
So, of what sins are YOU guilty? I won’t tell you the terrible one of which I am guilty, but I WILL tell you this: God promises me through His timeless word that He has chosen to FORGET every last one of my confessed sins.
AND the same is true for EVERY person in this sanctuary who comes to God in humble confession of their sins.
Of what are YOU guilty? Murder? Adultery? Coveting? Blasphemy? Do you harbor a spirit of unforgiveness toward others? WHATEVER the sins, when you confess them to God, He CHOOSES to forget those sins. He chooses to count them as if you never committed them. OH! The old, old story is an ever-ongoing story of hope. Of grace. Of undeserved favor and love and forgiveness and eternal life.
So, I need to bring today’s message to a close: How then should we live in light of God's message intrinsic to the old, old story? I’ll give us the answer in two words: Humbly, and Obediently.
How did you receive Christ as an adult in the first place? Go back in your memory. Wasn’t it by humble faith? You believed what someone told you from the Bible about God's desire to totally forgive all who come to Him for that forgiveness. Now, you might not have realized it at the time, but that confession required your humility – admitting that God is right, and YOU are wrong. Most people – even many in pews – have never fully humbled themselves before the Almighty. They have never come to the recognition – just like that former missionary I mentioned earlier – that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked – the same thing of which the Lord Jesus accused the Christians at Laodicea (Revelation 3:17)
We also come obediently. Christian faith MUST bring with it fidelity to God and His commandments. Listen to 1 John 2:3-5 – “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.”
Humbly. Obediently. How can we not do so when we realize what He has done for us – what He has ‘gone through’ to purchase us back to Himself from sin and the devil. Because of our inherited sin nature, we all belonged to Satan and death. Here is 1 John 3:10a – “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God.”
I’ve shared with you this afternoon the old, old story which many of you have heard for many decades. But it is good to hear it again and again – it is NECESSARY to hear it again and again because it is so easy in the midst of living life and dealing with the emotional, physical, financial, and social challenges of day by day living – it’s easy to forget that old, old story.
So, I hope that you are encouraged, encouraged by the remembrance of what almighty God has done for YOU – and WHY He did it for you:
Because He loves you. Because He wants to spend eternity with you in His very presence. Which is why we thank Him for His most wonderful gift.