A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on May 22, 2011.

First Meditation

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:1-10

Recently I heard a retreat speaker named Robert Mulholland say something that stopped me in my tracks.  He said the fundamental question for every Christian is this:  “Who is in control of my relationship with God?” 

It didn’t take me long to see that I’m often not where I need to be where this question is concerned.  For all my talk about God being in charge of my life, I realize I am usually the one setting the terms of my relationship with God—when I will spend time with God, how honest I will be with God, how completely I will obey God, how much I will trust God, etc., etc.

In Psalm 31 and 1 Peter 2, we hear from and  about people who offer the right answer to this fundamental question.  The author of Psalm 31 looks to God and only God for refuge and strength.  The Psalmist does not seek to secure his place or his safety in this world through his own designs or defenses. 

            In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;

                        Do not let me ever be put to shame. 

We know that Jesus must have read this Psalm over and over.  When someone is about to die, you can be sure that what they say moments before their last breath comes straight from the heart.  In Luke’s account of Jesus death on the cross, the very last words Jesus says come from Psalm 31:5—“Into your hand I commit my spirit.”

The word “hand” in the Hebrew is significant.  It communicates the sense of “grasp” or “power”.   Later, the Psalmist will say his times are in (God’s) hand.  What the Psalmist, and later Jesus will act on is their fervent belief that God is the supreme power of the universe.  And that means that they can rest, and rest completely, in the omnipotent hands of God. 

How do you know you are making progress in the Christian life?  How do you know you are being formed in the image of Christ?  One bit of evidence is that you are willing to place your life, your future, and your eternal life in the secure, and loving hands of God.  And along the way, you’re willing to let God be in charge of your relationship.

Jesus paid an amazing price so we might have this kind of security with God..  As the Son of God, he allowed nails to be driven through his hands so we might rest in the hands of God.  In those days crucifixion was the most shameful, humiliating way to die.  No Roman citizen was ever hung on a cross.  But Jesus endured the cross so that whoever believes in him will never be put to shame. 

That’s why Jesus is not only the cornerstone of his church.  He is the cornerstone of our lives.  He is the foundation upon which everything is built.  If that’s not the case for you, then you’ll understand why your life may feel so out of kilter and ready to crash.  And you’ll understand why you are so tired trying to hold it all together.

Today, I invite you to find refuge in the hand of God.  Put God in charge of your life, and you will find rest.  

Second Meditation

John 14:1-14; Acts 6:8-15; 7:55-60

Recently British physicist Stephen Hawking created quite a stir when he said that heaven is a “fairy story” for people who are afraid of death.   As you might expect, Hawking is an atheist who does not believe in God or life after death.  Even though Hawking suffers terribly from an incurable illness, he maintains this life is enough for him, and that in fact he wants to postpone death as long as he can. 

Now as you may know, yesterday, May 21, was considered by some to be the day would Christ would return to earth and genuine believers would immediately be ushered into heaven.  Obviously, that prediction failed, and the world goes on.  But we would be foolish to believe that notions like heaven are only for terrified weaklings who need a fairy tale to help them face death.

Neither Jesus nor Stephen fall into that category.  But they believed in heaven.  Did they ever!

In John 14 Jesus is trying to reassure his disciples, who are beside themselves over the news that he would soon be dying and leaving them behind.   Jesus takes this opportunity to remind his disciples of the reality of heaven, a place he knows well because it was his original home.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you I go to a place to prepare for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”

Now cosmologists like Stephen Hawking delight in saying that heaven has yet to be located through even our most powerful telescopes.  But heaven is not just another physical place in the universe.  It is a spiritual reality, located wherever the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present. 

So, if your are in a relationship with Jesus, you’re already enjoying a slice of heaven.  But Jesus is not just where heaven is.  He is the way there, or as he expresses it, the way, the truth, and the life.  One commentator puts it this way:  “For the journey we are called to take, Jesus doesn’t just give us a map, and say, ‘Good luck.’  He takes us by the hand, and leads us to our destination.”

Later, the first martyr of the Christian church named Stephen would learn this truth about Jesus through rock-hard experience.  Stephen was stoned to death for his Christian beliefs.  But before he died, God enabled Stephen to look directly into heaven and see Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t seated at the right hand of the throne in his normal position. He was standing as a way of honoring Stephen for his courage, and as a gesture of invitation to Stephen to join him in heaven.

Joani and I are still trying to absorb all that was said and done for our wonderful 20th anniversary celebration last week.  And as I was preparing for today   I couldn’t help but be interested in a sermon, based on John 14, that I preached in May of 1993 around second anniversary at FBC.  Listen to the last two paragraphs of that sermon—

“Two years ago this week, I arrived at First Baptist Church as your pastor, with precious little idea of where our journey together would take me.  And it’s a good thing!

“The road has taken some unexpected twists and turns so far.  And more than likely, there will be a few more detours before we’re done (I had no idea!)  Personally, I believe some very exciting days are ahead for First Baptist Church.  Still, in all honesty, when push comes to shove, I don’t know with absolute certainty how the remainder of my journey at First Baptist Church will go.

“But I do know the one who’s going before me.  And that’s all I need.”

Here’s the thing.  I believe that more today than I did eighteen years ago.  I believe if I put my hand in the hand of Jesus, he’ll lead me the rest of the way.  What about you?

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