Well, thank you again brother Bertie, and thank you for being with us these Thursday nights. It has been an encouragement to have you gathered out with us each evening. We have covered an awful lot of ground - says you: 'Probably too much!' - over the last three weeks. We've gone from the mind, to the mouth, to the flesh, and then we're looking at 'Cultural Sins' tonight. But let me just say to you that I don't want you ever to think at any stage, as we've been looking at these things, that I've been trying to hammer you, or trying to overload you with a burden - because everything that I have spoken to you has been coming from my own heart, a sense of conviction, God's speaking to me about these things.
I remember a preacher on one occasion saying: 'If you preach to your own heart, you'll be sure to hit a few others', and that's what I've been seeking to do. I have to tell you that I believe - I don't know whether brother Bertie experiences this, I'm sure he does, and anybody who preaches God's word or teaches it in any capacity - that God makes you tread the path of the word of God that He lays on your heart. I struggled with my mind in particular that week I spoke on the mind, and I'm sure the mouth wasn't always correct the week I was speaking on the mouth, and I have to tell you - and confession is good for the soul - that I wasn't long home last Thursday night until I was in the flesh, and part of the next day as well. So this is ministry that touches all of our hearts, and I'm no exception. Tonight's, in particular, I think is going to be difficult. It's going to touch many raw nerves, but I believe that it's what God wants me to say, and I have to give it to you tonight.
So I want you to turn with me to Luke's gospel chapter 10 please, Luke's gospel chapter 10 verse 25, and this is what we commonly know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, the more I study God's word - particularly, I would have to say, the parables and the gospels - the more I realise how we have misunderstood a great deal of what is in the New Testament. It is staggering to me, actually, how we take up the wrong end of the stick constantly with many of these accounts of our Lord's life and of His teaching - and this is no exception, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Verse 25 then: "And, behold, a certain lawyer", that is Pharisee, of course, someone who was an expert in the Old Testament law, "stood up, and tempted", or tested, "the Lord Jesus, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he", now mark this, "willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise".
I've taken as my heading tonight 'Cultural Sins' but, because of the weight of the burden that I have, I am only going to concentrate on one in particular that I feel is what the Lord would have me speak on, and is what is so needed in our province and in our island at this time - and that is the cultural sin of prejudice. The Good Samaritan is a story that was told by our Lord Jesus Christ to a Pharisee, a lawyer. Now, if you were with us last week, you will recall that these Pharisees were experts in the law. They were theologians, if you like. This was not only a man who was religiously adept and articulate, but he was concerned about the issue of eternal life - and we know there's a lot of religious people and they aren't concerned about that, but this man was: 'What must I do that I might inherit eternal life?'. But this man's problem, as we saw last week, is indeed the problem that many religious people have - verse 29: 'He, willing to justify himself'. He was self-righteous, he was operating in the flesh - do you remember that from last week? The works of the flesh are not just the negative immoral things that we read about in Galatians 5, but the works of the flesh can also be moral things, good things done where the centre of them is self-conscious rather than fruit operating in the Spirit of God.
I haven't got time to go into that tonight, but you must see that he was self-righteous, wanting to justify himself. He was spiritually blind, however. Now, this parable is not the little kind Sunday School story that we think it to be, it is not. Rather it is a violent assault on this man's self-righteous pride. We touched on this last week, that contempt for others, looking down our nose at others - whether it's because they don't have the same doctrine or practice as ourselves - is always a tell-tale sign of hidden self-righteousness, always! It's a sign that we're operating in the flesh, not in the Spirit. We looked at Luke 18, another story, remember the publican and the Pharisee? The Pharisee was thanking God that he wasn't like that other boy.
Now, this is an assault on this man's self-righteous fleshly religious pride. The first thing the Lord does is, he places this Pharisee in the position of the priest, or the Levite, in the story - that's clear. He's putting this man He's speaking to in this story as the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side. Now the Pharisees, as we see, believed that you love the Lord your God with all you can, and you love your neighbour as yourself - and he probably prided himself in his love for his neighbour, but you've got to understand that the Pharisees had a very narrow definition of who your neighbour was. That's why, willing to justify himself, wanting to make sure he was in there with this commandment, he asked: 'Who is my neighbour?'.
So the Lord puts him in this position of the man who passed by, and the second assault on his self-righteousness was showing us that loving one's neighbour means being able to see human need, having eyes to see human need with compassion, and being blind to seeing the colour of a man's skin, their particular creed, or their social class - that was the second assault! Are you beginning to feel this Pharisee's pain? Further, we see that the Samaritan was willing to get his hands dirty to fix this problem - that means the Samaritan was willing to pay a bit of cost, and feel sacrifice for a stranger.
But the third assault - and this is the greatest blow of all on this man's self-righteous religious pride - the worst of all for him was that the Lord Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story! Now Samaritans were despised by the Jews in the strongest terms, because they were a half-breed in their ancestry, they were lawbreakers, they didn't adhere to the Old Testament law the way the Jews did, and they were unorthodox in our theology, what they believed about God and how to get to Him. Nothing could be more offensive to a Jew than to consider a Samaritan better than a pure bred, law-adhering, squeaky clean Jew. Are you feeling it now?
Let me put you in the picture for a moment, to make it more contemporary to ourselves: you think of a character in your experience who you would consider the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth we would say, and put them in the character of the Samaritan here, and you'll start to feel it a wee bit more. For this is the force of what the Lord Jesus was saying: he wanted this Pharisee to recognize that there are some people who aren't as right as him, who surpass him in good deeds. Now, have we got the ability tonight, in our minds, to contemplate this? Can you recognize that there are some people, and they're not even Christians, and they surpass you in your good deeds? You say: 'Hold on a minute!' - no, don't hold on a minute, this is what the parable is teaching now. You hold on, stick in there, because this is revolutionary to us if we can only get hold of it! What was this an answer to? It was the question of the Pharisee: 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?'. The answer the Lord is bringing to him is: 'Look, if you're going to try to earn eternal life with righteous acts, you're in trouble my boy! Because there are people who don't agree with you, and they're better than you!'.
What the Lord is trying to say to this man is: if you want to inherit eternal life, there is no room for pride. There's no room for 'We have the truth', or 'We are the people', or 'We do this', or 'We don't do that' - the only thing that makes us to differ from others is the grace of God and the Spirit of God. My point tonight out of this parable, in keeping with it, is asking the question: we know what it says about the Pharisee, we know what it says about the Jews, but what does this parable say about us? What does it say about where we are spiritually when other people excel us in the flesh, when we are meant to have the Spirit of the Living God? Now, have you ever understood that parable? Have you? Because that's the only way you can understand it.
Now similarly, turn with me to Matthew chapter 5 verse 44: 'But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you' - I say it very reverently, but it would be a lot easier if those verses and those words were not there - 'That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good', do you know what that means? He is not prejudiced: '...and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'.
Now, what is the Lord Jesus saying? If we love people like us, if we love people of our kind, if we love people on our side, if we love people of our persuasion - we are no different to the publicans that loved other publicans! But worse than that, worse than that: the parable of the Good Samaritan says that there are many godless people in this world, and they're doing better than we are in the flesh, and we're meant to be in the Spirit! You see, there is a higher standard for the child of God. Look at verse 20 from the same chapter: 'For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven'. Now, how on earth could any of us exceed the external righteousness of the Pharisees? It's not possible, because it was blameless to a large extent - at least Paul's was, the rich young ruler's was, in all likelihood the man who the Lord spoke the Samaritan parable to, he was externally blameless - but this is the whole point, the Lord Jesus is saying: there needs to be a renovation of the heart! There needs to be a new birth, a righteousness that is of God - and not just judicially, but practically, that will be out-worked in the believer's life. That's why He said: 'Therefore be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect'. That's why the Lord said to Nicodemus, a good, moral, upstanding Pharisee: 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God' - there's a higher standard!
We saw last week that that means our flesh has to die, and the Spirit of God must live in us. The fruit of the Spirit is love, it starts with love - and I believe all the other fruit after that are an expression of love. Love is first, and it's no mistake that it's first: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law. It is the Christ-life, it is Christ living in us. Can I just repeat this much of last week: we cannot live the Christian life, it is impossible to live the Christian life in ourselves by the flesh. Our flesh must die, it has died with Christ on the cross, but we must reckon it by faith as dead, and we must live the life in the Spirit - there's no other answer! We cannot excel the righteousness of the Pharisees, we can't do it in our flesh, we cannot even excel the righteousness of the Samaritan! It has to be God in you.
Now, here we're getting to the nub of the problem: why is it, then, that the gospel - which is supposed to be the most liberating, loving, gracious force in this world - has often been treasured by some of the most uptight and prejudiced people on the face of the globe? Am I wrong? Now listen: I know we're not to regulate ourselves by how we're perceived by the world. We don't put out vox pox, and send the feelers out, focus groups like the politicians, and start doing what the world tells us to do - don't misunderstand what I'm saying. But neither should we ignore how we are perceived by people outside. If we start ignoring that we'll fall into many a trap. I don't know how many years it is from Rabbie Burns, they've all been celebrating it, but wasn't it he who said: 'O, for eyes to see ourselves as others see us'. It's a good thing, at times, to see ourselves the way others see us.
Do you want to hear how someone sees us? He's an academic, and he wrote a book entitled 'Understanding Fundamentalism', and he defines 'fundamentalists' as - now listen carefully - 'an evangelical who is angry about something'. I thought that was good! 'An evangelical who is angry about something' - of course, we're to be angry and sin not, and we should be angry about a lot of things. It's hard to live a godly life in this world and not be angry - we ought to be angry! But this great question is: what are we angry about? What makes us angry? Who makes us angry? And, as far as the world perceives, are we being perceived as angry only?
Another said: 'Evangelicals have tended to rely on the rhetoric of protest, pronouncement, and picketing, rather than on moral persuasion - making a difference with their lives. They are perceived as only interested in turning noses up, mocking, belittling, boycotting'. Francis Schaeffer, the Christian, said: 'You can never share the gospel with someone whom you do not take seriously as a human being, and they will never want to listen to you if your words are not truth and compassion mixed together'. Listen to what he's about to say, this is profound: 'As I push a man off his false balance', and there's nobody saying it's not a false balance he stands on, but 'As as I push a man off his false balance, he must be able to feel that I care about him, otherwise I will only end up destroying him'. I ask you: is there a case to answer? Whatever country we live in, there often is a disparity between what Christians claim to believe, and how they behave towards people who are different than they are.
Now, I know I'm on sensitive ground here, I believe it's God's holy ground. The early church were renowned for their love, and it wasn't just for the fact that they loved one another - although that was the case. Emperor Hadrian in the early second century called a man called Aristides to his palace to have him describe what these Christians were really like, and I'm just quoting what he said: 'They love one another. They never fail to help widows. They save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy as though he were a real brother. They don't consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Holy Spirit of God'. The Emperor Julian the apostate complained, during his short reign from AD 361 to 363, that: 'The impious Galileans', the name for Christians, 'support not only their own poor, but ours as well'. Pagans in the Roman Empire were being supported by the Christians in the early church. Now I'm telling you something: if I lived like that, if we lived like that, Christianity in the 21st century would be infectious, it would be contagious - we would really be light in a dark place, and salt. Salt is not just a preserving influence on the flesh, but salt is something that makes you thirsty - and there would be people thirsty for Christianity, Christ and the Living God, because of our lives if we were like that!
The burden of my heart tonight is that Ireland needs such unconditional love from Bible believing Christians. Did you see the news last night? This reconciliation business in the Europa Hotel? Did you see it, or read about it in the paper, or hear it on the radio, the fiasco that it was? Lord Eams and Denis Bradley writing this report, and victims to get 12,000 pounds each - and the two sides came together in that hotel and, well, it was horrendous; the pain that was obviously there from all our years of violence in the past, the hatred that was vented on one another. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not underestimating anything that people have gone through down through the years. The commentators and politicians were asking the question after this event: has anything really changed? Can anything really change? How can we have healing in our nation? Is there an answer? Is there an answer? Yes! There is an answer! Yes, there is an answer! I'll tell you this much: politics isn't the answer, and it'll never be the answer. Whether you're the fundamentalist Christian neo-conservative right in the United States of America, or whether you're here in Ulster - any Christian that is trying to use politics, or trying to use the legal system to further their faith, is deluded!
Now let me say also: it's not for me to legislate against what you do, or anybody does or doesn't do. I'm not saying you should not be involved in this, that, or the other - that's between you, your conscience, and Almighty God - but please, whatever you do, particularly in this little province of ours, keep in mind certain things. One: political positions may equate themselves with Christian beliefs - i.e. you're against abortion, and some parties are against abortion - but it is impossible, impossible to pin colours of political allegiance onto the gospel or onto the bosom of my Beloved Lord! Well dare anyone do it! We ought never - in the strongest terms I say it - never to politicise, never to racialise, never to nationalise God's gospel. It belongs to nobody only God!
The Lord Jesus never engaged in politics. Now, He certainly spoke to politics, to the issues of the day - and I think we have a prophetic duty to do that - but it was He who said: 'My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence'. That's why His followers, the disciples, did not engage in politics - and we say: 'Well, did they miss a trick?'. I mean, should they have utilised it to get a bit further? Paul the apostle did not engage in the political system. In fact, he heralded that our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims and strangers, the apostle Peter said, in this earth. This is not, essentially, our eternal home. Whilst we are responsible to obey government, and have a right to use the judicial processes of law, we are not obligated to be part of a political system. We need to remind ourselves - however we are involved in this world - that John says this world system lies in the lap of the wicked one! That is manifest in the manifold corruption that is in the political sphere, it is a system of compromise, decisions are made on the basis of what is expedient rather than what is right.
So what we're saying is: if our chief objective is to further the gospel and the truth of God, there is a question of effectiveness and priorities. Politics, wherever it is, is only like a band aid on a cancer! It is not the answer! The gospel is the answer! Paul says to those who had the gospel, Timothy: 'No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier'. The Lord Himself said: 'Follow me, but let the dead bury the dead', let dead, unregenerate men get on with trivial things - seek first the kingdom of God. My, if the church in Ulster had put as much into seeking God as they have done down through the years in seeking votes, and seeking seats, we might be in a different place tonight.
Is there an answer? Yes, but it's not in politics, and I defy any man to tell me it is - but neither is it in established religion, that's not where you'll find the answer. Now we saw that religion of the flesh does not avail with God. It might have certain good influences in society, I'll give you that, but religion in the flesh - and let me say this, religion in the flesh that poses as Christianity - has only caused more division, and caused more sectarianism, because as we saw last week: the good flesh, even good, righteous acts that are done from the self in the flesh, are a fertile soil for the devil to use our bad flesh, and to bear fruit. Do you remember, I showed you last week in Galatians 5:15, there were Judaisers in that church and they were trying to get them to go back into their Judaism and still believe in Christ, and to adhere to the law and circumcision, the rites and rituals - and what was happening among them? Paul says: 'You're devouring one another!'. The bad flesh was coming out because they were trying to serve God in the good flesh, and you cannot do it.
I say to you, even among true believers, is there not a case to answer here? Now, I know some of you think maybe I'm really heavy-handed - please understand, I mean I'm being led even on the Lord's day to preach, perhaps, on Romans 8 verse 1: 'There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus' - because I know that our hearts have been opened and exposed, and are raw to these sins week after week. I want you to understand our position in Christ if we stand in it - but is there not a case for us to answer? Peter says: 'Judgement must begin in the house of God'. Look, if we're not willing to face these issues, how can we expect anything else to happen? If we're not prepared to repent, collective repentance, that in our past we have misrepresented God. If we're not prepared to say, if I'm not prepared to say - and I am prepared to say tonight - that at times I have misrepresented God's grace. I know there's a lot of pain, and the problems of our nation and our land are complex, and I don't even get into any of it tonight in a sense - but just answer me one question, and it's a question that really is burning into my consciousness: why is it that in one of the most evangelical parts of the world, here, generally speaking only half the population has had a sustained gospel witness?
Now, I know there are several factors involved in that, and established religion is no small one - but can we exonerate ourselves from all guilt? Can we? I can't. But it's bigger than the Protestant-Catholic divide, or the Irish-British issue, this is a multicultural issue - we're living now in a multicultural society, where the nations of the world have come to our doorstep. We're having to face religions and cultures and persuasions that we never have had to before. I'm asking the question - these are cultural sins: is our gospel commission given to us by our Lord inhibited, restricted, hindered by political, religious, racial stereotypes? Now I know it may not be intellectually and emotionally - in other words, we would say that this gospel is for all men, and we would feel that we want all men and women to be saved - but the question I'm asking is practical: have we been inhibited practically in taking the gospel to others who are other than what we think ourselves to have been or be? I have, I'll put my hands up, I have. I'll tell you more: I've been fearful of what the legalists would say.
Do you know what one of the biggest problems in our country is in the church? You get a creak in your neck looking over your shoulder all the time, afraid of what this one will say, and that one, and the other one. You imagine - and this is off the cuff now - imagine you see me tomorrow morning in a coffee shop with a Roman Catholic priest, having a cup of coffee, and then I bow my head and I pray with him. What do you think would go round among the spectators that saw that? What do you think might go round? Am I pushing this too far, am I? What if there was an old tramp in the gutter, and I got down and prayed with him - there wouldn't be a word said about it, would there? We are affected by these things through fear, and we don't even realise it. It's a sign, at times, that we're not even convinced of our own positions - we can't have them challenged, where God's Word says: 'God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind'. Fear of man brings a snare, and we can play safe in our cultural comfort zones - but what good does it do anybody!
I read a story this week in a missionary magazine about an Anglican Vicar in Iraq who left, I think it was, a lovely country garden parish in England to go out to help the suffering persecuted church in Iraq. Now, if we were to take a poll among evangelical Christians in America or even Ulster, what they thought of the war in Iraq - I don't know what the answer would be, but I'll tell you this much: Saddam Hussein, bad and all as he was, he never harmed the Christian church of Jesus Christ the way the rulers of Iraq are doing today. There have been thousands of Christians slaughtered - you'll not hear that on Newsnight, you'll not hear Christian politicians who have pontificated about war telling you that - the country is meant to be liberated! But this Church of England vicar is out there, and he says in this article that it would be far easier to be back in England in the safety: 'We might', he was addressing his congregation when he was saying this, 'We might have to die for our faith, but I remember what an old mentor minister of mine said to me before I left to come here, he said, 'Don't take care, take risks!''.
It was Frederick Sampson who said: 'Love goes beyond safety'. Recently, with the election of President Obama, many people's thoughts have gone to Martin Luther King. I think it's tremendous that there is a black man as President, although his policies leave a lot to be desired, particularly regarding abortion - but Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was accused of being an extremist. Now you may not agree with Dr Martin Luther King's religious beliefs, and I imagine I don't agree with some of them too, or his actions at times both personally and politically, but do you know what his answer was? I'm going to read it to you, and you listen carefully because it's profound. He was accused of being an extremist, and he said: 'Was not Jesus an extremist for love? 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you'. Was not Amos an extremist for justice? 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream'. Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel? 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus'. Was not Martin Luther an extremist? 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God'. Was not John Bunyan an extremist? 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience'. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free''. Martin Luther King asks the question: 'It's not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?'.
Then he delivered a powerful call to the church, which rings as true today as it did 40 years ago. He said: 'There was a time when the church was very powerful, in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century'. On the 28th of August 1963, Dr King stood before the Lincoln Memorial and gave his most memorable speech: 'I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character'.
Now listen, whether you agree with his politics or his religious convictions, you cannot decry that he had a great dream. Whether you agree with the ecumenical movement or not - and I don't - they still have a sincere dream to unite divided humanity, but they're trying to do it in the flesh, just as Babel did. Yet the tragedy is: they don't know how to do it. Politics doesn't know how to do it, religion doesn't know how to do it, and the greater tragedy - the greatest tragedy of them all is: we do, but we aren't doing it! I'm not doing it.
In the closing moments, can I turn you to Ephesians chapter 2, this was God's dream - a bad word, really, for God - but God's purpose in the church. Verse 11 of Ephesians 2: 'Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit'.
Verse 15 gives us God's plan for the church, look at it: 'one new man' - a new people, a holy nation, a priesthood free from enmity and united in Christ. Not black churches, Chinese churches - and I know that sometimes that has to happen because of linguistic barriers - but the vision of God was that all peoples be united in one Man that is Christ. Can it happen in Ireland? Yes! Imagine what it was for Jews to accept the Gentiles, do you understand how difficult that was for them? There was a religious divide. The Jews had Jehovah, the true God; the pagans worshipped many gods, polytheism. The Jews had the Bible, the word of God, the Old Testament. The Jews had the promise of Messiah, they didn't. But there were cultural and social divisions: they were circumcised, they had the food laws, they had purification rites and rituals that were designed to set the Jew apart from other nations to show the Jew the holiness of God; these people had no concept of the holiness of God! There were also racial differences, there was a bloodline in the Jews going right back to Jacob. So there was alienation here more than any alienation in any nation or any prejudicial divide that has existed in creed, colour or race.
So what happened between the alienation of verse 11 and 12 and the reconciliation we read of in verses 19 to 22? They are no more strangers and foreigners, they're fellow citizens, a household of God, together growing into a holy temple - you are builded together, a habitation of God through the Spirit - what happened? What happened? The cross happened! What happened? The resurrection happened! Look at the verses in between: 'But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he has broken down walls of division, he has abolished enmity in the flesh'. He has made one new man, verse 16, 'that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby'. Christ has preached that to us, that is the message of the gospel, that's God's vision, God's plan: one new man!
Look at chapter 1 and verse 10, again here it is: 'That in the dispensation of the fulness of times God might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him'. Galatians 3 and 28 is more specific when it says: 'There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ'. I tell you: that's what we need here, that's what we need because our divisions - even in the midst of denominationalism - are an indictment to the unity of the one-man body in Christ!
Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu, nevertheless he admired Jesus Christ. He often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. One missionary, E. Stanley Jones, met with Gandhi on one occasion and asked him a question: 'Mr Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming His follower?'. Gandhi replied: 'Oh, I don't reject your Christ, I love your Christ - it's just that so many of your Christians are so unlike your Christ'.
Apparently Gandhi's rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practising law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, and he had studied the Bible for himself and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring the possibility of becoming a Christian. So he decided to attend a church and, as he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door: 'Where do you think you're going kaffir?'. The man asked Gandhi in a very belligerent tone where he was going 'kaffir', and Gandhi replied, 'I'd like to attend worship here'. The church elder snarled at him: 'There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here, or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps!'. From that moment on Gandhi said he decided, listen now, to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.
I have a dream that the hurts of our land would be healed by the cool flowing streams of the Spirit of the Living God, over the mountains and through the valleys of our nation, in true revival. But I'm going to tell you more: oh that it would please God, and it may well do, that it would come through the side of our community that has not had the gospel as we have had. What do we do about it? Do you know what I think we should do about it? Do you know what I'm going to do about it? I'm not going to do too much: I'm going to get before God and say, 'Lord, what do you want me to do?'. Because I have no answers, I have no practical answers, how do we break down the barriers? How do we even make a start? But is there a company of people among us here tonight who would covenant to wait upon God, that revival would come to people, even a few miles away from us, that have never known revival in their history, awakening? Will we wait on God to seek a way forward? Because, do you know what God wants? Listen: 'They sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth'.
May God bless His message to every heart. Let us pray: Father, our Father, what can we say without minimising the great complexities of our nation and the nations that have gone through political disturbance, and have violent histories and painful memories? But Lord, we seek a way through, a way forward, we seek only Christ, only the truth. We are fed up with labels, we are fed up with names, we are fed up with tagging things onto the name of Christ - that we are 'Christian', this, that, and the other - when our lives should define us, our love should mark us out. Oh God, forgive me for being content to put the suit on, and stand in safe churches and preach. Lord, I'm afraid, I'm afraid of this burden, I'm afraid of where it can lead - because we see that it takes risks, and it's not safe. But Lord, we need to break free, we need the yoke to be broken. We thank You that there is a bit more openness these days - and yet Lord, just as we saw yesterday, there's so much pain, so much hurt, resentment, prejudice. Lord, if we as Your people think that we are exempt, Lord forgive us. But Lord, help us to allow You to do a new thing, and create this new man in us. Oh that the people in Ireland, that there would be a redeemed people among them, united from every background possible as one new man in Christ; with citizenship in heaven; with one King, King Jesus; with one law, the law of Christ; with one country, a heavenly country whose builder and architect is God. Lord, we believe this is the only answer for Ireland. Have mercy on us, Lord, and open a door effectual, an opening that we might realise Your plan for the glory alone. Let names, creeds, men perish, empires fall - and let Jesus Christ be Lord of all. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission in Moy, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Sins We Have Sanitized' series, entitled "Cultural Sins" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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