How many of you know what next Sunday is? It's Easter! So, what does that mean to us? What is unique about Easter Sunday? It is unique because many people go to church on that Sunday that do not normally go to church. What that should mean to us is that we may get people to come to church who would not normally come. It could be an opportunity for us to get some of our friends to come to church and hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are you aware that our world needs Jesus Christ? Have you listened to the news lately?
Last Monday, March 18, arrests were made in "Operation Candyman" which revealed a growing marketplace for child pornography and a different kind of pornographer; the seemingly upstanding citizen who could be anyone, including a parish priest or a school bus driver.
Experts say that child pornographers are often perceived as social outcasts with prior criminal records or a history of sexual assault who peddle their materials in dark basements. But according to federal law enforcement officials, many of those arrested in the government's year-long sting operation on an Internet child porn ring set up by an e-mail group called "Candyman" included members of the clergy, teachers, law enforcement officers and others entrusted with caring for children.
"Operation Candyman" is not the first to snag respected members of a community. Authority figures charged with child pornography offenses over the past year have included: California Judge, Ronald Kline, who faces seven charges of child porn possession stemming from photos of naked boys allegedly found on his computers. He also faces charges of molesting a 12-year-old boy. Rabbi Jerrold Levy of Boca Raton, Florida, who pleaded guilty last August to two counts of soliciting sex through the Internet and two counts of child pornography. He was sentenced to six years and six months in prison. Fort Lauderdale Detective Byron Matthai faced federal charges of enticing a child for sex over the Internet. He died last December before the case could be brought to trial.
Experts say child pornographers are drawn to the Internet, because they believe it can provide them with more anonymity. The Internet gives them a way of exchanging photos without seemingly attracting attention to themselves.
Does this stuff make you sick? It should!
Last week a dead infant was found in a women's restroom at First Colonial High School. Police have now identified the 15-year-old they believe is the mother. A 15-year old has a baby and throws it in the toilet. And this is not the first time a dead infant has been found at First Colonial. A custodian discovered a scene similar to last week's on Nov. 4, 1977 when a baby was found covered with tissue paper in or near a commode in a bathroom near the cafeteria.
A First Colonial student was eventually charged with murder. Her name was never released, and because of laws that restricted the release of any information in juvenile cases, it's unclear if she was prosecuted.
In October 1988 a 37-week-old infant was discovered in a trash can in a bathroom at Kellam High School. The baby's 17-year-old mother, a Kellam High student, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. She was convicted of felony, child neglect.
I'm sure that you've heard of Andrea Yates, the 37-year-old housewife drowned her five children in the bathtub. She made a choice on June 20 to deliberately kill her five children. In her confession she described how 7-year-old Noah tried to run from her, but ``I got him,'' she said.
Yates called her children into the bathroom one by one and drowned them in the tub then called 911 to tell authorities what she had done. Police found Noah in the tub; the other children were under a wet sheet on a bed.
It's not only mothers who are killing their children, Adair Javier Garcia, a 30 year old telephone company technician was charged with murdering five of his children and attempting to murder another on February 19 by using the grill to fill his home in Pico Rivera, about 10 miles southeast of Los Angeles, with carbon monoxide while they slept. The children, whose ages ranged from 2 to 10, all died from the fumes. Garcia also was charged with the attempted murder of his 9-year-old daughter.
Authorities allege Garcia intended to kill the children and himself, and said he and his wife - who was not living in the house at the time - were having marital problems.
How did you react to news like this? Does it make you angry, hurt, frustrated? Does it make you want to somehow escape from this world?
Is there an explanation as to why sick things like these can happen? I think there is; It's called the depravity of man. Man apart from God is evil, wicked, destructive, self-seeking and murderous. This moral corruption and violence is a growing trend in our society.
In 1946 a poll was taken of high school teachers asking them to name the top offenses their students committed. They were: talking, chewing gum, making noises, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, wearing improper clothing, and not putting paper in the waste basket. You can tell these teenagers were out of control.
Fifty five years later, what do you think the top offenses committed by teenagers are? In order, they are: rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, murder, suicide.
It's a different world we're living in today, and though most would agree that the ideal for families is the biblical model of one mom, one dad, together for life, the fact is 83% of Americans find themselves in a different family situation.
America seems to have lost her moral compass. Where is society supposed to get it's moral code from? Didn't Jesus say that believers are to be salt and light to the world in which they live? Paul, writing to Timothy, said this:
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NKJV) These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, God's truth. Our moral code comes from the God who created us. Listen, please listen, this is the reason we exist on earth. We are the pillar and ground of truth. We, alone, have the solution to society's trouble. And that solution is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God's healing power.
These violent and perverted events shouldn't shock us, not if we know our Bibles. The Bible teaches that the heart of man is wicked:
Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Romans 3 gives us a picture of man, and it is not very pretty:
Romans 3:10-17 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." 13 "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; 14 "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known."
Men, all men, every man is wicked. Knowing this, the violent and perverted acts of men shouldn't surprise us. Paul describes fallen mankind as "swift to shed blood." As our nation progressively moves away from God, our nation will continue to worsen. As man moves away from God, God turns him over to suffer the consequences of his own depravity. We can see what is happening to our society in the text of Romans 1:
Romans 1:25-28 (NKJV) who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 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. 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;
America endorses homosexuality, it accepts adultery even from its highest leaders. We murder unborn babies at the rate of I.5 million per year. We no longer believe in disciplining children, we murder them instead. As we continue to walk away from God and His principles of morality, our country will continue to self-destruct. As a nation turns away from God, God gives it over to judgement.
What is the solution? The only solution to man's wicked heart is only found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It, and it alone, is God's healing power.
Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
The word "gospel" means: "good news". The good news is that God has provided redemption for sinful man. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. The word "ashamed" could also be translated: "disappointed." Paul is not disappointed in the gospel. By that he means that he is not afraid that it will not work. He believes in its power to save. He is not disappointed in the gospel because it is the power of God. The Greek word that Paul uses here for power is dunamis from which we get our word "dynamite." It doesn't refer to explosive power, the Greeks knew nothing of gun powder. It means: "inherent power." The gospel is the inherent, omnipotent power of God, operating in the salvation of a lost person to accept it.
The Romans were proud of their power. Their military power was unstoppable. But when it came to changing men's hearts, the Romans were powerless. The Roman empire was full of violence and corruption, and the suicide rate was extremely high. Seneca called the city of Rome, "A cesspool of iniquity." Juvenal called it, "A filthy sewer into which the dregs of the empire flood."
Paul was bold and confident to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God to do the very things men cannot do. This power can take a sinner who is depraved in mind, body, and spirit and cleanse him from all sin, make him righteous in the sight of God, and give him eternal life.
The Gospel carries with it the omnipotence of God. Power! The gospel is not something that tells us what we must do to save ourselves. It is God's power "unto," signifying result, resulting in salvation. Salvation delivers man from the wrath of God and the power of sin. It is God's power, resulting in salvation to everyone who believes- everyone, without distinction of race, color, social standing, or background.
What is it that they need to believe? They need to believe that Jesus Christ has done for them what they could never do for themselves. He has paid their sin debt in full. Salvation is God's gift to all who trust in Him:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
God's gift to man is faith to believe in Jesus Christ.
Why is the gospel the power of God to everyone who believes?
Romans 1:17 (NKJV) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
The righteousness, which the gospel reveals, is God's own righteousness, which He gives to all who believe.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
God solves man's problem by giving him the very righteousness that He demands. God takes out our stony heart and gives us a heart of flesh. He makes us new creatures with the capacity to love and obey His laws. That is the gospel and that, people, is good news.
Look with me at the Gospel of Mark. I want to show you God's power of healing, God's power to transform;
Mark 5:1-8 (NKJV) Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me." 8 For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"
Here we see a man under the influence and control of demons. This is a vivid picture of God's power over sin and evil. Here we see a violent wicked man healed. The power of Jesus Christ sets this man free. Notice verse 15:
Mark 5:15 (NKJV) Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
So complete and miraculous was the transformation that the townspeople were afraid. Only the power of God can change people. Only the power of God can make a violent man into a man of peace. The gospel is the power of God. Notice this man's desire after his transformation:
Mark 5:18-20 (NKJV) And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." 20 And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.
This man, now fully aware of God's transforming power, goes throughout the ten city region proclaiming to others what God had done for him. That's what witnessing is all about.
I know you might be saying, "Well that guy is a little hard to relate to, I mean the demons, the chains, living in tombs. It's nice to read about God's transforming power, but I need to see it."
Let me tell you about another violent man, a young man, a teenager. He was filled with hatred and violence. He continually sought out fights. He would use his girlfriend as a decoy to start fights. He would have his girlfriend sit at the bar while he played pool, and if anyone tried to talk to her, he would start a fight with them. He would give obscene gestures to people in other cars, trying to get them to stop and fight. This young man wore a belt with a very heavy brass buckle (it weighed about a pound) to use for fighting. He would wrap the belt around his hand and hit his opponent in the face and head with the buckle, which would cause a lot of pain and damage. Then, one day a friend at work shared the gospel with me, and I believed it and was transformed. The first thing that God did was to take away my fighting spirit. He dealt with my anger and gave me peace. Several weeks later, I got into a fight at a party with a couple of guys who were picking on someone. I took one of them down and was about to drive my fist through his face when Cathy yelled out, "He doesn't fight anymore, he's a Christian." Instead of hitting the guy, I helped him up and apologized to him. Everyone in the room was in shock. They were seeing before their eyes the power of a transformed life.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that. Only the gospel can turn an angry punk into a passionate preacher. I am so thankful that in June, 1975, Kenny Ross shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with me. It is the gospel, and the gospel alone, that transforms lives. How I thank God for Calvary.
A sailor aboard ship on a six month cruise gets word that his wife has left him. When he gets home from the cruise, he seeks to restore the relationship. His wife wants nothing to do with reconciliation. He is deeply hurt, alone, even contemplating suicide. Then a neighbor shares the gospel of Jesus Christ with the man. He trusts Christ, and his life is given meaning and purpose. In time, he meets and marries a godly Christian woman. As a team, they raise their children according to the principle of the Word of God. They are a testimony to their neighbors and friends. He goes from the depths of despair to a life filled with love and joy. He is greatly used of God to minister to others. Only God can do that. Only the power of the gospel can change lives.
A man comes home from work to find his wife and family have left him. He had just recently moved to Chesapeake and knew no one. He finds himself alone, hurting, and even contemplating taking his own life. He goes to the mail box and runs into his next door neighbor, Rich. Rich spends several hours with Maurie sharing with him and trying to encourage him. Maurie, who was a Muslim at the time, began to come to our Church. He felt loved and cared for. He puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and is baptized. Through the power of the gospel he is a changed man.
People, the gospel has the power to transform lives. It can take violent, broken, purposeless lives and make them whole and loving.
Let me ask you a question, church, "Do you believe that the gospel is God's power to transform lives?" Sure you do. Let me ask you another question, "When is the last time you shared the gospel with someone?" If it has been quite a while since you shared the gospel, do we need to wonder why our society is like it is? If the church won't proclaim His gospel, who will? We can't expect depraved man to act any way but depraved. Until a man is transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can't expect him to be anything but evil and sinful.
What is our responsibility? Since we are the only ones who have the message that gives life, our responsibility is great! Let me give you four "P's" to help you understand your responsibility.
If we're going to tell the world about the gospel that changes lives, we had better live transformed lives. If our lives are a mess with sin, we hinder the proclamation of the gospel. The man who shared the gospel with me was living a consistent Christian life. His testimony made his message very attractive. Do you want to hear about how to diet from someone who is 300 pounds over weight? Do you want to learn how to lift weights from someone who is built like a toothpick? Do people want to hear about a gospel that changes lives from someone whose life is a mess? Practice it!
Plan on sharing it:
If you don't spend any time around lost people, I think you should plan a way to get around them. How can you affect the world if you are never in it.
If you are not praying for two or three lost people that you know to come to Christ, there is something wrong with your Christian life. You are off balance. You are not in tune with the heart of God.
Some years ago a young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. "That depends," replied the foreman. "Let's see you fell this tree." The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, "Start Monday!"
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by, and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, "You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today."
Startled, he replied, "I thought you paid on Friday." "Normally we do," answered the foreman, "but we're letting you go today because you've fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you've dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday."
"But I'm a hard worker," the young man objected. "I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!"
The foreman, sensing the boy's integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your ax?" The young man replied, "I've been working too hard to take the time."
How about you? Have you been too busy, too hard at work to sharpen your ax?
Prayer is the hone that gives you that sharp edge. Without it, the more work you do, the duller you'll get. We need to be praying for lost people.
We need to get much more aggressive in our evangelism. We have the solution to our society's ills.
If you are living a committed Christian life, and if you are living it around the lost, they are going to notice. Now, you have an opportunity to proclaim the gospel, to share the hope that lies within you.
The Lord's desire for us is the same as it was for the man he healed in Mark 5, it is this:
Mark 5:19 (NKJV) However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."
We have the cure for the sin sickness of our culture. What are we doing with it? This week please be in prayer for your friends and also invite them to come to Church with you on Easter Sunday. Let's do all that we can to reach out with the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we close this morning, I have an exhortation to share with you from the heart of God: "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you."