Heaven and Hell. They are real ~ God is the judge. Such fascination…Today’s message is the Surprise of Who is going to heaven ~ were this to attract major attention: it should, for there is nothing more important.
The message today is not only to insiders being nitpicky about who belongs, but also to outsiders who feel they are not good enough for God, not lovable enough, not sophisticated enough. Many folks are harsher judges on themselves than God almighty. The reason many people are not Christians is not because they reject God, but because they reject themselves as being worthy of being inside the circle of who God loves. How many people stay away from the fellowship of a church because they don’t feel good enough? Surprise! Paul is saying. Guess who God loves! You’ll be amazed who God accepts. You! Me! All you have to do is quit trying so hard… “But the Jews who tried so hard to get right with God…” (Rom. 9:31 NLT) quit trying so hard. Like young girls who try hard to be attractive to guys not realizing how much better off they are finding an inner strength…
Two problems: Some think, “I’m good enough”…others “not good enough”... The measure of your goodness is the wrong measuring stick.
Here’s a silly joke based on a misunderstanding of getting to heaven based on how good or bad you are… A man died, went to the Judgment and was told , “Before you meet God, we’ve looked over your life, and to be honest you really didn’t do anything particularly good or bad. We’re not really sure what to do with you. Can you tell us anything you did that can help us make a decision?”
The man thought a moment and replied, “Once I was driving along and came upon a person who was being harassed by a group of thugs. So I pulled over, got out a bat, and went up to the leader of the thugs. He was a big, muscular guy with a ring pierced through his lip. I tore the ring out of his lip, and told him he and his gang had better stop bothering this guy or they would have to deal with me!”
“Wow that’s impressive, “When did this happen?”
The man repled: “About three minutes ago.”
How good or bad you are is the wrong measuring stick. If we really had to stand before God the judge and convince him that we deserved to get into heaven because of the good things we did on this earth, nobody would make it. Goodness may earn us status or goodies on this earth, but not in heaven.
The scripture starts with a question: “What then shall we say?” In chapter 9 Paul has poured out his heart at the disappointment that his fellow Jews, those whom he loves, have not wholly embraced Jesus Christ as Savior. Yet God IS God and even though in Paul’s brain it would have made sense for the Jewish nation to spread the gospel to the world, that did not happen; God’s purposes are greater than our disappointments.
The focus is on God’s character above all else. The World does not have to make sense to us. “So let’s wrap it all up,” Paul is saying. It’s surprising who makes it to heaven. The Jews tried hard, and fell short. The gentiles (anyone who is not a Jew) were not even looking for God, and they found salvation. God is full of surprises. READ Rom. 9:30a-31.
This tells us something about how we are to look at ourselves and the people around us, how big is God’s circle? This tells me that some of the most surprising people may in fact be on the road to salvation.
One problem is when people think they are good enough. The Jews had their laws to keep, we have our good service projects, and our list of what it means to be a good Christian. Chances are that if I were to ask you to vote whether or not I, Carl Crouse, make it to heaven, a few of you might say yes, and chances are your reason includes that I’m a nice person and I do nice things. Encouragement is good, it’s next week’s message, vital even, but nobody can do enough good things to earn salvation. I like pats on the back, but on the other hand, this quotation makes sense: “Many parents are finding out that a pat on the back helps develop character - if given often enough, early enough, and low enough” (anonymous).
I’ve had a lot of funerals. When I served as a chaplain for five years, most families I served did not have a church, it was amazing how often the families assumed the person was going to heaven because they were good people. I don’t argue with families at the moment of grief, and I would never question if the loved one was a good person or if they were going to heaven, but I do know that they aren’t going to heaven because they are nice people that do good things. Nobody can earn salvation based on keeping a set of rules, doing enough good things. We are all sinners.
In our world, many people have a different sort of confusion about what it takes to get to heaven. They don’t think they are good enough. This message today is for you, but it’s also for many people who are NOT here. The people we see them through-out the week…. I love being part of a church that goes outside of the four walls. there are so many in the community that never show up in the building. The folks with deep wounds. The hurting. The conflicted. Several chapters back in Romans Paul talked about what it means to be conflicted, do that which I do not want to do… Paul’s words are so fascinating The gentiles have been made right with God, even though they weren’t even seeking him (NLT). many wonderful people don’t think they are good enough because of the deep wounds, the hurts, the difficult situations, the bad life changing situations. So many do not feel lovable. It’s not a matter of rejecting God. They believe in God ~ they reject themselves, more harsh of a judge than Jesus himself. Those who are not even seeking are closer to the Kingdom than they can even imagine… This is why Jesus came, to die for those who are lost and confused. The conflicted. So we go out with the message of God’s love, draw a bigger circle…
What is God’s measuring stick for who goes to heaven? FAITH. You’ll find it twice in today’s scripture. And a picture of faith is given of a rock ~ do you stumble over the rock, or is it a cornerstone. Ever stub your toe in the dark? why don’t you just turn on the light? We think we know exactly where the furniture is, so we fumble around in the dark, so we don’t wake up others that are sleeping, so we try not to wake ourselves up, and what happens when the dining chair got moved in an unexpected place.
What do you get when a dinosaur hits its toe in the dark? A: Stub a “sore” us.
Jesus is the Rock. Jesus is the chair in the dark. What do you do with Jesus? READ Rom. 9:30-33. When we stand before God in judgment, God is not going to ask for a list of good things we’ve done. The only question is, What about Jesus? Jesus is the rock. The rock is solid, unchanging. The only question: do you trip over the rock, or as the final story tells in a moment ~ is the rock a place to find refuge. Did you trust in Jesus, or did you stumble over the rock. The good thing about stumbling over a rock is that it takes a lot to break your toe. Even if you stumble around in the dark for a time, the light switch is within reach. Turn on the light. It’s called faith. And when you turn on the light, the chair that was you’re your enemy, is the very chair where you can sit and rest your throbbing toe. One of my favorite hikes is the beginning of the climbing route of Mt. Baker, the Hog’s Back, to find a place to look down on the Coleman Glacier, find a solid rock to listen to the boulders crash as the glacier creeks and groans. To be safe in Christ, as life tumbles and creeks and groans… Do you stumble over Jesus? or do you find security in Christ?
I’d like to end with a story told by Kay Arthur, “Where do you run?”
“My friend tells the story of something that happened while his dad was deer hunting in the wilds of Oregon. Cradling his rifle in the crook of his arms, his dad was following an old logging road nearly overgrown by the encroaching forest. It was early evening, and he was just thinking about returning to camp when a noise exploded in the brush nearby. Before he even had a chance to lift his rifle, a small blur of brown and white came shooting up the road straight for him. My friend laughs as he tells the story:
"It all happened so fast, Dad hardly had time to think. He looked down and there was a little brown cottontail - utterly spent - crowded up against his legs between his boots. The little thing was trembling all over, but it just sat there and didn't budge. "Now this was really strange. Wild rabbits are frightened of people, and it's not that often you'd ever actually see one - let alone have one come and sit at your feet. "While Dad was puzzling over this, another player entered the scene. Down the road - maybe twenty yards away - a weasel burst out of the brush. When it saw my dad - and its intended prey sitting at his feet - the predator froze in its tracks, its mouth panting, its yes glowing red.
"It was then that Dad understood he had stepped into a little life-and-death drama of the forest. The cottontail, exhausted by the chase, was only moments from death. Dad was its last hope of refuge. Forgetting its natural fear and caution, the little animal instinctively crowded up against him for protection from the sharp teeth of its relentless enemy."
My friend's father did not disappoint. He raised his powerful rifle and deliberately shot into the ground just underneath the weasel. The animal seemed to leap almost straight into the air a couple of feet and then rocketed back into the forest as fast as its legs could move. For a while, the little rabbit didn't stir. It just sat there, huddled at the man's feet while he spoke gently to it.
"Where did it go, little one? I don't think he'll be bothering you for a while. Looks like you're off the hook tonight." Soon the rabbit hopped away from its protector into the forest.
Wheredo you run in time of need? Where do you run when the predators of trouble, worry, and fear pursue you? Where do you hide when your past pursues you like a relentless wolf, seeking your destruction? Where do you seek protection when the weasels of temptation, corruption, and evil threaten to overtake you? Where do you turn when your energy is spent ... when weakness saps you and you feel you cannot run away any longer?
Jesus Christ is the Solid Rock! It is by faith that you run towards the Lord. Simple faith! A free gift! Total forgiveness! Sins washed away! Totally pardoned! Declared righteous! Given eternal life! Brought into God’s family! New life in Christ! A fresh start!
God is not like Santa Claus deciding if you will get a gift depending on if you are naughty or nice. Some people reject themselves as unworthy, too unlovable. Others think they’ve done good enough to merit God’s favor. Both are misguided. The only question: what do you do with Jesus? Jesus is God’s “stone” placed along the highway of life. Some people stumble; others stand. May we be a people that points to Christ as the one who saves. It is by faith that you are saved, not by how well you live your life. The only question is the unchanging Jesus: are you a stubasoarus? or is he your refuge? You are loved. You are invited. Standing on Christ rocks! Amen!