A Provocative Church: Centered On The Savior
I suspect that most of the people who were there that night will never forget it. I’m referring to the night, a year ago now, when Dr. E. V. Hill took over this pulpit and delivered as amazing a sermon as any of us had ever heard. When he arrived in Orlando earlier that day, he said that he wanted to see this sanctuary. When he walked in here, he looked all around and then he said, “Now this is a church.” Then, he looked up at this pulpit and he said, “I think you ought to know that I have developed a strange nerve problem in my legs. I can be preaching along and, if this condition hits, I just fall over, and as big as I am, it’s awful hard to get me back up.” Well, that threw me into a panic. But, Bill Peterson on our staff said, “Don’t worry. I’ll get something built right quick that will hold him up.” Sure enough, that night when it came time for the sermon, I helped Dr. Hill up into the pulpit and into Bill Peterson’s contraption. Thankfully, that night, E. V. Hill didn’t fall over. But, let me tell you that most of the people here that night did fall over when he leaned out over this pulpit and said, “You can go to Hell. That’s what I said; you heard me right. You can go to Hell.” He then proceeded to make his case that the only way to avoid going to Hell is to center your life on the Savior, Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ. The message reminded me of what happened in Acts 4 when Peter and John were preaching and teaching about Jesus and His resurrection and people were responding by the thousands. The religious leaders, the Bible says, became much annoyed about this and they had Peter and John arrested in order to try to stop them. The leaders then interrogated Peter and John, asking them by what power or name they were saying and doing all these things. Peter responded, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under Heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Peter and John had centered their lives on their savior and, therefore, nothing could stop them. By the way, E. V. Hill has a new book out entitled A Savior Worth Having. Let me read for you what he has to say about this attempt to stop Peter and John from preaching Jesus.
The devil has not changed his modus operandi. He has not altered his procedure, for even today the devil believes that if he just threatens the church, if he just threatens the preacher, if he just threatens the Christian, he can stop the message from reaching the lost. The devil still believes he can stop the church by calling it in and threatening it. He says, let’s threaten them by the laws, by the Internal Revenue Service, by every means possible. Then they’ll keep quiet. He has the idea that the church can be quieted by these means. Especially be quieted in our approach to reach lost men and women with the gospel.
Even now in some of our cemet…I mean in our seminaries, they aren’t talking about this name enough. Some of them are even denying this name. You can visit some of those universities on the East Coast (I won’t name them, but you know that bunch up there) and they never even call on the name of Jesus. Besides that, there are people who publish great books and ignore the name of Jesus. In fact, the year before last they awarded the outstanding sermon of the year and it never mentioned Jesus’ name!
How can you preach a sermon without Jesus? He’s the subject and the center. He’s the introduction, He’s the argument, and He’s the conclusion. How can you preach a sermon without Jesus? There are a lot of needs in my community and yours, but the greatest need is that people need to know Jesus, because, when He is known, things begin to come to order.
Not at all unlike the words of Simon Peter recorded for us in the book of Acts: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.” Yes, both Simon Peter and E. V. Hill are absolutely correct. That is precisely the reason that we, in this church, must be willing without shame or apology to share the gospel with the people of this city so that they might be won to faith in the One who saves. That is precisely the reason that we, in this church, must give of our personal resources to the world mission enterprise of the Church, so that the Good News of Jesus Christ might be delivered to all the bad news places of the world. That is precisely the reason that we in this church we must always be centered on the Savior.
You see, it is Jesus Christ who gives God’s power to us.
Jesus always spoke of power in maximum terms. He said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The Gospel writers say over and over again that He spoke with uncommon authority and power. With power He commanded evil spirits to come forth. He stilled the wind and the waves by the sheer power of His words. The sick and the diseased clamored and clustered about him and His power went forth to heal them. By the power of His word, He even raised the dead. In miracle after miracle, His power was clearly revealed, and even His enemies acknowledged the reality of that power. But His most amazing power was not in the physical miracles He performed, but in the spiritual dynamism by which He transformed the most stubborn and elusive element in the world: human character. It is that power which even today breaks the strength of ingrained habits and addictions, inspiring women and men to a whole new way of life, and reversing human behaviors so completely that the only way to describe it is “being born again.”
Just look at the record. He changed Zaccheus from thievery to honesty; Mary from prostitution to purity; Peter from cowardice to heroism; the Gadarene demoniac from madness to sanity; Martha from fussiness to faith; Paul from bigotry to brotherhood; Augustine from libertinism to piety; Francis of Assisi from frivolity to sober mindedness; John Wesley from legalism to grace; John Newton from profane captain of a slave ship to hymn writer extraordinaire. So often it is said that you cannot change human nature, but that is precisely what Jesus has done and is doing now. No one has ever encountered the power of Jesus even for a brief moment without then acknowledging that there is one great truth in life and it is this: Jesus saves! Yes, we as a church must always be centered on the Savior, for he gives God’s power to us.
And it is Jesus Christ who is God’s presence with us.
Please hear this: The supreme argument we can advance for Jesus Christ as the Son of God is that Jesus Christ lives in us. Christ alive in you; Christ alive in me. The skeptic can give you an argument against the power of Christ, but he cannot argue if Christ is seen in you. If Christ’s grace, His purity, His love, His holiness, His serenity, His self-sacrifice glow, and shine, and vibrate in us and through us, then the Incarnation of God in Christ continues in us. You see, until we take a stand and publicly profess to be His disciples; until we declare ourselves to be in possession of His light through the Bible; until we reveal that light through the way we live each day, then all arguments for Jesus as God’s only son and the world’s only savior are just word games. The only incontrovertible argument for the skeptic, the atheist, or the agnostic is Christ living in those of us who profess to be His disciples. We must never forget that the people of this world are never transformed from the weakness of sin to the strength of purity by the wonder of a blazing sunset or the glorious austerity of a mountain peak, or by the song of a bird in the stillness of the evening, or even by the love of a mother for a child. These may be suggestions of the divine, but they are not the revelation of God. God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and just so Jesus Christ can reveal Himself in us. For people are changed—transformed, not when God is discussed as a proposition, but when God comes to them in the person in Jesus Christ. That’s why we as a church must always be centered on the Savior, because Jesus Christ is God’s presence with us.
There is a lovely painting of the crucifixion of Jesus which hangs in the museum at Dusseldorf, Germany. When the artist had finished his first trial sketch of the face of Jesus, he called his landlady’s daughter and asked her who she thought it was. The little girl looked at the painting and said, “It is a good man.” The painter knew that he had failed. He destroyed the first sketch, prayed for greater skill, and then produced a second sketch. Again, he asked the little girl for her impression. This time the little girl said it looked like a man who was suffering. The painter was disappointed. He prayed even more fervently and then a third sketch was drawn. When it was finished, he asked the little girl who it was. The little girl immediately exclaimed, “It is the Lord!”
That alone makes the coming of Jesus Christ meaningful to the world. Not that a good man came; not that a wise teacher came; not that a sacrificial sufferer came, but that God came. So, call it narrow, or dogmatic, or old-fashioned, or unrealistic, or intellectually inferior. Call it whatever you will, but I stand here today to say to you that I know who my Savior and my Lord is. And I echo the words that Peter spoke in Acts, Chapter 4: “There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.” And that name is the name Jesus!