A Christmas Creed: Set Down My Name!
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered Himself of a saying and a story with profound implications. I share those words with you now. They’re found in the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to Mathew. I begin to read at the twenty-first verse. This is the Word of God, “‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven. On that day, many will say to Me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in Your name and do many mighty works in Your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock.
“‘And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.’ And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teachings, for He taught them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” Soli Deo gloria; to God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh, God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I remember a church in a city where I previously served, which had upon its stationery and upon its sign these words, “No creed but Christ.” Now, that’s very clever, but it’s not very realistic, for it ignores a very basic truth. And that truth is this: in order for us to know Jesus, we have to know something about Jesus; and the very moment that we know anything about Jesus, the very moment that we say anything about Jesus, we are affirming our creed. Now, no one will ever bother to write a creed about your life or mine. We have no need to worry about that, but that’s simply because you and I – though sometimes we forget this, but you and I are not really all that important in the ultimate scheme of things. But Jesus Christ was the single most significant person in all of the world’s history, and Jesus’ Christmas coming into human flesh was the single most important event in all of the world’s history. And that is why throughout the centuries, many people have written many creeds about Jesus. That’s what a creed is, saying what you know about Jesus. And many people have written many creeds, and they’ve lived by those creeds, and some of them have even died for those creeds. But that’s why creeds are so important in the history of the church, and that’s why they are so important in our church today. Because the creeds provide us with the opportunity to say what we know about Jesus. And that’s why it is tremendously significant.
When we stand together as a people and say with one voice, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Those last two words, “our Lord,” those are the words I want us to focus on today.
For when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” we have to remember that there are some people who say that and really mean it, and there are some people who say that and don’t really mean it. Yes, Jesus understood that. I mean, that’s why He told this story, the story that’s recorded for us in Matthew 7. Jesus said, “You are like two house-builders. One built a house on the rock. The other built a house on the sand. The storms came. One house stood. The other house fell.”
And Jesus is saying that your spiritual life is just like that. In other words, spiritually speaking, some of us make it and some of us don’t. Jesus said it. I didn’t. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Now, if that’s true, then it would behoove us, I think, to come to some kind of understanding about what Jesus meant when he told this story. And in order for us to do that today, I want to draw three questions from this passage and Scripture and set them before us and then attempt to answer them, and I want to ask you to join me in doing just that.
The first question is this: what was the difference between the two house-builders, the one who made it and the one who didn’t?
Well, the story makes it quite plain. The first thing that we noticed in the story is that the two men were not different in the way they talked or the way they thought. They both said and thought the same way. In other words, both of them said, “Lord, Lord.” Both of them attributed to Jesus the title, which is rightfully His. Both of them said and thought the same thing. Now, that leads me to believe then that the real strength and power of our spiritual life is not going to be dependent upon what we say or think theologically. Now, understand me, please, that, for me, at least, theological orthodoxy is much to be desired. I believe that we ought to be constantly struggling to forge for ourselves a theology, a belief system, which is the best, the most responsible, the most Scripturally sound theological system one can find. I believe that, and I believe that that helps us in our walk in the Christian life. No mistaking that. But having said that, I have to go on to say to you that there are those who have an absolutely perfect theology but have no fresh vibrant experience of the living Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. You’ve got to have more than right thinking and right theology. That’s what the story says. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord,’ is going to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now, another thing that we noticed in the story is that these two men were not different in the goals they established. They both set out to build a house. And there is no indication in the story that one of them was attempting to build a finer house than the other. No, that’s not indicated at all. And so we can safely assume that both set out to build the same quality of home. They both had the same goal. Now, that leads me to believe then that the real strength and power of our spiritual life is not going to be dependent upon the goals and the aspirations that we have in life. Now, we have a tendency, don’t we, to want to think to ourselves now, “If I can just establish good, honorable, uplifting goals in my life, then Jesus is going to come along and bless me.” Well, that’s not what the story says. No, the story says, “Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
And then another thing we noticed in the story, I think, is that these two men were not different in their zeal for the work. The story doesn’t tell us that one man worked harder and longer than the other man, and that’s why he was successful. No, the story doesn’t indicate that at all. And so we can assume that both men approached the task with equal passion, equal vigor, equal zeal. And that leads me to believe that the real strength and power in our spiritual life is not going to be dependent upon the zeal with which we approach Christianity. But oh, we have a tendency to think, don’t we, that if we can just be jealous enough in the pursuit of the Christian faith, that if we can just work hard enough in the business of the church that then Jesus will come along and grant us His blessing. But that’s not what the story says. No, the story says that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Well, then what is the difference? Well, we see the difference in the story itself, and that difference is revealed by the storm. You see, when the storm came, one house stood, and the other house fell. Now, notice, please. Jesus did not say there that the storm may come. No, the implication is clear. Jesus said, “The storm came,” and the message is that in the human experience, no matter who you are, you will experience storms in your life. And if by chance, you have not yet experienced the storm in your own life, that’s no cause for feeling smug and self-satisfied. That simply means that your time of testing has not yet arrived.
But it will come. If you are a part of the human experience, if you are tied to other people with little filaments of love and affection, if you are a part of a universe, which is governed by basic natural laws, then sooner or later in your life, the storm will come. The winds and the rain and the floods will break upon the house of your spiritual life. And if you think that you’re going to depend on what you believe to get you through, it won’t happen; it’s sand. If you think you’re going to depend on the noble goals and aspirations you have in life to see you through, it won’t work; it’s sand. If you think that you’re going to depend on your zeal for the kingdom to carry you on through, it won’t work; it’s sand. There is only one thing, which will enable a spiritual house to stand, and this is the only thing that made the difference between the two house-builders. Only one thing will enable your life to withstand the storms of the human experience. It is this: that you build your life upon the rock, the rock of Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus says.
Now, that leads me inevitably to the second question this story raises, and it’s this: what does that really mean, to build your life on the rock of Jesus Christ?
Well, I think it means simply this – did I say simply? Ooh, no, it’s certainly not simple, but it does mean this: the rock is the surrender of your will to the will of Almighty God. That’s what Jesus said. Did you hear it in the reading? Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” The rock is the surrender of your will to the will of Almighty God. You see, the human personality has three dimensions, and those three dimensions might well be seen as a triangle. One side of the triangle is the mind, the intellect, the reason, and it is important for us to use the mind, the reason, the intellect in our Christian faith. No one ought to feel that he’s got to take off his head to get through the door of the church. You do not have to sacrifice your intellectualism in order to be a Christian. No, Christianity does not fear the word rational. Jesus lived the most rational life that’s ever been lived. Christianity does not fear the word intellect. Paul was one of the most intelligent people who ever graced the face of this earth. But the fact is that the mind, the intelligence is not enough.
For you see, one can know all kinds of things about something and not do one thing about it. The mind alone is not enough. Now, there’s another side to the triangle; it’s the heart, the feelings, the emotions. And the emotion is important to us as Christians because you see, there are those moments, those marvelous moments, those Christmas moments when God seems so very near to us that we feel His Holy Spirit reaching down into the midst of our lives and lifting us up to heights we’ve never known before. Those are moments of deep, profound emotion, the kind of emotion that brings a rush of tears to the eyes. But you see, those emotional moments are worthless if they cannot then be channeled into becoming a blessing, not only for ourselves but for others as well. And therefore, the heart, the emotion alone, it’s not enough.
No, God created us with the third dimension to the human personality. It’s the base, and it’s the base that holds up the other two sides. And that base is the will, our personal will. It is our will that determines how we shall live the course of every day in life. It is the will that takes our intellectual knowledge and transforms it into significant action. It is the will that takes those special emotional moments and translates them into expressions of deep service. It’s the will that determines who we are and what we shall be in life. And Jesus says, “I call you to surrender your will to the will of Almighty God.” Now, how do you do that? I think you do it like this. It means saying right now, yes, whispering in your own mind and heart – it means saying very simply but very sincerely, “Jesus Christ, I offer myself to you, nothing held back.” That’s not an act of the intellect. That’s not an act of emotion. That’s an act of will. That is making a conscious determination of the way you are going to live your life, “Jesus Christ, I offer myself to you, nothing held back.”
If you build your life on that rock, then no storm of the human experience will ever knock you flat. If you make that kind of commitment in your life, then you will secure your faith and your future in the Lord. But if you don’t, if you fail to surrender your will to the will of Almighty God, then you are building your house on the sand, and be warned, there may come a time when you hear Jesus say, “Depart from Me, for I never knew You.” My friends, here is the message of the Bible: build your life on the rock, the rock that will never move.
But there is yet a third question that rises up. If not everyone who calls Him Lord will get to heaven, what does it mean to call him Lord?
You know, the word Lord means simply this: Messiah, the chosen one of God, the one whom God has sent to redeem the world, the King over everything that is. That’s what the word Lord means. And so when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” we are affirming that He is the Messiah; He is the chosen one of God; He is the one who has come to save the world; He is the one who is the King over everything that He is. When we say, “Our Lord,” we are affirming His Deity.
Make no mistake about it. He claimed every attribute of Deity for Himself. God has existed forever. Jesus said, “I was before the foundation of the world.” God possesses all power. Jesus said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” God is without sin. Jesus said, “Which of you can convict Me of sin?” He not only claimed every attribute of Deity; He claimed to be Deity itself. He said, “I and the Father are one.” He said, “He that had seen Me had seen the Father.” When Thomas cried out to him, “My Lord and my God,” he did not contradict him; he complimented him. When Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said to him, “You are right, for so I am.” Even his enemies testified to the fact that He claimed to be God. In John 10, it is recorded that His enemies said, “You being a man claimed to be God.” That’s why they crucified Him. He claimed to be God. And everything He said and everything He did tended to support that claim. And so when you and I stand and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord,” we are affirming that He is God, God Almighty, God wrapped in human flesh and come to each of us. And if He is God, then you and I owe Him our ultimate loyalty.
How can I get that across? Well, let me try this, but you’re going to have to listen closely. Several years back, there was a state dinner given in the White House by the President of the United States. That dinner was to honor a man named U Thant who was at that point retiring as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was a glittering affair attended by some of America’s most distinguished citizens. There were a number of speeches given that evening. Every single one of them paying honor and praise to U Thant. When the evening drew to a close, U Thant, he was asked if he wished to make some response. He stood up. He did not go to the podium in the State Dining Room. He simply stood at his place at the table and said two sentences. He said, “If I am worthy of the praise and honor you have given me tonight, it is simply because I am a devout Buddhist. I have committed my life, all of it, to Buddha and to the things he taught,” and then he sat down.
And when I read that, I thought to myself, “My heavens, this man was standing in the State Dining Room of the White House.” And I dare say that in the crowd gathered in that place, there was not another Buddhist there. And not only that, but I dare say that virtually, every person in that room would have claimed to be a Christian. And yet, as I thought about it, I wondered, how many of them or how many of us, for that matter, would, under similar circumstances, think to stand and to say something like that about Jesus Christ? More than that, how many of them or how many of us, even if we had thought of it, would have the courage to stand up and do it? How many? How many? That’s ultimate loyalty to the Lord of your life, and that’s the kind of loyalty you and I are called to give to Jesus Christ. And that’s what we mean when we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”
So John Bunyan in the Pilgrim’s Progress described in great detail the cost of living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, “And then he turned to a man, and he said, ‘Are you ready to be a Christian?’ And the man picked up a pen and a bottle of ink, and he said, ‘Set down my name, sir, for I have looked this whole thing in the face and cost me whatever it may, I mean to be like Christ, and I will do it. Set down my name.'”
Whose name does he write today? Is it your name? Are you ready, really ready to make Jesus Christ the Lord, the one undisputed Lord of your life? Are you ready to say, “Set down my name, sir, for I have looked this whole thing in the face and cost me whatever it may. I mean to make Jesus Christ the Lord of my life, and I mean to be like Christ in the living of my life. Yes, set down my name”?
Now let us pray. Almighty God, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, You lift us to heights we’ve never known before. Call us to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are ready. Cost us whatever it may. Lord, right now, set down our name, for we are His. Amen.