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A Sermon To Read: “The Real Question”

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

The question is often raised on Easter Sunday whether Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. Had He really and truly died on the cross? Was the tomb really and truly empty? Can we be sure that no human hand had somehow intervened here – robbers, perhaps, or even government officials who disposed of His body, or His own disciples who stole it away and gave out the story that He lived?

I believe that those are legitimate questions to raise and I have done so myself on more than one Easter Sunday morning and have attempted to give them proper answers: because I believe that no one should be hindered from becoming a Christian because of some remaining doubt on these things. I believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ – literally and physically – is a fact which is adequately attested to by more than enough competent witnesses: and that the lives and subsequent actions of these witnesses give further support to their stories. Someone has even gone so far as to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best-evidenced facts of ancient history: and I believe that this is true – it really is!

Yet when we have answered difficulties about the resurrection and laid doubts to rest, we still have not faced the Real Question of Easter, which is not the question of fact, but the question of faith: whether you – my friend, whoever you may be and for whatever reason you are listening this morning – believe that He rose and believe in such a way that your life is changed by it and you are now on your way to heaven because of it! This is the question that the risen Christ Himself raised with His eleven remaining disciples of the inner group – Judas having gone his own, unhappy way when He “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen;” and told them to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”‘ He said (Mark 16:16): “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”

I. We observe from these words, first of all, that our Lord Jesus Christ, now risen from the dead, affirms once again the inescapable Biblical point of view that there are two possible destinies for your life and for mine – heaven or hell, salvation or damnation, or we might say, He speaks of Diverging Ends for our lives.

A. One of those ends damnation – has some problems for us today: for we do not like the thought, naturally enough, and many of us have tried our best to escape it for many, many years. In fact, large segments of the Christian Church today have ceased to speak at all of it – or if they do speak of it, they speak of it only to deny or severely limit its possibility. God is too good, too loving, too kind to damn people or at least any but the most depraved of criminals – and certainly He is too good, too loving and too kind to damn me; or so the line of thinking goes which all of you, I am sure, have heard at one time or another.

It had its origin – this denial of hell – in a sharp reaction to the excessive emphasis on sin and damnation which characterized the later Puritans in Britain and in America and which spilled over the North Sea to certain preachers in the Netherlands as well. These preachers were like some present-day Communist governments in that they erected walls, barbed-wire fences and barriers of every possible kind on all the roads that might possibly lead a soul to heaven. The strait gate was straightened more and more until hardly anyone could pass through it at all: and even those who did so had to suffer outside for a long year before there was any entrance for them at all. Now I do not hesitate to say that this was an unscriptural position: and that it is unscriptural whenever and wherever it re-appears in the church today. God is not sitting up there in heaven behind His walls and moats, keeping men out. The Bible says that He sent forth His Son – at the greatest possible cost to procure redemption for men. The Bible says that there is joy in heaven over repenting sinners, and not gloom or indifference or even unwillingness as that particular class of preachers seemed to think!

In reaction to this, well over 150 years ago now, more and more emphasis was placed on the love of God, and this was good; but alas, it too began to go astray. Just as those others magnified God’s wrath until they had no room in their system for His love: so now these began to speak so much of God’s love that they ignored, and eventually even came to deny His wrath. Hence our problem: a temper in the church itself that favors and does not correct the natural human desire to eliminate one of the two diverging ends to our lives of which the Bible speaks: hell or damnation.

B. But damnation is a reality and cannot be eliminated because we would like to do so, or even because so many preachers seem willing to ignore it! It is a reality that is taught in the Scriptures: Paul writes (Romans 1:18), “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and he repeats this teaching in many, many other places as well. And lest you get the idea as some indeed have – that Paul has parted company with Jesus Christ in this matter, remember that it is He that has the most of any inspired teacher to say on this subject. It is He who speaks of the condemnation of sinners of their departure into the other darkness of weeping and gnashing of teeth – of the tormenting fire and of the unending punishment. What men hardly dare to speak of, He spoke of often: for He knew the awful truth that hell exists and that its ranks are being recruited daily from among the children of men!

But even if you choose to ignore the clear teaching of our blessed Savior – and I do not recommend that course to any men – can we doubt in any case the reality of hell? Would it be just for all men to come to the same end and to the same reward? Should the martyrs ad their murderers all end up in the same place? Should the saints and their opponents all go to heaven alike? Should faithful witnesses and blasphemers both rejoice alike for all eternity? Does it make sense to suppose this for even a minute? And what of Christ’s work – His suffering, His sacrificial death? What are they for, if all shall receive the same reward? The gospel is rendered ridiculous by the teaching that there is no hell, that God is too good, too loving and too kind to damn men, and all of that! It is meaningless without the teaching that souls – your eternal destiny and mine are at stake, and that there really are diverging ends to men’s lives!

C. Though damnation is real: here is the message that we have for you it is avoidable. You need not be lost. You need not go to hell. You need not experience that endless fire and that unceasing pain – and I do not for a moment wich to relax the Scriptural doctrines of total inability and unconditional election when I say this.

I know that some are troubled on this subject because they know that there is a divine decree by which from all eternity God has chosen out His people from among the lost race of men and permitted the rest to perish: and this is a truth which I hold because the Bible teaches it: and yet, I say to you this morning that you need not be lost or go to hell because it is a false conclusion which the unenlightened human reason sometimes draws from the doctrine of election that it is possible for a person to want to be saved and not to be able to be saved because he is not chosen. I say that it is false because the very same Bible that teaches the divine decree so clearly also teaches a personal choice, a free offer of grace: in other words, that damnation is avoidable. «Whosoever believeth, “it says,” shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

D. The truth is, you see, that though damnation is a reality and a danger with which every man must reckon and from which every man is warned to flee, salvation and not damnation is God’s primary and blessed business. Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of sinners; but that the wicked turn from his ways and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, o house of Israel.” Or I Timothy 2:4, “Who will have all man to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We must not think of God as holding our damnation and salvation as one might offer to a child an apple or an orange with the invitation to take one. No! God offers salvation to men: and on the grandest and most glorious terms – This is His delight, while damnation is His sad and awful duty!

E. For salvation Christ came forth, leaving behind Him the mansions of glory and endless delight. For salvation, He was born in the humblest of circumstances. For salvation, He suffered all the days of His life, but especially at the end of His life. For salvation, He died there on the Cross of Calvary. And for salvation, He rose from the dead thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!

F. And what of salvation? It is perfect in itself – sufficient to give forgiveness and life eternal to every sinner who repents as a gift, without price, without works, without merit of any sort on our part. It is sufficient for you, too – to save and redeem you forever!

II. But let us go on: not only do we see diverging ends of human life here, damnation or salvation, hell or heaven, but we also have it clearly set before us that believing is the preeminent condition of salvation, or we might say that it is a case of Converging demands: “He that believeth.…shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned, our Savior says.

A. It is clear from the whole chapter here that unbelief and not belief was the characteristic reaction of the disciples and friends of Jesus Christ to the news of His resurrection, it seems that the women who had brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him, and who very early in the morning, the first day of the week came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun, did not give much credence to the “young man,” as he is here described, who was sitting on the right side and who told them so plainly – “Jesus is risen: He is not here.” The record says that they fled, they trembled and were amazed – neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid: surely not evidence of faith, are
they?

And when Mary Magdelene reported her experience to His other friends, it says that they believed not! And when the two men to whom He appeared as they walked and went out into the country went and told the others about it, we read: “neither believed they them!”‘ No wonder the risen Lord – when He finally appeared to the eleven “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” They had indeed been faith-less!

But unbelief – friends – is the natural condition of the human mind and heart! We are born unbelieving, we live unbelievingly; and we die unbelieving unless we are born again of the Spirit of God, unless we are converted, unless we repent, change and believe! Now when I speak of this, you must realize that believing and not believing are something
more than knowing propositions and accepting them or rejecting them. If this were all that there is to it, Christ might have disposed of the matter quite simply. He might have appeared alive as to His disciples. He might have set up His throne then and there in Jerusalem: and millions would have come to worship at His feet. He would have no trouble convincing the world of the fact of His resurrection – if that had been the only question!

But just as the devils believe that there is a God – and tremble – but do not cease to be devils: so all the world might believe that Christ arose from the dead, literally and physically, but all the world would not forthat reason alone be reconciled to God! Sin would continue to reign! Hell would continue to take its awful toll! And why? Because the real question with which God confronts every man is Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection, is not the question of fact alone – or whether or not he assents to the proposition that Jesus Christ truly rose. This is important. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is also vain. ” This is true: but there is more. The real question is what you do with this information – this knowledge! How do you react to it? What conclusions do you draw from it? How does it change your life? Do you believe it? All of God’s demands are seen as converging on this one great point – faith in Christ the crucified and risen Lord, as the pre-eminent condition of salvation.

III. This is made even clearer, I believe, by the word of the text which we have thus far omitted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned! The diverging ends that confront us come first: heaven or hell; then the converging demands of God upon us summed up in the word faith; and now Christ requires of those who would be saved an emerging trend, I would call it, towards a God-centered life.

A. You have noticed, of course, that the lack of baptism does not contribute to damnation: only unbelief – the natural condition of the human heart.

B. You also realize, I suppose, that the presence of baptism as a mere religious ceremony does not contribute to your salvation either but faith, the hand by which the soul received God’s great salvation wrought in Christ, who was dead, but behold, He is alive forevermore.

C. The mention of baptism here, then only re-inforces what I have already said about believing: not facts alone, but commitment to them which results in a new life under God, a life of obedience to God, a life in fellowship with God’s people on earth, a life that is characterized by a trend towards heaven that is emerging more and more with each passing year.

Will you face the real question with me this morning? Will you take to heart the diverging ends of human life – heaven or hell and ask yourself in what direction you are headed right now? Will you remember the converging demands which God makes upon you centering upon one thing above all, a response of faith in your crucified and living Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe our message today? Do you trust Christ for your salvation? Will you also consider the emerging trends in your life? Are they the legitimate fruits of faith? If you believe, have you confessed it? If you profess to be a Christian, do you abide in the fellowship of the church? Do you use the means of grace? If you do these things, are you struggling to serve Christ as you should in your life? “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Amen.

 

Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church 

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