Sometime ago, I felt impressed to preach a sermon out of the book of Philemon. This sermon developed out of that study. Go to Philemon: Exploration into Forgiveness and Reconciliation for more details on that study. Yet within this sermon there is no reference made to Philemon at all. Studying Philemon gave the input for this sermon for I suddenly realized after much prayer that Philemon was about freedom from slavery. What is it that you are enslaved to?
I decided to present this sermon here online as I will soon present a short series on the book of Philemon. Sorry about the length, but hope you will enjoy.
Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:19-22: 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.
I am going to start this sermon by making a very bold and radical statement. It flies in the face of many religious thinkers today. Yet it is the bases for our salvation.
What is this bold statement? God rewards effort! I can see the saints squirming in the seats. So, listen carefully as I say it again. No instead let’s all say it together. God rewards effort!
Now, I do not want you to run away from here thinking I have become a legalistic preacher that has thrown God’s grace toward sinners out the out window. I still firmly believe we are saved by Grace through Faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. But I also believe from studying my Bible that God rewards effort.
Turn with me to Matthew 14:22-33. Often when I start a sermon with a text like this I will give background information on what was happening at the time. But I am not going to tell you that the 5000 that had just been fed on the mountainside, I am not going to mention how the people upon receiving food from the hands that had blessed that food wanted to make Jesus the next King David. We could talk about all of that, but in reality it has nothing to do with today’s lesson. So when you have found Matthew 14:22 say amen.
22 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He has sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary, 25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 and Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those who were in the boast came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I am sure we are all familiar with this story. Perhaps you studied this story as a kid in your Sabbath or Sunday school class and have heard many sermons preached on this before. And, more than one comedian has made jokes about this story and people have been trying to discredit it since Matthew wrote it. But I am here to tell you this morning that this story is no laughing matter. In brief this story explains how God rewards effort and rescues those that are drowning.
In order for this story to make any sense, we need to go back to the beginning. Turn with me to our next story, a very sad story that is found in Genesis chapter 3. It is our story for each and every one of us lives with the results of this story every day.
Genesis 3:6; So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and the tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. So she gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened.
Their eyes were opened as they suddenly realized that they were naked. And when you are naked, unwillingly made naked, you are ashamed and attempt to hide yourselves.
When Adam and Eve were created in the garden they were given two great gifts. The first of these gifts was the ability to recreate themselves.
Having been married for nearly 32 years (at the time the sermon was first given) and having two kids, sometimes I wonder how wonderful this gift of procreation is. Yet for the wise person the plan of salvation plays out in the home as the kids grow and make decisions that are not always of our will. We watch the consequences of their choices play out in their lives and we wince, cry and spend hours on our knees praying for our children.
It gives us a little, perhaps just a little insight into what our heavenly Father sees as he looks down at his earth children, watching them make decisions that are contrary to His desires for them.
The second great gift that God gave to mankind is the desire to worship. Isn’t it interesting that the whole issue in the great controversy between Christ and Satan is over who are we, as in you and I, who are we going to worship? Are you going to worship Him who created you, or the one that desired to destroy the creator and His creation?
However, Satan often hides what is worship in other things. And since we were all created for this need to worship, he just needs to substitute another desire or appetite for something else that we begin to worship. Perhaps a better way of stating it is he will place before us things that we will begin to place in front of God.
The frightening thing is, there are even times in our lives when we can say the right things, do the right things and yet still be worshipping the wrong God.
God never desires that we should be a slaves to self or sin, but Satan has found that the easiest way to lessen our desire to worship God is to have us become a slave to sin. A slave to self. A slave to another desire.
Romans 6:16 presents this in stark reality. Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to the righteousness.
Romans 3:23 makes it pretty clear who has becomes slaves of sin. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says: For the wages of sin is death, but the last part of this text gives us great hope, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Each one of us within the reach of my voice have our struggles in life. I know I do. Each day we wake up ready to face the day and when we go to bed at night our list of failures seems a mile long.
We try, and we try, and we try, but we just cannot seem to improve the condition of our hearts. I know I cannot, yet I keep on trying and with each attempt I keep on failing. Like the disciples upon the stormy sea, we are stuck in the boat unwilling to take that step into the deep cold water.
But Christ has a better way. Our scripture reading brings this out.
Colossians 1:19-22: 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, (in other words we were slaves to sin) yet now he has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.
In short God has set you free by the act of his dying on the cross. Yet while we still live, work and play upon this earth we are bound by the things of sin. Bound in that we cannot break free on our own. We cannot get out of the boat. The invitation is there. Christ is ever nearby and is waiting for you.
So, how do I get out of the boat? Like Peter the desire is there to change my life, but how can I do it? And what happens when I get out and then begin to drown?
The Bible gives us three steps to claiming God’s victory over our sinfulness.
Step 1: The first step is the hardest step because it requires us to think differently. Frist we must always approach all aspects of our life with prayer, so I would invite you to pray to God for whatever it is in our life that is causing you to stumble and fall. When you get up off your knees read this text
I Corinthians 15:57: But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we finish praying we need to believe that the victory is won. Why? Because God has given you the victory over sin. You must get out of the boat with the attitude that whatever the problem is in my life that I have brought to God that battle is over. Christ has won the victory for us.
That doesn’t mean you are free for the rest of your life. You could be. He could do that. But, remember our walk with Christ is a daily walk that should last the rest of our lives. If I ask him for the victory today and expect that he has taken care of it today, what must I do about tomorrow? Am I free? If this is a daily walk then I must pray the same prayer tomorrow and the next day and the following day until Satan become so frustrated that he quits tempting me in that area.
If I pray today, go about my own way tomorrow, how can I be sure the angry seas of life won’t swallow me up? We will all fail from time to time. But Christ has asked us to lean on him. When we lean on him we take up His divinity as we lay down our humanity. When we fail to lean on Him, we pick up our humanity and will again fall. But like Peter, it just takes a cry for help and Christ is willing to pick us up and back into His safety.
Our first step is to recognize through Christ we have Victory. Might I also add, we should thank Christ daily for that victory.
Step 2 Romans 6:11: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Because the Bible says and God has promised you the victory be dead to sin. Why because through Christ you can count on God’s promise. Believe that you are dead to whatever sin it may be.
Believe, Peter believed, He got out of the boat. He step into the storm that can happen when one attempts to change their allegiance to God.
Let’s read the passage from Matthew 6:30: But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid.
I used to believe the water was still raging where Peter was walking but that is not what the passage says. The passage said the wind was boisterous. The water in which Peter was upon was perfectly still. Everything around him was all riled up because the boisterousness of the wind. It was the boisterousness of the wind and riled up seas about him caused him to lose focus. When this happens our perception of what is happening about us changes from a focus on God and what he has and will do for us to what is happening around us and we begin to slip back into our old habits.
How often does the sea of life become tormented and we feel tossed about? The boat of safety doesn’t feel very safe. Yet nearby there is one that can calm the seas, but for that to happen, we must first get out of the boat.
We must first place our trust in Christ and daily surrender to His will. Though the sea around us billows the water upon we walk with Christ is calm. Why because with Christ, we are dead indeed unto sin, alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The second step is to believe we are dead to sin and have come alive in Christ.
Before we continue let’s review our first two steps.
Step 1: I Corinthians 15:57 says Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory. Through Christ the victory is won. We must develop an attitude that battle is over for the victory has been won.
Step 2: We must reckon ourselves to be dead to sin, Yet alive Unto God through Christ our Lord. Though the sea around us billows, the water upon which we walk with Christ is calm. Because through Christ we are alive unto God, but dead unto sin.
And now Step 3: Romans 13:14 says: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof.”
Mark 9:47 says; And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
Christ is not saying that we should gouge out our eye, but we should remove ourselves from all that leads us into sin. Is it fair to the recovering smoker to blow smoke in his face and expect him or her to not crave a smoke? Of course they will crave another cigarette. On the other hand, if you are a smoker and continually put yourself in situations where you are tempted to smoke, is that good either? No of course it isn’t good. If there is something in life that causes us to sin, we are to walk away, rather run away, put it as far from us, so we will no longer be tempted.
God rewards effort. Our part is to plan not to fail. If God says you are dead to that sin, then we should stay as far away from the temptation as possible. God will reward us with victory when we get rid of everything associated with the sin we were committing.
It looks simple on paper but difficult to perform. Yet with God all things are possible and he has promised to give you the victory over sin.
Step 1 says in I Corinthians 15:57 that God gives us the victory
We must believe and then act upon our belief and God will reward us with the victory.
Step 2 tells us in Romans 6:11 to become dead to sin but alive in Christ.
We must so hide ourselves in Christ that we become dead to temptation and alive in Christ.
Step 3: Romans 13:14 make no provision for sin in our life.
Whatever in life that is causing you to be a slave, walk away from it. Put it out of your lives. Substitute that which is filthy for the pure love of Christ. Fill your heart and mind with the things of heaven.
Fill your life with the things of God who has given you the victory.
19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.
Jesus called Peter to walk on the water, which is something that is humanly impossible. Yet Peter believed what God said. Peter made the effort to get out of the boat and God rewarded him by doing the rest. Peter actually walked on the water! Believe and the Victory is yours. Christ is calling you and because he is calling you the victory though humanly impossible is accomplished through Christ which strengthens me.
There are three different stories in the Bible of Christ walking on the water. They all reference the one event, but each gospel writer put a different spiritual application to the story.
Our first is Matthew 14:22-33 Which is victory over sin. Having the faith to get out of the boat and the reward for effort.
Second is Mark 6:45-52 When Christ walks toward us and finally we allow him into our life, life suddenly makes sense.
Third is John 6:15-21. Without Christ, we cannot get where we are going.
I never developed the other two references into sermons: Perhaps sometimes I will.
Here are the all three stories out of the New King James Bible.
Matthew 14:22-33 22 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He has sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary, 25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28 and Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those who were in the boast came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Mark 6:45-52 45 Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side to Bethsaida while He sent the multitude away. 46 And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. 47 Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. 48 Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them, Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea and would have passed them by. 49 And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 For they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately he talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased, and they were greatly amazed in themselves and beyond measure and marveled. 52 For they had not understood about the loaves because their hearts were hardened.
John 6:15-21 15 Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king. He departed again to the mountain by himself alone. 16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 Got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them. 18 Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. 19 So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 22 Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.