Books of the Bible
The Center: Faith in Christ
The center. As
human beings, we often try to find the center of things. It is just
the way we are. We want to find the center.
What is the center
of an atom? The nucleus. We all know what the word nucleus refers
to: the very center. It has become a metaphor for the center.
What is the center
of our solar system? The sun. We all are keenly aware that the sun
is the center of our solar system. There is no argument about that.
Planets revolve around the sun.
What is the center
of the earth? The equator. We know that. The equator is a line that
wraps around the center of the universe. It is zero degrees
latitude. It is warm on the equator; it is downright hot. We all
know the equator is the center of the earth.
What is the
geographic center of the United States? If you draw the shape of a
rectangle around the United States and draw one line from the
northwest to the southeast and another line from the northeast to
the southwest, you discover that the lines intersect someplace
Kansas. Topeka, Kansas sometimes claims to be the center of the
What is the
geographic center of the state of Washington? Again, if you draw a
rectangle around the State of Washington and draw one line from the
northwest corner to the southeast corner and another line from the
northeast corner to the south west corner, you will discover that
the two lines intersect a few miles east of Leavenworth on Highway
2. That is the geographic center of the state of Washington.
Where is the center
of a basketball court? We can see it easily in our minds. There is a
center circle in the middle of every basketball court. The center of
an eye? We know. The iris. The center of a target? We know. The bulls eye. In your
imagination, you can see the bullís eye which is the center of
every target you have ever seen.
human beings often try to find the center of things.
What is the center
of Christianity? The bullís eye?
The nucleus? We all know the answer. Jesus Christ. There is
no argument about that. What does God want from us? We all know:
faith in Jesus Christ, believe in Jesus Christ, trust in
Jesus Christ. Christ and faith in Jesus Christ is the center of
Christianity. The bullís eye. We know that.
Why did you come
here today? Why do Christians gather in worship services today
around the whole globe? To grow in faith in Christ. We want our
faith to grow strong just as faith grew strong in Abraham. We
donít want our faith to be wavering and weak, to be doubting and
double minded to be questioning and querulous. Down deep inside of
all of us who have come here this day, we want to move beyond that.
We want our faith to grow strong, like it was in Father Abraham. We
want to have faith like in the gospel story for today about the
Roman official who believed that Jesus could give life to his dead
daughter. We want faith like the woman who was very sick and she
believed that Jesus could heal her. Faith. Genuine faith. Deep
faith. Trusting faith. Committed faith. New Testament faith. Growing
faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is the bullís eye, the nucleus, the
very center of the universe called Christianity.
Romans. The book of
Romans. Today, we continue our summer series of sermons from last
week on the book of Romans. The book of Romans is one of the two
most outstanding books of the New Testament, along with the Gospel
of John. The Gospel of John is the greatest of our four gospels that
describe the life of Christ; the book of Romans is the greatest of
our twenty-one epistles that describe the life of the early church.
The Gospel of John is the king of the gospels; the book of Romans is
the queen of the epistles. The king and the queen of books of the
New Testament are John and Romans.
The church, in all
of its wisdom, has a lectionary or system of Bible passages which
are selected for each Sunday of the year, and so last Sunday, we
began a series of sixteen sermons from the book of Romans. Yes,
sixteen sermons in order to walk through the best of the epistles
from the New Testament. So we are going to slowly read the book of
Romans here at church this summer, and experience sixteen sermons on
passages from Romans.
The book of Romans:
the setting. Very briefly, we need to examine the situation at that
time in history. We
recall the word, Roman, comes from the name of the capitol city,
called Rome. Rome was and is the capitol city of Italy. In ancient
times, Rome was the center and the capitol of the Roman Empire, and
the Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires ever known in human
civilization e.g. the ancient Egyptian civilization and the ancient
Greek civilization. These great ancient civilizations were great in
art and architecture, economics and education, mathematics and
military. After grand civilizations of the ancient Egyptians and
Greeks, the Roman Empire ruled the world for nearly five hundred
years, and the Roman Empire was nearing its apex when the letter of
Romans was written in about 62 AD. The Roman civilization, too, was
one of the great civilizations in human history. I Claudius was
emperor of Rome. He was one of the Roman Caesars who were in power.
The city of Rome was gorgeous and stately. The state capitol
buildings of Rome such as the Forum, the Senate, the palace, were
architecturally beautiful much like our Washington, D.C. buildings
are today. I mean, really gorgeous. In a few years, the Romans would
build their Coleseum that makes our Safeco field, seating 46,000
people, look puny; the Coleseum sat 50,000-75,000 and was a covered
stadium, covered by sails hoisted up over the roof by sailors. Soon,
the Romans built the Pantheon, the worship center, and its dome was
the basic design for all the domes in the world such as the one our
capital of Olympia. The Pantheon is the oldest building on earth
which has been used from the time of its birth, two thousand years
ago. The word, Pantheon, reveals its purpose: pan means all;
theon means gods. Pantheon means all gods. The Pantheon was a
temple to worship all gods, and that Pantheon still stands today,
two thousand years later. The Roman Empire was magnificent, almost
beyond imagination, and was approaching the apex of its grandeur
when the Apostle Paul began to plan his trip to Rome.
But there was one
serous deficit: there was no good religion, no good spirituality, no
good morality. The Roman civilization was religiously and morally
bankrupt. It was said that ďall roads lead to RomeĒ but it was
said that ďall gutters lead to Rome.Ē If you read the ancient
Roman historian Juvenal, you will discover how morally bankrupt Rome
was. Rome was a moral cesspool, a vat of sewage, a hole of moral
waste and decay. Rome was ripe for a great religion like Christ and
Paul was the
missionary for Jesus Christ and for the Christian faith and
Christian religion. The Christian faith was beginning to spread and
permeate the whole Roman Empire. Paul had already made three
missionary trips, but wanted to make a fourth trip to the far west
frontier, Spain, and he wanted to stop in Rome to make Rome his
headquarters as he went to Spain with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We
have heard the phrase, ďgo West young man, go West.Ē The Apostle
Paul was going ďway WestĒ to Spain.
And so Paul wrote a
letter to the church in Rome to introduce himself. But more
important than that, the letter was a summarization of his beliefs
about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Mind of God , the heart of
God, the incarnation of God in the flesh. This Jesus Christ who
would permeate the whole Roman Empire.
In his letter, the
key to the letter, the core of the letter, the nucleus of the letter
is faith in Jesus Christ. You, Romans, need to clearly understand
what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. And so Paul pauses in
Romans, chapter four, and the whole chapter is dedicated to what it
means to believe in Christ. The example of what it means to believe
in Christ is from the story of Father Abraham in the Old Testament.
And so before we
can go onto chapter five, six and seven; before we can begin to read
the rest of the letter, we need to pause and understand chapter
four. We need to understand his logic, his reasoning, his thinking.
We need to understand Abraham. And all twenty-five verses of chapter
four are about the faith of Abraham, and Abrahamís faith becomes
the primary example of what it means to believe in Christ.
So before we move
on in the book of Romans, let us pause and study chapter four. Let
us pause and study Father Abraham as the primary example of what it
means to believe in Jesus Christ. Let us look at Father Abraham.
What does it mean
to believe in Christ? To trust God like Father Abraham did, not
wavering or doubting but firmly believing that God could do what he
promised. That is what faith is: to believe that God can do what he
has promised. It is to trust the promises of God so implicitly that
you act on them. Let me explain.
God made three
promises to Abraham: 1)
I will be with you and bless you so that you will be a blessing. No
matter where you go and what you do in your journey of life, I will
be with you and bless you with my Presence, so that you will be a
blessing to the world. And Abraham believed Godís promise. To be
religious, to be spiritual, is to believe Godís promise to you,
that God will be with you, at your side, in this journey called
life. 2) The second promise that God made to Abraham was that his
descendents would be numerous. There would be millions of
descendents, like the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. And
Abraham believed Godís promises. Abraham fully trusted that God
would be faithful to his promises to give him descendents. 3) God
promised him the Promised Land, that Abraham and his descendents
would have land to grow their crops, a land flowing with milk and
honey, a land rich in abundance. And Abraham believed Godís
promise. To be religious, to be spiritual, is to believe Godís
promises to you.
So immediately this
was all put to the test. So here was the first testing of
Abrahamís faith, whether or not Abraham truly believe in God and
his promises. Father Abraham was in Babylonia, and God said, ďGo
to the land of Israel where I will give you a good land.Ē And
Abraham got up and left his mother and father and brothers and
sisters and began his journey to the promised land. Why did he get
up and go? Because he believed that God would be faithful to his
promises. No proofs. No signs. No wonders. No official deed in his
fingers of future lands he would own. He simply believed that God
would be faithful to him, be with him, would bless him so he would
be a blessing. He acted and got up and left his homeland because he
believed the promises of God, that God would give him a new land.
That is what faith is: to believe in Godís promises even when
there are no signs or miraculous evidences or proofs that the
promises will come true.
The second testing
of Abrahamís faith. Abraham
and Sarah got old, approaching one hundred years old and they
didnít have any children. But Abraham still believed God, the
promises of God, that he would be the father of a great nation and
be the father of millions even though he was ninety-nine years old
and still didnít have a kid. In that dark hour of aged
infertility, God worked a miracle and gave Abraham and Sarah a
child, Isaac, who became the father of millions. But Abraham
believed in God, when he was ninety nine years old, before
Sarah was pregnant, that God was faithful to his promise. He
didnít start believing in God when he was 101, the year after
God worked his miracle. That is what true faith is: it is believing
in the promises of God, even before there is a sign or
miracle. You need
understand what faith in Christ is, and it is like having the faith
of Abraham who truly believed God and Godís promises to him.
The third testing
of Abrahamís faith. God had commanded to take his only son out
into the desert and offer a sacrifice to God. When the two of them
were alone out in the desert, little Isaac asked his father Abraham
where the lamb was that was to be offered for sacrifice. They
hadnít brought it. And Abraham said, ďGod promised he will
provide.Ē God ordered
Abraham to offer his only son Isaac whom Abraham deeply loved as a
sacrifice and when Abraham raised the knife to slit the throat of
his only son to be a sacrifice, an angel of God spoke sharply and
exclaimed, ďStop.Ē God was putting Abraham to the test, to see
if Abraham loved God more than his son Isaac. Abraham passed the
test, that he loved God more than his son. And further, Abraham
believed God would provide a sacrifice and sure enough, there was a
lamb caught in the briars and it was sacrificed. Ö Abraham
believed Godís promise that he would be the father of a mighty
nation, even before God gave him a sign, a miracle, of the
lamb caught in the bush. Abraham did not believe as a result of
the miracle. No, Abraham believed in God before the miracle. He
truly believed that God would provide.
And all of this
occurred before Moses and the Ten Commandments, before ethics and
morality, before obeying and following the religious rules, before
the Jewish religion, before the commandment to love God and
neighbor. What is true religion? Is true religion to love God with
all your heart, mind and soul as in Deuteronomy 6:4 and love your
neighbor as yourself as in Leviticus 19:18? What I am suggesting to
you is that 430 years before there was Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus
19:18, there was Father Abraham and his faith in Godís promises.
That is the deepest form of religion, the core, the nucleus, the
target. We are to have strong faith in God like Abraham. Thatís
what Paul is telling us in Romans four: we are to have strong faith
such as found in Abraham.
And all of this is
a free gift of Godís pure grace. Godís promises of his blessing,
the descendents, the Promised Land are all free gifts from God, pure
gifts, simple gifts. Abraham did nothing to deserve them or earn
them or work for them. God simply promised these gifts to Father
Abraham and Abraham believed God.
We find a similar
movement in todayís gospel stories. A Jewish ruler came to Jesus
because his daughter had died and this man believed that Jesus could
raise her from the dead. He believed in Jesus before the miracle,
before the sign, before the gift of his daughter be raised from the
dead. Similarly, the woman who had been sick for a decade. She
deeply believed that Jesus could heal her just if she touched the
hem of his garment. Her faith was not the result of the healing.
Jesus said simply to her, ďYour faith has healed you.Ē These two
people from the New Testament Gospel had the same faith as Father
Abraham: they believed that Jesus could do what he promised.
So we ask the
question: what promises does Jesus make to us?
We are promised
that Christ will be with us in all circumstances, near to us, dear
to us, at our side. As Godís Divine Presence was with Father
Abraham, so Godís Presence continues with us in the Spirit of
Christ. Christís Spirit is with us, in us, around us, at our side
to give us strength for living and power for dying. There is nothing
we have done to deserve this gift of his Presence. This gift is from
We are promised
that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that
our sins are fully and freely forgiven, that we stand before the
throne of God and our sins are entirely covered over by the blood of
Jesus Christ. And like the sunshine and the rain, this forgiveness
from God is a pure gift. There is nothing we did to deserve it.
We are promised in
Christ that we shall live forever with Christ, that we shall never
die, that Christ conquered death itself and that we shall live
eternally with God. And once again, it is pure grace, pure gift. We
did nothing to earn or deserve eternal life with God and those we
And God want us to
believe Christ, to believe in Christ, to trust that God can do fully
as he promised. Like in the story of Father Abraham.
As human beings, we
often want to find the center, the core, the nucleus, the bullís
eye of a target. Faith in Jesus Christ is the center, the core, the
nucleus of the Christian faith. Amen.