Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Everything Is Already Paid For"

Text: Romans 8:1-4

Psalm 145:5-10

 

            Pastor Joel Osteen is a great teller of stories. Here’s one of them. A certain man, who was not very well-to-do, saved up his dimes and quarters in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of taking a Caribbean cruise.

When he finally accumulated the funds for a ticket, he ran out to the nearest travel agent and booked his reservation. A month later, he found himself happily on board cruising the southern seas. Each day at dinner time, a sumptuous buffet was set out for the guests: roast beef, ham, seafood, pasta entrees, fresh salads, fruits, and vegetables, decadent desserts….. the best of everything! But oddly, each day at dinner time, this man sat by himself in the corner of the dining salon eating baloney and crackers. After a few days, one of the other guests couldn’t contain his curiosity. He approached the man as he munched on his modest meal and asked a question: “Sir, I know it’s none of my business, but with all the great food on board, why do you sit off alone eating this stuff? Why don’t you join me and my family and enjoy the buffet?” The man looked up at him and replied: “Thank you for asking, but for years, I’ve been saving up for this cruise. I was only able to save enough money to pay for the ticket. I couldn’t possibly afford such a meal.” Startled, the other man answered: “But don’t you understand? The price of the ticket includes these meals. Everything is already paid for!”

            At the beginning of the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he writes of what it means for a Christian to have life in the Spirit. He begins by reminding us that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” I like the translation of this verse found in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible: “If you belong to Jesus Christ, you won’t be punished. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Jesus Christ and will set you free from sin and death.”

            Don’t you know this is the very heart and soul of the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ. Once we have accepted Jesus and what God’s done through Jesus, we’re no longer sentenced to spiritual death. Put another way, we need have no fear of some meaningless oblivion at the end of life’s mortal journey; no fear of eternal separation from the One who creates and sustains us. Instead, we look forward to an eternal life in communion with the Almighty Force we call “God;” the Force who breathed life into us. True, our mortal bodies will die as all flesh sooner or later perishes. But the essence of who we are lives on. In that ongoing life, we believe we will be free of all the limitations of time and space; free of the aches and sufferings; free of the fears and sorrows of our present fragile condition. Bodily death will be a glorious passage rather than a hopeless expiration. The words of the Eleanor Hall hymn “Be Thou My Vision” resound with confidence: “Thou my inheritance now and always…. I ever with thee, and thou with me Lord.” And what makes this a reality, a certainty, for we live in the Spirit of Christ? Paul states it well: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do; sending his own Son….. in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

            Let’s break down this rather complex theology. Orthodox Christianity teaches that violation of God’s Holy Law – that which becomes like a millstone tied around the necks of those seeking God’s favor – requires payment of a penalty. Some have called this “forensic atonement.” That’s the significance of all those ritual sacrifices we find enacted in the religious life of the ancient Hebrews. Many progressives have discounted the Doctrine of Atonement as too Old Testament. Yet none can deny that In our human weakness, none of us – your pastor included – however hard we try, can perfectly fulfill God’s Holy Law, which boils down to this: Love God with all you got! Love neighbor with all you got! Yet Jesus, in one act of supreme sacrifice, arms outstretched on the cross at Calvary, both perfectly fulfilled God’s Law, and in so doing set us free from the penalty of the Law. Jesus, through that self-sacrificial act which we remember at table this morning, paid things up in full, once and for all; squared the house with God if you will. Again, this is at the very heart and soul of the gospel. 

            Why is it then that so many who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior continue to journey through life with such spiritual heaviness in their chests; trudging along as if a great millstone is tied around their necks? So many Christians seem uncertain of the destiny which Christ proclaims and Paul affirms. So many Christians are bent over under the law of the flesh rather than standing upright and tall in the freedom of the Holy Spirit of our Lord. So many Christians have doubts that the wages of their sin are truly paid in full. One of the most troubling things I hear a Christian say is this: If I make it to heaven.”

            We’re too often like the man in the corner of the dining salon eating his baloney and crackers. We’ve labored in faith to secure the ticket. After what is often a spiritual struggle, we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. But do we understand that upon our heartfelt and genuine acceptance, everything is already paid for? And the best the Lord has to offer – a veritable buffet of God’s spiritual blessings – is not only within reach, but is readily available for the receiving. Yet we can’t get to the buffet sitting off in some remote corner settling for baloney and crackers, mistakenly believing that the ticket covers only part of the cost. Jesus has paid it all!

            As the invitation is extended this morning to come to the banquet table our Lord has spread with the best – God’s very self – what might be spiritually heavy in your chest? What has you bent over like there’s a great millstone around your neck? Are you off in some corner thinking: “Woe is me. The sins I’ve committed in my life, the Lord could never forgive. I am not worthy to even approach that buffet, let alone partake from it.” Is there some wrong in your life today – some attitude, some habit, some thought process, some bad feeling which has you spiritually oppressed and imprisoned? Are you having trouble loving yourself, and in turn having trouble both giving and receiving love, to and from others…… to and from God? Do you feel like you’ve failed, for try as you may, you can’t seem to perfectly fulfill God’s Holy Law?

            Well, dear friends, the table is here before us, spread with the elements of Jesus’ sacrifice, and Jesus’ promise? This table stands as a perpetual reminder that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The bread and the cup, with their substance and fragrance, waft the good news that everything is already paid for. In the Spirit, we are “set free from the law of sin and death.” So put the baloney and crackers in a Baggie for a late night snack. Dinner is served. And your ticket covers the cost.

 

Our Father in heaven, as we come to the table the this morning, help us to let go of the fear, the guilt, the shame, the doubts which hold us captive. For in Christ, we are worthy to receive Your best. May we open ourselves to deep feeding in this hour, and Your spiritual sustenance which sets us free. We pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102