The Final Difference Between the Church and the World
October 13, 2008
“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea? as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Hebrews 11:29).
My aim in this sermon is to show you the final difference between the church and the world. The key word is “final,” by which I mean the ultimate difference between those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference.
Most days you really can’t tell at all unless you look closely, and even then you can’t always be certain. Let me illustrate. Suppose we go to the local Wal-Mart and take the first 50 people who enter the store, line them up, and ask you to pick out the Christians from the non-Christians. And let’s further suppose that you don’t know any of them personally. Just by looking, could you be certain?
The answer of course is no.
Elizabeth Elliot made this same observation another way. Go to a cemetery, she said. Any cemetery. Walk up and down the rows of gravestones. Buried beneath you are the mortal remains of men and women from every walk of life. Some of them lived a long time ago. Some were rich, some were poor, some were young, some were old, a few were well-known, most were not. Many of them are virtually forgotten today. And in that cemetery the saved and the lost lie side by side. You can’t tell by reading the inscriptions who knew the Lord and who didn’t.
We live in the same neighborhoods.
We go to the same schools.
We shop in the same stores.
We wear the same clothes.
We eat at the same restaurants.
We drive the same streets.
We work at the same companies.
That of course is not the whole story. Knowing the Lord does make a huge difference. Coming to Christ is so radical that it is like being born a second time, like starting a brand-new life, like becoming a new creation, like a blind man receiving his sight, like a dead man coming to life. Salvation is like being set free from prison. It’s like having the slate wiped clean. All of these are biblical pictures of what it means to become a Christian.
We have a new mind, a new heart, new desires, new hope, and we have a new destiny. And it is that last point that I wish to illustrate in this sermon. In this life it’s easy to get confused about the real difference between the church and the world. Jesus even said it would be that way when he told the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30. In the beginning the wheat and the weeds look very similar. It’s only later that the real differences become obvious. So it is for the people of God and the people of the world. We may superficially seem very similar, but if you go to the end of the story, the real difference becomes apparent.
Those who know Jesus have one destiny.
Those who don’t know Jesus have a completely different destiny.
We may look alike and act alike and talk alike and dress alike. We may live side by side and be good friends and cheer for the same football team. Our kids may hang out together. We may be best friends.
But we aren’t all going to the same place.
When the writer of Hebrews 11 made his list of the great heroes of faith, he included the Hebrews who followed Moses across the Red Sea, an event so momentous that we call it the Exodus. By faith they believed God in the face of an impossible situation and were rescued from certain destruction. But that’s not the whole story. Hebrews 11:29 adds the fact that when the Egyptians tried to follow them, they drowned when the waters of the Red Sea swept over them.
The world loves its own and hates what it does not understand. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
By faith some were saved.
Without faith others were lost.
This is the final difference between the church and the world. I would like to drive this point home with two key statements.
I. In this Life the World Often Seems to Prosper While the Church Suffers.
We have in this regard only to think of our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering so much at this very moment for their faith in Jesus. Here are a few current headlines from Compass Direct, a website offering “news from the frontlines of persecution”:
India—Evidence concocted against Christians in death of Hindu leader.
India—Three more Christians murdered in Orissa.
India—Christian couple killed, houses torched in Orissa.
Pakistan—Pastor suffers police attacks, death threats.
Egypt—Court gives Christian boys to Muslim father.
Kenya—Islamists attack church in northern town.
Laos—Village to expel 55 Christians.
Laos—Christians pressured to renounce faith.
Eritrea—Christians languish in prison.
China—Christian bookstore owner awaits trial.
Nigeria—Muslim extremists burn church buildings.
In my last sermon, I mentioned the pastor in India whose hand was chopped off by militant Hindus because he would not burn a stack of Bibles. Voice of the Martyrs reports that 70,000 Indian Christians have been displaced in attacks in the Orissa state. They also report that seven Christians have been killed so far this month in Mosul, Iraq. This last item is especially concerning because the Christian presence in Iraq goes back almost 2000 years, to the early days of the Christian movement. In the last week 3000 Christians have fled Mosul to escape attacks by Muslim extremists. According to an article in the Christian Post, those extremists seem bent on forcibly evicting Christians from Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city.
On one level this should not surprise us since Jesus himself warned his followers that this would happen:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
The world loves its own and hates what it does not understand. Christians have always been a threat to the status quo because our ultimate allegiance is not to a country or to a political party but to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are citizens of heaven temporarily living on the earth. While we live here, our hearts are in heaven. That infuriates the intellectual elites because we not only believe there is a God, we go further and say that God has actually spoken and that we must give attention to what he says.
Christians believe something very profound and fundamentally very radical.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
If you think about it, Christians believe something very profound and fundamentally very radical. In an age of moral and spiritual anarchy, we believe there is a God in heaven who has spoken to the human race. He spoke and made himself clear in his Word, the Bible. Writing in the Manchester Guardian, Christina Odone describes the principle this way:
We believe in authority. In an era that prizes individual freedom, Christians believe in a supreme being who dictates our words and deeds. To modern ears, the concept sounds outrageously autocratic. From when to die to when to give birth, from whom to have sex with, to how to spend their money, the chatteratis believe they should enjoy unlimited freedom. But for the Christian, freedom is not an end in itself. Unfettered individualism can mean greed and selfishness, the evasion of personal responsibility, the destruction of the family. Christians believe that from an all-powerful authority stems a clear system of judgment which teaches that there is a right and a wrong.
This truth informs everything we say and everything we believe. And in a just a few days, it will inform the way millions of Americans vote on November 4. Not long ago I was asked for my advice about how to vote. Here it is. Vote like a Christian. Vote Christianly. By saying that I don’t suppose that every Christian will vote exactly the same way or for the same candidates. But my plea is for Christians to remember what they believe when they go into the voting booth. You are a citizen of heaven. Vote like one.
You are a citizen of heaven. Vote like one.
But to put the matter that way challenges the secular establishment that views religion as a private matter that should not impact public policy. The people of the world are all for “religion” in the generic sense so long as it doesn’t impact their right to have an abortion or to support gay marriage or to promote sexual liberation.
It is the same today as it was in the days of Moses. The Egyptians could not understand why the Jews utterly rejected the idolatry of Egypt. This led to an enmity that went beyond nativism or ethnic prejudice or bigotry against those whose only crime was being different from the majority. Because the Hebrews worshiped the God of the Bible, their very existence in Egypt was a threat, which is why they were enslaved and why Pharaoh wanted their baby boys killed. For many years the people of God suffered reproach from their overlords. The last few verses of Exodus 2 paint a beautiful picture of God’s care for his suffering people:
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exodus 2:23-25).
I received a note two weeks ago from a Christian in India who wanted to know why God allows his people to be persecuted. There is no answer that will suffice when churches are being burned and Christians are being murdered. The same might be said during the long years of slavery in Egypt. It is only in retrospect that God’s hand and plan become clear. God knew all along what he planned to do, he never abandoned his people, and even in their worst moments he never forgot about them. He always planned to raise up Moses to deliver them from Egypt.
II. But in the End the Church Will Be Saved and the World Will Be Lost.
There is no starker way to say it.
In the end God delivers his people. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Indeed it does. After forty years of exile, the day finally came when God told Moses to go back to Egypt and say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” When Pharaoh refused, God sent the ten plagues, one after the other, proof of his divine power and a revelation of the impotence of the gods of Egypt. When the tenth plague came and the firstborn of Egypt died during the night, Pharaoh relented and let the Jews leave Egypt.
Then he changed his mind.
The final showdown came at the Red Sea where the Jews faced an impossible situation. With the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army closing in behind them, they were trapped. And as trapped people often do, they turned on their leader and accused Moses of leading them into the desert where they would soon die. Why not just stay in Egypt and die there? Why bother leaving if you’re going to die like this? “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 13:12).
Good point, if those are your only two options.
But in all their fear and anger, they had left God out of the equation, a very human mistake that we all tend to make in desperate moments.
If it all depends on us, we’re sunk.
If we have to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in, we finished.
Sometimes all you can do is say, “Lord, have mercy.” </h6 class=”pullquote”>
During the conference at Cannon Beach last week, I gave a message called When God Prays For You from Romans 8:26-27. I mentioned that there are times in life when you are so overwhelmed, so fearful, so tired, so worn out, so discouraged, so uncertain that you can’t pray. Sometimes all you can do is say, “Lord, have mercy.” And when we can’t pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us. Someone who heard that message sent me an email saying that her daughter had been hospitalized and the doctors can’t seem to find out what is wrong. The email said, “She seems so far away, and all I can pray is ’Father have mercy, Jesus have mercy, Lord have mercy.’”
But that is enough.
The Jews thought they were between a rock and a hard place, with the Egyptians behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. But God had already determined that he would use this event to bring glory to himself, not only in delivering his people but also in utterly defeating the Egyptian army. Then the Lord gave this amazing instruction to Moses:
Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen (Exodus 14:15-18).
When we read the story of the Exodus, we tend to focus on the great miracle of the parting of the water and the Jews marching across as if on dry ground. And that truly is a stupendous event. But it is only half of the story.
Pharaoh and his men evidently thought that if the Jews could do it, they could too.
The same God who opened the Red Sea for his people closed the waters around Pharaoh and his army. They all perished. Not one single soldier survived.
When we read Hebrews 11:29, we must not miss the double emphasis:
“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea? as on dry land.” That’s the part we focus on.
“But when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.” We forget about that—but it is equally important.
Not everyone is going to heaven.
We don’t hear that message very often but it needs to be repeated over and over again. Even the most famous verse in the Bible teaches that not everyone will be saved. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,? that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us through the death of his Son.
“Shall not perish.” Ponder those three little words.
Some people perish.
They don’t make it.
Here’s another verse from John 3. This one is less well-known, but it is just as true as John 3:16.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:36).
Or we can see it even more plainly in 1 John 5:12.
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Or if you want to go to the end of the Bible, consider the solemn words of Revelation 20:15.
If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
I wonder how God could make it any clearer.
You + Jesus = Eternal life.
You – Jesus = Eternal death.
The people of the world are lost, doomed, and sent to destruction just as surely as the ancient Egyptians perished in the Red Sea.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Here is the final difference between the church and the world. The true church — that is, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, those who know him and love him and believe in him and follow him — is delivered from sin and guilt and given eternal life through Jesus Christ. The world — that is, those who live without knowing Jesus, who follow their own way, who trust in religion but not in Christ, or who reject all religion, who believe that this world is all there is, or who believe in salvation through self-effort, or who think they don’t need to be saved, or who simply become so immersed in the pursuit of sex, money or power or the glory and fame this world offers that they have no time to consider their own soul — perishes forever in hell. The people of the world are lost, doomed, and sent to destruction just as surely as the ancient Egyptians perished in the Red Sea.
All in the Same Boat
To put the matter that way may lead some to think that Christians are in a position of moral superiority. Anyone who believes that is sadly mistaken. We’re all in the same boat. No matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. The Bible says in Romans 3:22b-23, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No difference between rich and poor, young and old, black or white, male or female. We all stand condemned by our sin and all of us are under the judgment of God. Our sins may not be exactly the same, but we are all sinners nonetheless.
And we crucified the only truly righteous man ever to walk the earth.
Jesus Christ was pure, holy, and perfect in every way. He never sinned, not even one time. Though He was severely tempted, He never gave in. All the rest of us fall so far short that we cannot begin to be compared to him. And we crucified him. His reward for doing God’s will was death on a bloody Roman cross. Here is the wonder of grace at work. From the murder of a perfect man came God’s plan to rescue the human race. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Out of the worst evil God brought forth the greatest good. And only God could have done it. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Note the little word “still.” We were “still” sinners when Christ died for us. He didn’t die for us while we were still “church members” or “good people” or “law-abiding citizens” or “nice neighbors” or “high achievers,” but he died for us while we were still lost in our sin and far away from God. That’s the truth about all of us. Christ died for sinners because it is only sinners that can be saved.
From the murder of a perfect man came God’s plan to rescue the human race.
How do we come into contact with the benefits of Christ’s death? Reach out with the empty hands of faith and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. The door to heaven is marked, “For Sinners Only.” If you are a sinner, you can come in. No one else need apply. Christ died so that sinners like you and me could be saved. Here is God’s call to you and me: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’” (Isaiah 1:18). And here is God’s promise to those who come by faith. “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7b).
That’s why there is no room for boasting. What is there to boast about when salvation is by grace, Jesus has paid the price, and you simply reach out and take the gift of God by faith? Did the Jews have anything to boast about when they crossed the Red Sea? No, it was God who glorified himself by delivering his people and by destroying the Egyptians. The way of salvation is the same today as it was yesterday, and it is the same today as it will be tomorrow. We are saved . . .
By grace . . .
Through faith . . .
On the basis of the blood of Jesus Christ.
That means anyone, anywhere can be saved any time. If you find within your heart the slightest desire to be delivered from your sin, I have some wonderful news for you. You can be saved right now. The death of Christ provides the full payment for our sins. What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us through the death of his Son. The only thing left is to believe in him. Let all who read these words take them to heart. Run to the cross. Turn from your sin, lay down your self-will, and lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and died for you. Cast yourself completely on Jesus for your salvation. If you trust in him with all your heart, he will not turn you away. This is the promise of God to all who believe in Jesus. God help you to trust in him. Amen.