Has God Lost the Battle?
Romans 11:1-10In this sermon series we are looking at Romans 9-11, arguably the three most difficult chapters in the New Testament. I’ve called it “Understanding God’s Plan” because these chapters help us understand the flow of events in history from God’s point of view. To us in the 21st-century, these chapters are unusual because they talk a lot about Israel and the Jewish people. Paul raises questions about Jewish unbelief that most of us don’t think about very often, if at all. All three chapters contain a lot of unusual Old Testament quotations. Paul wades into the deep waters of election and predestination, and after we are finished studying it, we have to admit that there is a lot about these chapters that we just don’t understand. But the overall theme is easy to find if you remember one fact: Romans 9-11 is all about the Jewish problem.
What is the Jewish Problem?
The Jewish Problem or the Jewish Question is this: If Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah, the Messiah of Israel, then why is it that so many Jewish men and women have chosen not to follow him? That is a problem today, and that was an even bigger problem back in the first century because if he really was the Messiah that God had promised in the Old Testament, how could it be that the majority of Israel turned away from him? Paul deals with that question in Romans 9-11.
Why The Jews Rejected Jesus
In 2005 David Klinghoffer published a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Shortly after it was released, the Jerusalem Post published a review of the book by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. So we can be clear about things, both Klinghoffer and Boteach are practicing Jews and I haven’t read the book. In fact, I hadn’t heard of it until I read Boteach’s review. Klinghoffer believes the Jewish rejection of Jesus led to the birth of Western Civilization. If the Jews had accepted Jesus, Christianity would have remained a “sect” of Judaism, and thus would never have become a great world religion. Boteach deals with (and rejects) this historical assertion. He believes Judaism failed to take God’s truth and spread it to the world. By being insular, the Jews “left a gigantic void that Christianity, with its emphasis on salvation through faith rather than righteousness, filled and drew hundreds of millions of adherents thirsting for a heavenly connection.”
At several points Boteach touches on the theological differences that separate Jews and Christians. Ultimately there is really only one point of contention: Who is Jesus? He puts the matter this way:
“For Jews it comes down to the fact that Jesus claimed to be a deity, which is anathema to Judaism, he did not fulfill the Messianic prophecies about the end of war and the resurrection of the dead, and his followers abrogated the Torah.”That last quote may seem harsh, and perhaps Rabbi Boteach included it for shock value. But that’s only one side of the story. Those who have read his columns know that while he truly believes what he wrote in that paragraph, he is also a strong friend to evangelical Christians because we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a nation. In these days of theological confusion, it is good to encounter a man who plainly states that Jesus is the issue that divides Christians and Jews. We believe Jesus is not only the Son of God, he is also God the Son. This is what the New Testament plainly teaches. As Boteach lucidly explains, this is the real reason that Jews today don’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Frankly, I find that sort of honesty refreshing and even invigorating. After wading through so much ecumenical mush, it’s good to hear a man stand up and say (in this case) what he doesn’t believe. It’s easier to have a conversation with someone like that than to talk to someone who tries to reduce all religions to “Let’s be nice.”
“(F)or the Jews the very essence of Christianity remains a heresy, namely, that a man is G-d.”
“Ultimately, the Jewish distaste for Christianity is because Jesus’s followers insisted that he was divine. Period. Every other objection pales into insignificance.”
“But what the Jews could not, dare not, and indeed never will, accept is that Jesus was anything more than a mortal man. For the Jews, the Christian belief that Jesus was god is a pagan idea that has survived into the modern world and is no different to the Greek belief that the god Zeus came down to earth in bodily form, or that the Roman deification of their emperor, or the Japanese insistence that Hirohito was the descendant of the sun god.”
It’s good to be nice. It’s even better to know the truth. The birth of Jesus means that God became a man. God bless Rabbi Boteach for understanding that Jesus is the real issue. Always has been, always will be. One can only hope that one day he will come to the same conclusion as his fellow Jews, John and Peter, did in the first century:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).Boteach’s review of Klinghoffer’s book puts the matter into stark perspective. In Paul’s day as in ours, most Jews who know about Jesus don’t regard him as the Messiah, much less as Savior and Lord. While they may respect him, they do not worship him. From a theological point of view, this is the Jewish problem. And Romans 9-11 is Paul’s explanation of that problem from a Christian point of view.
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Romans 9 talks about Israel’s past. It traces Jewish unbelief to God’s electing purposes. Not everyone in Israel was chosen by God for salvation.
Romans 10 talks about Israel’s present. The Jews are truly guilty before God because even though they have a zeal for God, it is not according to knowledge. Though the gospel was preached to the Jews, they turned away from it.
Romans 11 talks about Israel’s future. Paul is going to tell us that Israel still has a great future in God’s plan.
Paul’s argument in Romans 11 contains two main parts. In verses 1-10he tells us that Israel’s failure to believe is not total. Not all the Jews failed to believe. Some did believe. Verses 11- 24 explain that Israel’s failure to believe in Christ is not final. What is happening today is not the final chapter concerning the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
As you look at this passage, it is easy to understand it in terms of two questions, the first one in verse one, and the second in verse seven. The first question is answered in verses 2-6, and the second is answered in verses 7-10.
“Did God reject his people?” (v. 1). When he says “his people,” he means Israel. The answer is “By no means.” Other translations include “Of course not!” or “Certainty not!” The King James Version uses the phrase “God forbid,” which isn’t literal but catches the force of the phrase. Did God reject his own people Israel? No way. And he gives us proof in verses 2-6. Then he says “What then?” in verse 7. And he gives us the conclusion of the matter in verses 7-10.
I. Has God Lost the Battle for the Human Race?
So taking question #1: Did God reject his people? I have simply rephrased that question in this way: Has God lost the battle for the human race? When you consider the headlines, you might be tempted to say yes. When you think about the threat of nuclear war with Iran or North Korea, you might say yes. When you consider 1.3 million abortions in America last year, when you consider the broken homes, the broken marriages, the spiraling drug problem, the rise of illegitimacy, maybe the answer in your mind is yes. And if you consider your own personal struggles and the difficulties your loved ones face, maybe you would say that God has lost the battle and Satan has won the day. The answer of the Apostle Paul is, “Don’t ever say that!” No matter how hopeless the situation looks,, God has not lost the battle for humanity. The question is, “Has God given up on his people Israel? Has he given up because they rejected Jesus? “The answer is God forbid, may it never be.
Paul gives three answers to show us that God hasn’t rejected his people and he hasn’t lost the battle.
This is the Apostle Paul himself. “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin” (v. 1). Before he became a Christian, Paul persecuted the Christian church. He hated Jesus and he hated the followers of Jesus. He was a terrorist who became an evangelist. He was an opponent who became an apostle. From hating the Son of God, he became the greatest preacher of the gospel the world has ever seen. Paul says, “Look at me and remember what I used to be and what I am now.”
I met a young woman who recently trusted Christ. It was not an easy decision because she was raised in a Muslim household and her father is an imam (a Muslim spiritual leader) in the local mosque. For several years she wrestled with the concept of Jesus as the Son of God. When she finally decided to follow Christ, her family disowned her. Her father ordered her out of the house, and her mother said, “We will talk one more time and then we will have no more contact.” She is forbidden to speak to her siblings about her new faith in Jesus. She has received numerous threats from other Muslims. If she goes out in public, she cannot go alone. Was she surprised by her family’s reaction? Yes and no. She knew it wouldn’t be easy to become a Christ-follower. When I talked with her, she could not stop smiling. “My friends don’t understand, but I am so happy now.” The joy of the Lord outweighs the price she has had to pay.
The second example comes from the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After his great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah faced an enormous bout with depression. He was afraid of a wicked woman named Jezebel (wife of Ahab, king of Israel) who threatened to kill him. So he runs hundreds of miles away and hides in a cave on Mt. Horeb in the Sinai Peninsula. Having won the battle, he now fears losing his own life. He thinks they will come after him and kill him because he has humiliated the prophets of Baal. While he was hiding, the Lord asked him a simple question: “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:9). Elijah says something like this: “Lord, you don’t understand. Your people have rejected the covenant. They are tearing down the altars and killing the prophets. I’m down here running for my life. What do you mean ‘What are you doing here?’ They are going crazy up there.” Then he added these words: “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (v. 10). A pretty sad situation. God answers him with some good news. “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18).
“I am the only one left.” The Lord said, “That’s not right. You’re not the only one left. I’ve got 7,000 people scattered all over the land who have not bowed the knee to Baal. That’s 7,000 people. What are you talking about?” This is called the Elijah Complex. It happens when you start thinking you are the only one serving the Lord.
I am the only Christian in my class.
I am surrounded by pagans at the office.
There’s not a Christian within twenty miles of where I work.
I’m the only believer in my family.
Everyone else makes fun of my faith.
I’m the only one who worships the Lord.
That’s the Elijah Complex. When you get it, it makes you do strange things like running away from your problems so the bad guys can’t get you. But the truth is, God never lets it go that far. He never lets it get down to just you, because you’re a little bit shaky and so am I. That’s why he always has his people in the most unlikely places.
Has God failed in his plan for the human race? No. Look at Paul, look at the 7,000, and then look at the remnant saved by grace. “So, too, at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace” (v. 5). Who are the people of the remnant? They are those Jews who have become followers of Jesus Christ. They are Jewish by heritage and background and they are also Jews for Jesus. Has God failed in his plan? No. Look at all the Jewish believers around the world. The organizations that work in this area tell us that there are more Jewish believers today than ever before. I know the numbers are small, but that trickle is building into a stream and that stream is building into a river and that river some day is going to build into a flood as we move toward the time when Christ comes back to the earth. We will see that in more detail as we trace Paul’s thought later in Romans 11.
Here are two conclusions we need to consider.
Conclusion #1: Appearances are deceiving.
Appearances can be deceiving. I admit that. We live in a world where Satan is powerful and the bad guys often seem to win. Like Asaph in Psalm 73, we can become discouraged when we see the arrogance of evildoers and the prosperity of the wicked. But just like the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi found out earlier this week, there is always a day of reckoning for evildoers, if not in this life, then in the life to come. “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
Conclusion #2: God never leaves himself without a witness in the world.
I find this to be a very encouraging thought. In 1994 I attended my first Promise Keepers rally in Indianapolis. That was back in the heyday of the movement, when it was still drawing huge crowds and filling the largest stadiums. I remember being blown away by the emotional power of 62,000 men from all over the Midwest joining together in the Hoosier Dome to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Purify My Heart.” They laughed, they clapped, they cheered, they wept, and they unashamedly hugged each other and committed to be better husbands and fathers and to live for Christ openly on the job. Twelve years later the memory lingers in my mind as a reminder that we are not alone because God never leaves himself without a witness in the world.
God has his people everywhere and just when you think you are the only one left, God reminds you During that same year our church became embroiled in the Gay Rights controversy in Oak Park. For two or three months, it was pretty hot and heavy. My name was mentioned repeatedly in the Oak Park papers. Things got so hot that if I was on the street and someone asked, “Are you Ray Pritchard?” I’d say, “Well, it depends on who’s asking. You tell me who you are and I’ll tell you who I am.” As we moved toward the showdown meeting at the Village Hall, I felt an enormous sense of spiritual warfare. One day I received a phone call from a woman who ran a music and dance academy in Oak Park. Now I thought, “What’s the chance that the head of a music academy in Oak Park is going to be on our side?” That’s not very likely. She said, “Pastor Ray, you don’t know me,” which was true, because I can’t remember her name and never met her. It was just that one phone call. She said, “I just want you to know that we are proud of you and we are proud of the people of Calvary Memorial Church and we have been praying for you. Every day, my people at the music academy are lifting you up and we’re covering you with the blood of Jesus Christ.” When I got off the phone, I said, “Hallelujah, Lord, you’ve got your people everywhere! You’ve got people praying for us that we have never heard of.”
On the last night of the PK rally, a man came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and realized that I had no idea who he was. “Are you Ray Pritchard?” I thought it was safe to answer so I said “Yes.” “I heard you on WMBI talking about the Gay Rights controversy in Oak Park.” It turned out that he lived in another Chicago suburb. “I just want to shake your hand, and thank God for you and for your church.” Talk about a needle in the haystack. There are 62,000 men wall to wall inside the Hoosier Dome and he found me to say thanks. God has his people everywhere.
Don’t ever say you’re the only one and don’t ever say the devil is winning and don’t ever say God has lost the battle because God is winning the battle and in the end we’re going to come out on the winning side. And between now and then, be encouraged and don’t be deceived by the appearance of things around you.
II. Why Are Some Lost and Others Saved?
If God is winning the battle, then why are so many people lost? Why are some saved and others lost? Let me give you, from the last few verses of this passage, three answers to those questions.
A. Because some people trust in works and others in grace.
Speaking of salvation, Paul says in verse six, “If by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” When it comes to going to heaven, you can’t mix grace and works. You can go by the grace of God or you can try to get there by doing your own good works, but I’ve got bad news. Works won’t work. It’s either the grace of God–heaven as a free gift, wholly apart from the works you do–or you don’t go at all.
B. Because some resist the truth and are hardened by God.
The passage ends with some strange-sounded Old Testament quotes. The first comes from Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10; the second comes from Psalm 69:22, 23. The latter quote includes this phrase, “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them” (v. 9). The table represents God’s protection and provision, as in Psalm 23:5 where David says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” God always protects and provides for his people. But if those blessings are not received by faith, then they become a stumbling block. God’s blessings always demand a response one way or the other. Either you accept them with gratitude or you reject what God has done in your life. You receive the truth of God or you resist it. Because Israel resisted God and took his blessings for granted, God said, “Since you don’t appreciate what I have done for you, I am going to harden your heart.” And that is why some people are not saved. This “judicial hardening” always comes as a result of people responding wrongly to God’s blessings. Some people reject the gospel after hearing it over and over again. Because they continually resist the truth, God hardens their heart against it.
C. Because others yield to God.
Other people hear the truth, yield to God, and are saved by grace. That’s the story of
everyone who knows Jesus Christ. That is the only way to come into the kingdom of God. You yield to God and are saved by grace. As long as you fight against God, you cannot be saved. As long as you try to climb the ladder of your own success, you will never make it. If you think you are good enough to go to heaven, you are in for a surprise when you die. There is only one way into heaven,–by yielding to God and being saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
When our son Mark was in the sixth grade, his class took a trip to Wrigley Field. When they asked me to go as a chaperone, I said yes because I had never been to see the Cubs play. As the bus drove to the stadium, the mother of one of Mark’s friends was sitting next to me. We got into a little conversation. She said, “Pastor Ray, how did you become a Christian?” And I told her. Later I realized that it had been years and years since anyone had asked me that question and years and years since I had told anyone the story.
Raised in the Church
I grew up in a Russellville, Alabama, a small town in the northwest corner of the state, where Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee come together. We moved there when I was two years old so that my father could begin his medical practice as a general surgeon. Although Mom and Dad didn’t go to church every week, they always made sure we attended Sunday School at the First Baptist Church. Mom dressed each of the four Pritchard boys in little white shirts and ties. All of us went through the cradle roll, beginner, primary, junior, intermediate, and high school departments. All Baptists understand what I am saying. I learned John 3:16 and I learned “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
When I was nine years old, my brother Alan and I went to Shocco Springs Baptist Assembly in Talladega, Alabama. We spent a week there. On the final night, they had a service where you could make a commitment. My brother Alan (who was 8 years old) had made some kind of commitment. On the bus coming back from the camp, our pastor, Brother Colley, stood up. He seemed like the biggest man I had ever seen. I thought at the time that he was 12 feet tall. I never saw him without a black suit, a white shirt and a dark tie. Although he was a kind man personally, I was scared to talk to him. So we were driving back and Brother Colley stands up and says, “Ray Pritchard, come to the front.” Right in front of everybody he said, “Ray, I understand you made a decision for Christ this week at camp.” I didn’t. It had been my brother Alan. But I was scared so I said, “Yes, sir. I did.” He said, “I want you to come forward to join the church on Sunday.” I said, “Yes sir, I will.” I just wanted to get back to my seat. He called my brother up and said, “Alan, I understand you made a decision for Christ this week.” Well, that was true. “Uh, yes, sir.” “I want you to come forward and join the church.” “Yes sir.”
When the invitation time came on Sunday morning, Alan and I walked down the aisle, sat down, and a couple of great big deacons came over and sat down next to us. They filled out a card saying that we were joining the church. After the singing ended, we stood next to Brother Colley who said to the congregation, “We want to present these two fine young men to the church, Dr. Pritchard’s sons here. All in favor of receiving them, signify by raising hands.” We got in by a unanimous vote. Everyone filed by and shook our hands. The women of the church said they were so proud of us. It was a great day.
But nobody asked me if I was saved. Nobody took the Bible and showed me how to be saved. And I don’t really criticize them because I don’t know what I would have said if they had asked me about salvation. At that point I didn’t understand enough to know how to give much of an answer one way or the other. In a week or two I was baptized and Alan was baptized, and we became members of the First Baptist Church of Russellville, Alabama.
Debating the Church of Christ Kids
For the next few years the church became my second home. After school I would hang out at the church. Morning, noon and night, whenever church was open, I was always there. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I had a big collection of religious books on my shelf. I read everything from books on Buddhism and Hinduism to Frank Mead’s Handbook of Denominations. I read Jeane Dixon’s The Gift of Prophecy and books about all sorts of strange religious groups. I was into religion, I was seeking some answers.
I loved to debate the Church of Christ kids who lived in our town. That was big. That was how I learned the Bible. I knew the arguments so well that I could take our verses and beat them and their verses and beat us. I knew hundreds of Bible verses. I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.
During my high school years, my social life revolved around school events and church events. When I was a junior, the church leaders looked at me and said, “Young man, you will probably be in the ministry some day.” When Pastor Johnny Holcomb of Waco Baptist Church needed a speaker for his youth night, they called the First Baptist Church, and Marshall Crawley (the youth pastor) said, “Ray Pritchard will come out and speak for you.” I had just finished reading Dr. W. A. Criswell’s book Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True. So I read through the book again, went out there, and gave a 17 minute sermon on why I believe the Bible is true. I covered Genesis through Revelation and everything in between in 17 minutes.
If you had asked me at that point, during my junior year in high school, “Ray, are you saved? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?” I would have said, “What are you talking about? I’m a member of the church. I was baptized by Brother Colley, I went to Vacation Bible School, I teach Vacation Bible School, I am in the youth choir, what are you talking about?” But it didn’t matter. I was extremely religious and did everything on the outside people wanted saved people to do. But I didn’t know Jesus on the inside.
Turning Point at Tishimingo
The turning point in my life came in June 1969 after my junior year of high school. The youth group went to Tishomingo State Park in the northeast corner of Mississippi for a weekend retreat. We didn’t have a speaker, so our youth director said, “Ray, would you give the message on Friday night?” It has never been hard for me to get up and talk to people. I put together a little talk called “Mission Impossible.”
I should add one key point that was unknown to anyone else. In the weeks leading up to that retreat, I had a growing sense of emptiness in my life, a growing sense that there had to be something more. I was going through all the religious things that a Christian teenager should do, and late at night I would stay awake and wonder, “Is this all there is? Is this it? Is this all?” I didn’t know the answer.
On Saturday of the youth retreat, a group of students from the University of Alabama came and talked to us. It is going to be hard for you to understand what I’m about to say, but this was almost forty years ago, and in Alabama nobody had ever heard of this revolutionary group. They were associated with some radical organization I had never heard of called Campus Crusade for Christ. There were four or five of them, not the leaders, just members of the group from the university in Tuscaloosa. They talked about how Jesus Christ was real and how he had transformed them from the inside out. When they talked about knowing Jesus personally, I was blown away. I had never heard anything like it in all my life. Then it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew the words, they knew the Word. I knew the message, they knew the Master. I knew the religion, they knew Jesus Christ. Suddenly the scales fell from my eyes and I realized that I was not saved, though I was religious and baptized and a church member and had done everything the church wanted me to do. I did not know the Lord.
If you ask, “How did you feel?” I felt great. Like you feel when you go to the doctor and he finally tells you what’s wrong. Now I knew why life had been so empty. When we got home that night, I was still thinking about it. I must have gone to church the next morning, but I don’t remember it.
“Jesus If You Are Real”
That Sunday afternoon I was thinking, “Ray, you’ve got to do some business with Jesus.” I didn’t even know how. I didn’t know what to do. But I clearly remember this. Late that Sunday afternoon, 5:15 PM (I am very certain about the time), I walked out the front door of my house, sat on the concrete steps by myself, with nobody else around. I bowed my head and said, “Jesus, if you are real, come into my life. Amen.” Then I got up and walked back inside. If you had been watching, you have seen me sit down, bow my head, say a few words, and get up and walk back inside the house. You wouldn’t have known that something of eternal significance had just happened. I didn’t hear the angels sing, I didn’t hear the voice of God, but I do remember a tingling feeling on the inside. The kind of sense of expectation and anticipation when you’ve just done something important and you want to know what is going to happen next.
I walked inside the house. I didn’t know what to do. I opened my Bible and started reading 1 John. I have no idea why I picked that part of the Bible. I found out later that was a great book to read because it is written to help people know they truly are saved. But now I had a problem. What was I going to say? Who should I tell? I mean, this was a real problem because here I was, a leader of the youth group, just getting saved. I mean, if kids in our youth group started getting saved, that would mess up everything. What would that say about the kind of youth program we had been having? That really bothered me. I felt like my reputation was on the line. So I decided very sincerely that I wasn’t going to tell anybody anything about what I had just done. I thought it was safer that way. I had kind of gotten my life together, and I was going to keep it quiet and just go on.
That resolve not to tell anybody lasted one week. One miserable week. When something great has happened to you, you want to tell and you’re scared to. The next weekend our youth group went to Beth McIntosh’s camp on the Tennessee River. We went swimming, we played volleyball, and we had a cookout. At about 9 PM we gathered in her screened-in front porch. It was a beautiful setting, kind of dark. Marshall Crawley stood up and said, “I’d like you guys to just stand up and tell us what Jesus has been doing in your life.” The Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Ray, this is for you.” Dixie Weatherford got up. Phil Newton got up. Ricky Kirkpatrick got up. Denise Kirby got up. At least two, maybe three times, I actually got up in the semi-darkness to go forward, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell them what had happened.
That evening ended. We started the drive back to my home. It was me in the car driving and Buzzy McKinney, a good friend, and my younger brother Alan. We crossed Wilson Dam, drove through Muscle Shoals, and then by Littleville, heading back toward Russellville. And I couldn’t stand it anymore. So I said, “I’ve gotta tell you what’s happened to me.” So I told Buzzy McKinney and I told Alan. To the day I die I will never be able to express my gratitude enough to Buzzy who heard my story and said, “That’s great. You’ve gotta tell everybody.” And I said, “Do you think so?” “Yeah!” He kept pushing me, “Yeah! You’ve gotta tell everybody. You gotta tell Marshall Crawley and you’ve gotta tell everybody. This is great. This is fantastic.”
So we dropped him off about 11:45 p.m., almost midnight, and Alan and I were driving home. My brother is now in the front seat. I looked at him. He joined the church the same time I did, and we were baptized together So I said to him, “Are you saved?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “No you’re not.” I don’t recommend that technique of evangelism. That often does not work very well. Even with brothers and sisters it doesn’t work very well. “Well I don’t know.” “Are you sure?” “I don’t know.” “You want to get saved?” “Yeah, I guess so.” He didn’t know what to do. A few minutes after midnight we got out of the car, knelt in the gravel in my driveway. I prayed and my brother prayed. I led my brother Alan to Jesus. The first person I ever led to Christ was my brother Alan, one week after I became a Christian.
You may wonder why I am sharing this with you in such great detail. I have a very personal reason. June 21 will mark exactly 37 years to the day since I sat down on those concrete steps as a confused, church-going teenager, and said, “Dear Jesus, if you are real, come into my life.” That was thirty-seven years ago. I couldn’t have dreamed then the privilege I’d have of sharing this story with you. I had no idea of how the Lord was going to lead me or the path my life would take. The greatest honor I have ever had in my life is the honor I have of simply telling you what Jesus Christ has done for me.
One of my most cherished possessions is a Bible I owned in those early years. It’s old and worn and the pages are crinkled. It’s great. Feels just like an old Bible ought to feel. My parents bought it for me in Christmas of 1968. After I was saved, I had it inscribed Ray Pritchard, June 21, 1969 so I would never forget the day Jesus Christ came into my life.
The Bible says those who trust in him will never be put to shame. I have done a lot of things I have been ashamed of over the last 37 years, but I am happy to say I have never been ashamed of Jesus. I’ve done a lot of things that have disappointed other people, but I am here to tell you that Jesus has never done anything in the last 37 years to disappoint me. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, I recommend him to you.
I recommend that you pray a simple prayer asking Jesus to come into your life. You can use your own words and express it any way you want, but if you are sincere about wanting Jesus to be your Savior, he will not turn you away. I know that sometimes people wonder why we ask people to “pray the prayer.” It’s not the specific words that matter. I freely admit that my prayer wasn’t very deep or very profound: “Jesus, if you are real, come into my life. Amen.” As prayers go, that’s not much. But it worked for me because God judges the heart, not the particular words we use. You know why I talk about praying the prayer? Because 37 years ago, I prayed the prayer and Jesus Christ came into my life and he has never left. If you give your heart to Jesus, you will never regret it. You will still be glad 25 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 1000 years from now, 10,000 times 10,000 years. You’ll still be glad you gave your heart to Jesus. I am so glad that I did 37 years ago. I am happy to stand up and praise the name of my Lord who has been so good to me. Amen.
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