Monday, February 04, 2008

Church and the Super Bowl

On a Sunday, probably much like this one in so many ways, a little over two years ago, our world was rocked by a massive disaster. Called the Asian Tsunami or the Boxing Day Tsunami, an unimaginably large earthquake shook the very foundations of the earth, and death emanated from its epicenter.

This earthquake was one of the largest ever recorded in modern history, it registered a 9.3 on the Richter scale having originated nearly 100 miles off the coast of northern Sumatra and about 19 miles under the ocean’s surface that produced waves that peaked at nearly 100 feet above the ocean’s surface. It has been guessed that if you could put all of the seismic activity relating to earthquakes since 1906 into a mathematic equation, nearly 13% of that total occurred on December 26th, 2005. The resulting loss of life is almost an unfathomable 229,866 men, women, and children.

On Thursday, November 12th 1970, an intense cyclone referred to afterwards as the Bhoda Cyclone, producing winds of between 111-130 mph and flooding of 9-12 feet, which is equivalent to the strength of a category 3 hurricane, descended upon what is now Bangladesh and claimed the lives of between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

In the 20th century alone, terrors emanating from atheistic communism have claimed the lives of between 65 and 95 million people. Through wars, genocide, purges, political maneuvering, and random and wanton murder, small segments of powerful men have condemned millions of others to death.

The horrific scope and reality of tragedies and atrocities, whether of man’s own creation or as the result of divine or “natural” causes, are often communicated in a variety of ways. For instance, these types of events are often recounted in numbers of jobs lost, dollars lost, homes or property destroyed, homes evacuated, people infected, square miles covered, miles per hour (wind), depth of flood waters, and lives lost.

That being the case, the single greatest calamity ever to fall upon the earth and to afflict mankind cannot be measured in the numbers of homes lost, lives lost, property destroyed, or in terms of economic impact. No, the greatest of all calamities – the worst of the worst – was so massive, so far reaching, and so devastating that it can only be communicated, numerically speaking, by the number of survivors. And there were only eight of them.

This climaxing event, and the events that lead up to it and flowed from it, is recorded for us in Genesis 6-9. And it is on this 17th of February, 2007, that I want to first look back the events of the Great Deluge and then look forward to the greatest single tragedy. Why look at this today instead of picking up where we left of last year with the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians?

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. (Genesis 7:11)

Now I am fully aware that the Jewish calendar of Moses’ time and before is not equivalent to our current 365 ¼ day calendar year. And so, it was not on February 17th in the year 1656 after creation. But for tonight, just think of it as Sunday February 17th 2008, or February 17th of some other year. My only point with emphasizing the date is this: who in Noah’s time (including himself) would have guessed that the world would end on a normal day in the middle of February? And likewise we must all be mindful that we do not choose the day, hour, or manner in which we will die or in which those around us will die – it will most likely occur on an otherwise normal day.

Why, why was the world destroyed in this way at this time in the single greatest natural disaster in history?
5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them." (Genesis 6:5-7)

The answer: sin. Generally speaking, it was the overall and continual wickedness of man on the earth. But the “straw that broke the camel’s back” as it were, was the great perversion of the coming of the sons of God into the daughters of men. This was, specifically an unholy mingling in marriage. And as flashy or notably horrid as this sinful act was, the reality is that it was not simply this one single sin that caused God’s anger to burn towards the people.

The simplicity of this answer – namely, that the world was destroyed because God was angry about the sin of the people – should not cause a thoughtfully dismissive “hmmm” or “duh” or any other reaction that would cause us to gloss over this vitally important and pertinent truth. It should cause us to sit in awe of God’s perfect and holy standard of perfection.

Even using words like “perfection”, “holiness”, or “righteousness” are so lacking in their ability to communicate, at least to me, what God’s standard truly is. I understand the idea…to a point, but the weight of the truth of God’s demands and expectations especially in light of my inability to meet these expectations, is so fleeting and impossible to wrap my mind around.

So, how did God deal with the lawbreakers in Noah’s day? As terrible as the Boxing Day Tsunami was, as bad as the Bhoda Cyclone was, or as devastating as 100 years of Communism has been, the great deluge in Noah’s day minimizes them all.

The Bible records in Genesis chapter 7 that the “all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” (11) and that the rain continued for 40 days. The flood was so dramatic that it covered the highest peaks of the mountains by as much as 25 or 30 feet. Mt Everest’s is 29,028 feet above sea level. That means that the waters reached nearly 29,050 feet above sea level. That is, of course, unless there were greater and loftier peaks that were swept away during the great deluge or have since been worn down. So, at least, the waters were around 29,050 feet in depth.

This means that, if the water surge was consistent throughout the entire 40 days, the waters increased in depth by ½ foot every minute, 30 feet ever hour, 726 feet each day, until it reached its final depth of over 5.5 miles. The rains stopped after 40 days, but the flood waters remained for a total of 150 days. And it was not until July 17th, at the end of the 150 days, that the ark rested on Ararat. But it was not until February 27th of the following year that God finally commanded Noah to leave the ark.

This is a massively clear picture of just how much God hates sin.

But the flood is not just a story about God’s hatred of sin, no. It is a picture of that, yes, but it is also a beautiful picture of God’s grace. God saved Noah and his family.
5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them. 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD." (Genesis 6:5-8; emphasis mine)

The Hebrew word translated as “favor” means graciousness, a subjective (kindness, favor) or objective (beauty); and in the Greek Septuagint, this word is translated “xariV$” which is the same Greek New Testament word that is used for God’s unmerited favor that is bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus because of His good pleasure.

This was an exercise of divine mercy in the midst of judgment, for the transmission of the human family. This preservation may be regarded as a reward of his piety. But it was a 'reward of grace,' as one that trusted in a better righteousness; and it is no small proof of its being a reward of grace, that it extended to his whole family, though one of them was wicked.1
“This is a Hebrew expression that means God was propitious to Noah and favored him. The Hebrews often spoke in this way. They would say, “If I have found grace in your sight: instead of saying, “If I am acceptable to you” or “If you will grant me a favor.” This phrase needs to be noted, because certain ignorant people infer with futile subtlety that if men find race in God’s sight, it is because they seek it through their own industry and merit. I acknowledge, indeed, that here Noah is declared to have been acceptable to God because by living uprightly he kept himself pure from the pollution of the world. But from where did he attain this integrity except from the preventing grace of God? The origin, therefore, of this favor was gratuitous mercy. Afterward the Lord, having once embraced him, retained him under his own hand, so that he would not perish with the rest of the world.2

God graced Noah for the same reason, even though the manifestation itself was different, that He acts graciously towards all of those who have been saved and will be saved.

That being said, Noah was not an average American evangelical in the way that he carried himself and acted. The prophet Ezekiel puts Noah, along with Job and Daniel, as the symbol of piety and obedience that – even if they were present in Jerusalem during the time of God’s judgment against it, could not spare even their families for their own sake, but only themselves (cf. Ez 14:14ff). The writer of the Hebrews puts forth Noah as an example of his faith in and reverent obedience to God (cf. Heb 11:7). And Peter referred to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (cf. 2 Peter 2:5).

Even with this impressive resume that few mortal men can equal, God was gracious to Noah and his family because God was gracious to Noah and his family.

Following Noah’s Deliverance from the Great Deluge, God made an unsolicited and an unconditional covenant with Noah, and through him, He made it with you and me, that God would never again destroy the earth in the waters of a great and terrible flood. And in order to remind us of this promise, He gave to us the beautiful rainbow.

What a glorious picture of God’s gracious salvation! This picture and view of salvation was not lost to the Church, but before I can get into that, I want to go back to look at the reason that brings us to the brink and puts us in the cross-hairs of God’s perfectly aimed rifle.

The cause of our problem before God is no different than the root cause that brought about the Great Deluge in Noah’s day. And God’s wrath has been kindled against many individuals and nations in the past – sometimes He stays His hand for a while, and other times He does not hold back.

God destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, and their surrounding cities. God was going to kill Moses just after He’d commissioned him to lead Israel out of captivity and slavery, but Moses was spared when his wife circumcised their son on the spot. God was seemingly on the verge of destroying the nation many times just following their miraculous Exodus from Egypt. God declared destruction of the nation of Israel if they disobeyed, and He carried it out through Assyria and Babylon. And God has prepared a place of the most extreme torment and misery for all people everywhere who die in a state of sin – even if the only infraction was that you disobeyed your parents one time when you were a teenager.

Sin is horrible. Sin is repulsive. Sin is repugnant. The glamorous nature of the sins of Sodom & Gomorrah, the people of Noah’s day, or even the blatant idolatry of the Nation of Israel shouldn’t desensitize us to the horrific nature of the smallest transgression of His divine standard. Hatred is murder. Lust is adultery. Doubt of God’s promises is slander against His good name! Pornography is a vile and disgusting perversion of sexuality, a betrayal of your spouse – whether you’re married now or you will become married in the future – no matter if you’re in your clean and isolated home sitting at your computer or at Naked Sushi night at a Twin Cities restaurant that is being advertised on radio that is targeted to people who would hold to many of our same social ideals and political values.

And again, let me restate that we must not casually hear and agree with the general idea that human sin is evil in the sight of God. I would argue that the more we seek to understand sin, not in a desire to revel in sin as the world does, but in order to understand just how great our debt is to Christ, and it is this understanding when coupled with a greater understanding of the beauty, majesty, glory, and mercy of God displayed through His grace in our salvation that we grow in our walk with Him by leaps and bounds.
“We are all loathsome to God, before we are washed pure in the blood of Christ!

By nature, we are all in a filthy and cursed condition. We are a lump of clay and sin mingled together. Sin not only blinds us—but defiles us. It is called filthiness (James 1:21). And to show how befilthying a thing it is, it is compared . . .
to a plague of the heart (1 Kings 8:38),
to corruption (Deuteronomy 32:5),
to vomit (2 Peter 2:22),
to a menstrual cloth (Isaiah 30:22).

If all the evils in the world were put together and their quintessence strained out—they could not make a thing so black and polluted as sin is! A sinner is a devil in a man's shape! When Moses' rod was turned into a serpent—he fled from it. If God would open men's eyes and show them their deformities and damnable spots—they would fly from themselves, as from serpents!

When grace comes—it washes off this hellish filth! It turns ravens into swans. It makes those who are as black as hell—to become as white as snow!

"Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own." Christ shed His blood—to wash off our filth. The cross was both an altar and a laver.

Jesus died not only to save us from wrath (1 Thes. 1:10)—but to save us from sin! (Matthew 1:21). Out of his side came water which signifies our cleansing—as well as blood which signifies our justifying (1 John 5:6).”3

The final destination for those who are found in contempt of God’s Holy Court is the same for us as it was for Noah’s friends and neighbors. This is a place of eternal and unmatched suffering and horror.

“Hell is described as a place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." Repeatedly Jesus spoke of outer darkness and a furnace of fire, where there will be wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

The Book of Revelation describes hell as "a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev 19:20; 20:10,14-15; 21:8). Into hell will be thrown the beast and the false prophet (Rev 19:20). At the end of the age the devil himself will be thrown into it, along with death and hades and all whose names are not in the Book of Life. "And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev 20:10 b).

Because of the symbolic nature of the language, some people question whether hell consists of actual fire. Such reasoning should bring no comfort to the lost. The reality is greater than the symbol. The Bible exhausts human language in describing heaven and hell. The former is more glorious, and the latter more terrible, than language can express.”4

Now whereas there has not been a singular event that God has caused virtually the entirety of mankind to meet with their eternal fate since the Great Deluge, there has been a single event that has occurred that has more perfectly and more manifoldly displayed God’s hatred of Sin and need for justice to be served. It is the greatest tragedy that has ever occurred – not because of the outcome, but because of the actual event itself. The only way for God’s wrath at you, and me, and every other redeemed individual to be satisfied was with the death of His own Son.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)

And it is here – in the sacrifice of the Beloved Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, that Peter draws our minds back to the catastrophe of the flood.

18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (1 Peter 3:18-22; emphasis mine)

Two questions come up from this text. The first is this: Does baptism – and by that I mean water baptism – save us? To that question I would answer with an un-hesitating “NO!” The second question is this: If water baptism is not what saves us, what in the world is Peter saying here? And I want to answer that in two ways.

First, what Does the Bible clearly say about how man is saved?

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18)
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. (John 6:47)
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Romans 3:28)
nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:16,17)
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)

I have only given a few verses that argue for the fact of salvation being through faith by the means of God’s grace. But the fact that there are so many more verses than what I have provided is an argument for the overwhelming nature of the Bible’s clear statement about the doctrine of justification by faith.
Justification by Faith. Although the Lord Jesus has paid the price for our justification, it is through our faith that He is received and His righteousness is experienced and enjoyed (Rom 3:25-30). Faith is considered righteousness (Rom 4:3,9), not as the work of man (Rom 4:5), but as the gift and work of God (John 6:28-29; Phil 1:29).5

Second Question: If we’re saved by grace through faith and not by means of water baptism, what on earth is Peter saying here? What is the analogy that he is drawing?

The first key is to understand what ideas are “corresponding” in what Peter is trying to say. Peter is relating Christ’s sacrifice and our salvation through it to the entire story of Noah and the ark. He is not comparing the act of water baptism and a salvation effecting quality that it might have with Noah’s experience. Noah was saved by the ark, not by the water.

The water of the Great Deluge baptized the world in death, but Noah sailed safely through it in the Ark that the Lord provided. Similarly, when we are saved by Christ we are placed inside of the perfect ark that has been baptized in the wrath of God’s judgment on the cross.
“But baptism (from baptize) simply means ‘to immerse,’ and not just in water. Peter here uses baptism to refer to a figurative immersion into Christ as the ark of safety that will sail over the holocaust of judgment on the wicked.

God preserved [Noah and his family] in the midst of His judgment, which is what He also does for all those who trust in Christ.”6

Therefore, by being found in Christ Jesus, through faith, God displays His desire to give mercy and grace while still showing His requirement for justice.

God offers two promises, one desirable and one undesirable. The first promise is that if you, as a sinner, die in your sins, God promises to cast you into a reality that is far clearer, far more tangible than anything you know here on earth. And that reality will completely and utterly crush you, but you will be preserved to endure it in misery. That is the first promise, the promise of God’s vengeance and His righteous and holy wrath that will be poured out on all ungodliness.

The second promise is God’s promise of grace. Oh, if you will but call on the Lord, confess and turn from your sins, place your complete trust in Him alone to deliver you from His wrath by means of His substituting His Son in your place – if you trust in the finished and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, God promises to give you eternal life. He will give you a new heart, with new desires, and you will wage war on those sins that so justly condemned you before the throne of Glory. He will cause you to grow in holiness and cause you to desire His word and love His Son.

It is possible that we can experience some conviction and yet be unchanged. After hearing a much more powerful sermon and articulation of the gospel than I have presented tonight, King Herod Agrippa said, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:28) He had some conviction there – but I don’t know of a good historical account that tells of the conversion of King Agrippa II.

Don’t let the conviction of the Holy Spirit wane as you move it to the back of your mind and ignore it. For there will come a time that, after having done that so often and so long, that you will no longer be convicted and you will be adrift in your unbelief.

1 (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

2 Genesis, John Calvin. p. 71.(The Crossway Classic Commentaries)

3 The Beatitudes, Thomas Watson, 1660

(from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

5 (from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

6 1 Peter, John MacArthur, p. 217


Mike said...

What about using the event to invite friends who are unbelievers? I do not really see a problem with it as long as it does not interfere the Sunday morning service.

EJ said...

If the super bowl party at church, I don't think that I would have a problem with it if (a) the commercials were not shown (too much racy and unwholesome things advertised - where even the humor used can be inappropriate), (b) the whole pre-game show time was a praise & worship/teaching time that would focus the people's hearts on Christ, and (c) the unbeliever would be given a straight-forward, no holds barred, "free-safety blindsided sack-like" hitting gospel presentation that would let everyone clearly understand the gospel of Jesus Christ: our sin and wretchedness, Christ's worth and sacrifice, and our response of repentance and faith.

If those things happened, I don't think that I would have a problem with a super-bowl party at a church where we'd invite unbelievers.

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