Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, October 27, 2002
Moving the World
It takes a lot of force to do a simple thing like opening a can of paint.
When we use a tool that way its technically called a lever. The screwdriver is the lever and it rests on the edge of the paint can which becomes a fulcrum. When you press down on the long side, it rotates on the fulcrum so that the short side moves upward to lift the lid.
A lever takes a little effort and multiplies it's force. The long side moves farther but with little force needed. The short side moves a shorter distance so all the work is given back in added force. The same principle is used every day to get little jobs done without much thought.
The math of it was worked out over 2000 years ago by a mathematician named Archimedes. He lived in Syracuse, Sicily from 287 BC to 212 BC, more than 200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. He was also quite a philosopher. He is best known for saying,
He meant that if he had a place to put a fulcrum, even the earth could be moved. Of course there is no fixed place you could rest a long enough lever to actually move the planet. No one would really want to pry the earth out of its orbit anyway.
But he made a very good point that shows where our world is in trouble today. The reason we see so much confusion and uncertainty is that modern thought has no fixed point. By denying there is anything absolutely right and true for all people at all times we have entered an era of moral weakness and ambiguous standards.
We are living in a time where the world needs to be moved. Not to another orbit around the sun, but to another line of thought, belief and behavior.
There have been events that have moved the world into amazingly new directions in the past. Without much thought we could all name some of those earth-changing events.
Our ability to exercise dominion over God's creation as God commanded us in Adam has made some dramatic turns throughout history:
Our moral and spiritual growth has been moved into new directions by God's covenant with man, his revelation to the prophets, the writing of Scripture, and the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The direction of the church has been moved by the conversion of emperors, the printing press, the Reformation and the missionary movements.
We are again in a time where the world needs to be moved into a new direction. But to do so we need a reference point, a fixed place to put the fulcrum. That's what the Reformation principle is all about.
We who are of the Reformed tradition can change the world. 485 years ago this very week, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The challenge was to re-examine what was believed and practiced by looking to an absolute and fixed standard, the Bible, God's word.
We live in an age ripe for reformation thinking. Our world is sinking in the confusion of uncertainty, immorality, violence, and covetousness. Where sin is inconvenient, our technology enables people to use their imaginations. They can sin vicariously, virtually, through computer simulations and special effects. There is a tolerance for evil that makes it seem wicked to judge anything as immoral. There is a false intellectualism that mistakes innovation for enlightenment.
But we have a fulcrum, a fixed point. We have a lever that lets our weakness exert a powerful force.
The only unchanging and ever firm foundation is God himself. The nature of the Trinity is the basis of every truth and reality. He is the standard that defines everything and tells how it is designed to be.
The New Testament explains that Jesus is a member of that Trinity:
This One and Only God holds all things together to serve his purposes. This means there really is a distinction between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood. Its not just a matter of our perception of things or personal opinions. There really are things that are right and true in the mind of God.
This is the fulcrum, the absolute fixed point around which everything else turns. If there are to be changes, the One who made and upholds all things must be the foundation. There is no other solid ground on which to find firm and sure footing as we attempt to move the world.
It shouldn't be us against the world. It should be us representing the Almighty God who transforms the world.
The idea that there is such a fixed reality underneath everything challenges the fallen soul and the presumptions of the world. Those who are dead in sin, separated from fellowship with God, try to excuse their guilt and blind themselves to moral law by treating all things as uncertain, depending upon man's present wisdom and views.
But there is under it all a solid rock upon which all else depends.
God hasn't remained hidden and unknowable.
This is the lever.
This is why Bible knowledge is so important. To presume we can change lives or improve our world without it is the utmost of arrogance and foolish pride.
We love that old hymn, How Firm a Foundation which begins with the words,
It's been sung in countless times of worship, and was chosen for the funerals of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee, and others.
The lyrics are based upon the words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:1-5 but particularly ...
But there is another element:
Along with the Bible, and its declaration in the words and lives of Christians, we also need the transformation that takes place by God's grace. He must give us eyes to see and hearts to believe and honor God in our lives and thoughts. As Jesus said in John 6:44
Aside from his spiritual empowerment that comes when we rest in Christ by faith, the changes our neighbors and world truly need are impossible.
But when the redeemed combine their obedience to God's word, with prayer for his blessing upon their work, their feet stand on that solid ground, the firm place to stand, and they take hold of that lever of the inspired word and they will see God's power transforming souls and moving the world.
First, we must be well informed by God's word.
Paul reminded Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 ...
Knowing God's gracious word, we ought to respond with gratitude and honor toward God. It stirs us to humble and thankful prayer and worship as individuals, families and as a church. It compels us to confess and abandon those thoughts and behaviors that offend God.
And we must respond out in the world where God has placed us to serve. It humbles us while it gives us confidence that we can successfully serve Christ's Kingdom. It makes us want to bring our friends and neighbors to know the Savior and join us in worship. It will direct us when we vote, when we work, when we talk with friends.
The Apostle Paul and Silas came in this power to Thessalonica.
But God had set the stage for the advance of his kingdom: The power of the Roman Empire provided for safe travel. The spread of the Koine dialect of the Greek language opened communications.
When these representatives of the gospel arrived in Thessalonica many were changed. The corrupt religious leaders came to silence them but they were no where to be found. So they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city authorities and made this accusation:
They believed the Apostles were stirring the whole world to sedition against Rome. By the influence of these simple Jewish men, empowered by the Word and the Holy Spirit, things were changing, the world was being moved.
In 1517 Martin Luther didn't set out to break away from the church with his 95 Theses.
But once more, God had set the stage for the advance of his kingdom. The invention of the printing press was bringing God's word to the masses of people. Discontent and abuses made the oppressed people hungry for deliverance.
It was then that this scholarly Augustinian Monk posted 95 questions for debate. He challenged the church to test what it taught and practiced by comparing it with God's word. Luther used the lever of God's word resting upon God's unchanging power and promises to move an obstinate world as individual souls were changed.
The errors were exposed and a new era displaced the old for the glory of God.
As the reformation spread, Luther was called before a church council at Worms in 1521. He was threatened with excommunication. Even his life was in danger. To save himself he was asked to retract the teachings. Luther replied with what is often called "the speech that shook the world" His concluding words were these ...
The same reformation spirit drove men like John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. Here in the United States it moved Robert Lewis Dabne, the Hodges, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer and others of the reformed camp.
They used the same lever of God's word, resting on the solid foundation of the God who gave it. In the power of the Holy Spirit, that which seemed unchangeable was transformed. The odds against them were immense and seemed insurmountable. But the power of God is no match for the futile efforts of rebellious, even powerful, men.
Here we are today:
But God has once more prepared the world with unprecedented opportunities. Never before have we had the ability to communicate that we have today. The internet has provided a simple way for us to have conversations with people all over the world to explain God's word and his ways, to publish our ideas in written form for anyone in the world to read on our web-sites, and to produce audio and video copies of lessons and sermons to give to others.
Never has so much Bible information been available for study. But never has it been so horribly mixed with error and false ideas. The unraveling of truth from error is hard but not impossible.
By the power of God's word resting upon eternal truth revealed by God himself, we can challenge those in our world to discover what is right and true.
But it's not to be left to massive programs or visionary efforts. They impersonalize the work of the Kingdom of Christ. They tend to aim for superficial or emotional changes rather than a real spiritual transformation.
God calls us each to make an individual effort where we are as God makes us able.
We have the gospel with its amazing power to change things. 2 Corinthians 10 encourages us with the same promise of God that empowered the Apostle Paul:
We have what world needs - a firm and fixed foundation, a reference point for what is right and true. And we have the powerful word of God which, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, tells us his promises and teaches us his ways.
We are the reformers -- called by God to rest the lever of the gospel upon the fulcrum of God's promises, to press upon it, and to move the world.