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Today is the Day
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:18-24; 2 Corinthians 6:1...
Track 8 of 8 in the Persuasive Words: Living So Others May Know series
Running time: 33 minutes, 28 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, December 25, 2005

"Today is the Day"

(2Corinthians 5:18-6:1-2)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

"Wait" is undoubtedly one of the most difficult words in the English language. It's Christmas morning. I guess you probably know that. Hanging on my mantel are count them; two stockings. That's a first at my house. Ah, they're both mine. And they're still hanging there and they'll be there 'til after lunch. And I don't know if I can wait that long. So, if I'm not back in time for second service, you'll understand why. I, you know, this is hard. This waiting thing on Christmas morning. Yeah. . . . some of them over here are agreeing. Like, WOW! My dad's making me wait too! It's just plain ole hard. It's just not a good word. We don't like it. And yet, we have this wonderful phrase. It's been hanging around for a long time. It's worth the wait! You heard Matt say that in the video. It was worth the wait. I suppose if you're a parent you understand that last, well, he said, three months. I figured the last nine days of nine months was bad enough. It's just that waiting thing. We're just not very good at that. And yet, that's what we were asked to do. Have been asked to do that. And Israel was asked to do that; to just simply wait.

Have you ever noticed how time crawls when you're waiting? In fact, how relative five minutes can be. Five minutes if you're late for the plane. Five minutes if the plane is late. Has a completely different feel to it, doesn't it?

My friend, Jeff Snell, who teaches at Lincoln preached in Chapel just the other day, before the National Missionary Convention. I talked to him a week or so afterward. He said, "You know, my sermon went too long." I thought, "No surprise!" But not only did his sermon go ten minutes too long, he missed his plane by five minutes. Ha ha ha! I thought only a preacher would give up missing a plane just so he could finish a sermon. Five minutes, such a relative time, but, waiting, waiting.

We. . . .you know it's, well Matt said it well. Christmas Eve is the longest night in the history of the Universe if you're six or seven years old. I mean, you just can't wait for the next morning to finally arrive.

Think about that in the context of Israel. Israel first heard this word. I mean, clearly heard this word 2000 years before the coming of Jesus. I'm going to give you a Son. That Son is going to be the beginning of a nation, a nation the likes of which no other nation will ever know and there will be people as many as the stars in the sky. They waited for years for the birth of a Son. We waited 2000 years for that promise to start its fulfillment. Moses heard that word in a law and waited 1400 years. Isaiah announced that there would be a child born and His name would be Immanuel. There would be a Son who would come and He would be the Prince of Peace and that was centuries, literally centuries, {seven of them} before the coming of Jesus. Wait! Wait! And wait they did.

In fact, one of the most telling texts in the Christmas story is the text about "waiting". In fact, I'm going to have some help here. Alese is going to come up and read this text for me.. Want you to hear these texts about the "waiting" for Jesus.

Wait a minute. Wrong text. Can you hold off a minute? Okay, I'm not ready for you yet. I'm lost. It's Christmas. I'll get her up here though. Give me a moment. I'm teaching her to wait. Thank you . . . . .ha-ha-ha

Before we get there I want you to look with me at Luke 2 in the Christmas story. We'll come back to those other two texts. This text we looked at just briefly last night. Simeon of old, waiting and hear that incredulity in his voice and in his story.

Luke 2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, (talking about Jesus when he came as an infant).

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

These two people had waited at the temple courts and waited, and waited until the day the Messiah came. They waited. And the waiting must have been worth the wait.

When you go over a couple of chapters in Luke 4, you get the other side of this particular story. Jesus has started His ministry and as that ministry begins, you begin to hear Jesus saying in this opening statement at Nazareth. Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them,

"Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

All of this waiting has finally come to fruition. The Messiah has come. He announces that He's here. He says I'm going to do what this text has been announcing for generations. And you'd a thought He lived in the 21st Century in the United States when they cancelled church. What I'm saying is He didn't get the reception that you'd a thought he would have gotten. After all of that waiting for the Messiah to come, and the Messiah finally gets here; the announcement is I'm going to do all this stuff you've been anticipating and look what happens.

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's Son?" they asked.

Jesus said to them. "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what you did in Capernaum.'"

"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown.

And he goes on to talk about this difficult time in Verse 28.

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.

That's not exactly the response that you would hope that you would get. The announcement of the Savior, the coming of the Promise and the reception is, let's kick Him out. It's a frightening kind of thing, if you ask me.

Well, if wait is a terrible word, now is a wonderful word, isn't it? Now! We like now. Now sounds exactly like it is. Now! It's the word of fulfillment. If you've ever run in a race you understand the waiting for it now, for the gun to go off or the bell to sound, for the thing to start because you've lived in such keen anticipation of that thing happening.

I don't know about you but I think we should go back to the days when they rang a supper bell. 'Cause then you know that NOW has arrived. I mean, there's no missing it and it's time; it's time we're gonna eat NOW. Now is a wonderful word. It sings of promises kept and NOW we're ready for our two text readers.

You know I'm going to get this right the second service. You might want to come back.

Matthew 1:20-21 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Luke 2:8-14 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Do you hear them. I want you to hear the repeated words. The images of salvation. The images of the story coming to fulfillment. The announcement of great joy. This sense that everything is now here, that now is now. It's finally come. That's the echo that I think is in the text that we've been looking at in 2Corinthians 5.

I want to come back to that text one last time. 2Corinthians 5:18. We've looked at this text repeatedly and it ought to be familiar to you at this point.

All this, he says, talking about this newness. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Before I get to Chapter 6 I just have to share with you this frustrating statement by a British atheist. Talking about Narnia. . . .talking about Aslan's sacrifice for Edmund she says, "of all the elements of Christianity the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. . . .Did we ask Him to?"

I am shocked. . . .amazed. . . .frustrated. . . .at an attitude that says that the death of Christ was somehow. . . in fact, the name of the article (the lead line in the article) "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.. . ." The death of Jesus cast as something of uselessness, in fact, an imposition upon us. This one who became sin for us so that we don't have to deal with our own sin is viewed as if it were thrust upon us. We didn't ask for it. . . . .why should we have to put up with this?

That's bah humbug! That is not at all the NOW of this text.

Listen to the rest of this paragraph starting in 2Corinthians 6:1. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says,

"In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you."

I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

Sounds a lot like Luke and Matthew doesn't it? The time has come. God's favor has arrived. We're announcing to you that Jesus has come to earth. He's become a part of us. He lives among us. NOW is that time. That's what the prophets have been anticipating for generations. It's the WORD that was spoken by Isaiah, literally, generations/centuries ahead of time. Isaiah 49, the text from which this quotation in 2Corinthians comes.

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; (talking about Israel) from my birth he has made mention of my name.

He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."

But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God."

And now the Lord says - he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength -

he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."

This is what the Lord says - the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel - to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: "Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

. . . . ."In the time of my favor I will answer you and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives,'Come out, and to those in darkness, 'Be free!'.

Israel was to act as God's people to their nation just as Jesus was to act for his people and us to be this announcement. That the time is here. NOW! It's done. God has heard. He has helped. It's such incredible language.

Paul says, Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day when God has heard his people crying to Him for a redeemer and He has sent that person. This is the time of my favor.

Unfortunately in English that just doesn't come across very well. There is no way to get the appropriate emphasis on that text. It's like he's doubling up everything he says. NOW! NOW is the time. It's ACCEPTABLE, ACCEPTABLE. It's more than acceptable, it's abundantly acceptable. This is the FAVORABLE, FAVORABLE time of the Lord.

"Now" this coming of Jesus has made everything possible. That's the language that Paul uses in Titus 2. The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men.

Grace has appeared. That's the word for Advent. Grace has appeared bringing us salvation. We live in the time of God's favor. This is the time. Somehow I'm not sure I'm getting that out where you can see it. Today is it. NOW is the time. It's NOT yet to come. This thing has been fulfilled in Christ. It's already here. You don't have to wait any more. The Messiah came. Today is the day. That's the implication of the text. That's the coming of Jesus. Today is the day of His favor and the frightening thing about this text is wrapped up in Verse number 1 of Chapter 6. We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

I have this deep fear that we live in a culture that doesn't understand that the birth of Jesus is about a lot more than having presents on December 25th.

Somehow we forgot that today is the day of salvation.

It's a frightening article, this article about Narnia. I am a Narnia advocate by the way. If you haven't been to the movie, I suggest that you go and see it. If you haven't read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first, you might want to read it before you see the movie because the movie will make better sense to you if you've read the book. It is replete with Christian images. You can't miss it.

When Aslan shows up at the table and he sacrifices himself for Edmund you cannot miss the Christian imagery of death and resurrection. You just can't, unless you don't know the story.

And that's what is so frightening to me. I want you to hear the words of this writer from Great Britain. Her name is Polly Coinby(??). This article came out December 5th, right after Narnia hit the screen of Great Britain.

"Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy. So only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography (I always try to practice those words before I get up here. I forgot that one.) . . . .familiar with Christian icons (that's the whole point) will see Jesus in the Lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll, couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young, apart from those in faith schools, that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries. They now have to write the story of every religious painting on a label because people no longer know what agony in the Garden or Transfiguration or Ascension mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to the movie goers."

What frightens me is that what's true in Great Britain is becoming true here. Twenty years of teaching college students has taught me this one thing. We are more

Biblically illiterate than ever. We don't know the story. And when we lose the story, we've lost it.

And so, next year, 2006, we're going to retell the story. Starting next Sunday, oh yes, I know it's New Year's Day and yes, we will have church. I know some of you will just be going to bed about the time we start. You might as well wait another hour and then go to bed. We're going to start with Genesis 1 next week and for six months we're just gonna walk from Genesis to Revelation and retell the story. Just gonna be reminded what are the basics. In fact, we're going to invite you to read along with us. There will be a reading guide available to you. If you want to read the books of Scripture from cover to cover over the next year, we're gonna make that listing available. In fact, it's available today. Some of them are available today. I didn't know how many to print, so out at the Ministry Center is the first two months, January and February, a list of Scripture readings. Everything you need to know to read your Bible in a year. So that you will know the story. So that we will not be facing in another generation, a group of people who could go to the movies and watch a story of Aslan the lion who is the Lamb and not know what it means. Our children must know the story.

NOW! is the acceptable time and what is absolutely frightening is the criticism of an American movie critique who said "The problem with Narnia is that it's too Christian." "It's too religious."

And what frightens me is that we have a whole world full of people who have heard the story again, and again, and again, and for whatever reason never understand that now means NOW.

In the very first church I preached in there was a man who sat right back there for twenty-three years, every Sunday. If we'd given out perfect attendance pins he would have had them draggin' to the floor. He must have heard, oh, I don't know, fifty sermons a year for twenty-three years . . . . a thousand sermons, says something about some of the preaching I suppose. For twenty-three years he listened to the story of Jesus and every time an invitation was offered for him to respond to the Gospel of Jesus, he said "NO". "Shorty" Bachman was his name.

I remember this day like it was happening right now. It was a cold, January evening. Was a night service in the middle of the week. Shorty was sitting in his normal seat and his brother-in-law was sitting right in front of him, Everett. When the sermon was preached and the invitation was given, Everett got up, started to come forward and Shorty followed him. And there was not a dry eye in the place. Because after twenty-three years of saying, "NO", he finally understood that NOW means NOW. Today, he says, is the day of salvation, not tomorrow. TODAY!

And the great fear is that across the nation, across the world there are hundreds, thousands of "Shorty" Bachman's who sit in churches for decades hearing the message, knowing the story, having heard the call and for whatever reason, Sunday after Sunday, day after day, ignoring the call and hearing the grace of God in vain.

Do you not understand this text? Today he says, "I heard you". Today I helped you. This is the Sovereign God of the Universe who said, "I heard your cry. I know your need and I have done what you need. I have sent you my Son."

The question is, what will you do with Him? And I know it's Christmas and I suppose I shouldn't say this but you know, it is possible to wait too long.

Some of you know that somewhere in the recesses of my covetous heart there is a green Z3. It has a brown leather interior and a brown soft top. It sits in a garage in Indianapolis. It was for sale . . . .CHEAP . . . . and he offered it to me. And I said, "maybe later", and when later came he said, "I decided not to sell it." Well, that's pretty minimal waiting, ya know; and it's a pretty minor loss!

Paul says, Don't hear the grace of God in vain. Don't wait too long!

Because some choose to ignore the birth of Jesus. Others, on the other hand, choose to listen. This language of God's response implies a language of God's call.

When Paul writes to the Romans he says about this opportunity to know who God is. In reflecting on Scripture he asked this question, What does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

And so the prophet says and Paul echoes, today, NOW, is the day of salvation. Now is the time of God's favor. Can you imagine any better time than now? Can you imagine any better time than today. I can't!

So Paul will say, Today is the day of salvation. Today! And a few years later, a writer who penned the book of Hebrews will make this comment:

Today is the day of salvation. But he'll add this to it. He'll say, do not harden your hearts as they did in the day of provocation.

I just wonder if there is a Shorty Bachman sitting out there who's been listening to sermons for a lifetime and has for some reason never said yes. Has never made today, today. Never made now, NOW.

And so, as we come to Jesus birthday, I'm going to simply repeat the words of the text. Don't receive the grace of God in vain. Don't harden your hearts for today is the day of salvation. Be reconciled to God. For the One who knew no sin became sin for you. We beg you, be reconciled to God.

We're going to stand and sing.