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sermon 01-30-22 Christianity is a team sport
Christianity is a team sport (introduction) Being a Christian is about having a deep personal relationship with our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God is a personal one based on faith, love, and trust. All of Christianity belongs to the body of Christ in the world.[i] Today I would like for us to look at Christianity within the analogy of team sports. (analogy) We are at the end of the Football season playoffs, leading up to the Super Bowl, where the two remaining teams battle against each other on the gridiron until the winner is crowned victorious.  Each team has skilled players possessing the unique talents necessary to achieve victory for their team. Each team also has a knowledgeable coach supported by assistant coaches and trainers. The field of play is called the gridiron because it has clearly marked boundaries and yard lines. The teams have many spectators in the stands or watching on TV, curious who will win but not necessarily committed to either side. After the season is over, some players become free agents, meaning they are released from their contract and are free to join another team. (God’s grant of free will) When God created Adam and Eve in His image, He gave them the gift of agency, AKA free will, to accept or reject obedience to Him, their Creator. They chose to disobey God’s only rule in the Garden of Eden was not to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, or they will die.  The serpent lied to Eve, telling them that if they ate that fruit they would not die, but would be like God, having the knowledge of good and evil. [ii] God punished their disobedience by sending them out of the Garden where they would undergo pain and eventual death, and pass the consequences of their original sin; loss of innocence, ignorance, suffering, death, and inclined to sin to each generation. However, a merciful God did make atonement for the sins of the world possible by sending his Son Jesus to make the necessary blood sacrifice by dying on the cross.[iii] (Trial of Jesus) During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he coached the team of His disciples. The Pharisees who opposed Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness were coached by the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem. His focus was on strictly following the law of Moses, which had expanded over time from 10 to 613 commandments of Jewish law recorded in the Torah, AKA the Old Testament. His loyal followers were the other high priests and the scribes, who were also experts in Jewish law. Scribes were originally tasked to make exact copies of the Torah, but later they began adding man-made regulations that went beyond the spirit of God’s law. The spectators watching both teams were the Jews and Gentiles of Judea. The Gentiles were descended from Israelite tribes that were divorced from God and adopted the idol-worshipping practices of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Jesus called the Pharisees and Scribes hypocrites because “they do not practice what they preach”.[iv]  In response to His threat to their authority, Jesus was tried by the Jewish leaders in the Temple at Jerusalem for multiple crimes, including being a false Messiah. During this trial one of the lawyers prosecuting Jesus, knowing that all 613 commandments in the Torah were equally important, tried to trick Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?”  Jesus answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[v] The religious leaders responded by convicting Jesus of blasphemy, an offense punishable by death, and turned him over to Judea’s Roman governor to carry out the sentence by crucifixion. (The Great Commission) After Jesus’ death and resurrection redeemed the world’s sins but before ascending to Heaven, Jesus met his disciples in Galilee. There He commissioned them “to make disciples of all nations through sharing the gospel of forgiveness of sin and salvation through grace, and increasing the number of followers of Christ”[vi]. This contest for souls between the Good News spread through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Bad News spread by His Adversary, the Evil One,[vii] has continued since the resurrection of Jesus to the current day. Jesus is the great Commissioner of the Christian league of disciples on earth, and his Father is both the scorekeeper, keeping a tally of each person’s sins, and the Time Keeper, knowing when the day of judgment will arrive and this contest on earth will end. When the disciples asked Jesus how will they know when the end time is near, Jesus replied “Only the Father knows” [viii]  when the trumpet will sound, announcing God’s judgment of the living and the dead is about to begin. [ix] (The Adversary’s Game Plan) Today, the opposing team members call themselves by many names including humanists, atheists, hedonists, secularists, and their ranks even include some religious leaders; all well-coached by the Adversary. They reject the idea of a living God and believe that mankind is the measure of all things. The Adversary has tricked them into believing the Bad News that this life is the only one they have a claim to, so they should seek to maximize their happiness, pleasure, and riches while it lasts. Their coach’s game plan is called a prevent defense, using trick plays to try and prevent sinners from accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal spiritual life with God in Heaven. They continue to repeat the Serpent’s lie that by using human logic, reason, and even performing good works they do not need God’s redemption. The Adversary has many tricks to keep sinners away from God. He rejoices in wars, famines, plagues, murders, and suicides, as the non-believers killed have lost forever their opportunity to choose salvation. He knows scripture very well and will twist its meaning for his own evil purposes. One common trick he uses is to convince people that they are ‘too busy’ building their treasure on earth to have time for God. Jesus gave a warning: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”[x] (God’s Game Plan) Our God is both merciful and patient and His plan allows time for everyone to be saved, but some reject God’s grace and close their heart to God’s love and forgiveness. The scoreboard shows both the number of people who have been saved by His grace and the penalties committed by the opposing team members. During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[xi] Being poor in spirit is not about lacking money, but describes those who realize their sins offend God and they cannot be saved through their own works. They seek salvation by professing their faith in Jesus Christ. (Redemption from Sin through grace) God has been waiting patiently since the Son’s redeeming death on the cross for all sinners to hear the Good News and to either reject this offer or trust in God's grace.  We have all seen coupons in the newspaper or in the mail for a grocery store that promises “redeem this coupon at checkout for a free dozen eggs”. This means that someone has already paid for the eggs in full to gain your loyalty and to have you patronize their store. Redemption for Christians means that Jesus paid the price in full to redeem the past, present, and future sins of the world through his blood sacrifice on the cross.[xii] (New Christians justified by Holy Spirit) Once sinners are redeemed through Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit, who brings the Light[xiii] to help them understand scripture and that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”[xiv]. The Holy Spirit justifies those that have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, and replaces their selfish desires with the Fruit of the Spirit; Love, Joy, Peace, and much more[xv]. The Spirit invites them to leave the spectators in the stands and join the other new Christians on the practice team on the sidelines by their coaches. Some new Christians may not want to leave the stands, and may even try to hide the Light of Christ within them, perhaps fearing the ridicule of the non-believers that they were previously part of. But they are a new creation in Christ, and the old things are passed away.[xvi] As the apostle Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (New Christians receive gifts from the Spirit) The Holy Spirit welcomes new believers to the sidelines and using their God-given talents gives them one or more spiritual gifts, so they may be prepared through their acts of love to claim for Jesus those souls tricked by the Adversary. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled[xvii]. The older saints, who are weary from fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith,[xviii] go on to receive their reward in Heaven. The new saints are fitted with their spiritual armor[xix] and given their assignments to enter the gridiron, which is organized like the bible. All bible scripture is in-bounds on the field of play, because it is the inspired Word of God. Any teaching from other sources is out of bounds and rejected. Each book in the bible is like the numbered yard lines on the field, each chapter is like the single yard lines, and each verse is like the inches between each yard line. To follow Christ’s game plan, each Christian is charged with spreading the Gospel, fighting the Adversary, and continuing their journey of spiritual growth and sanctification in Christ. (God’s Expectation) God’s expectation of all his followers is that we will be obedient to hear, trust, submit and surrender to God’s Word and to use our time, talents, and gifts in service to others. We are told “To whom much is given, much will be required”[xx]. To walk with Christ, we must Love God, love our neighbor, read Scripture, and pray for God’s guidance. God knows that since we are still of the flesh, even the most righteous among us will occasionally sin. Jesus warned his disciples; “the spirit is eager but the flesh is weak.”[xxi] The Holy Spirit will never leave the true believer who sins again after being saved. When we do sin, we will humbly repent and seek God’s help to overcome the sin going forward. (Judgement and Redemption) On the day of judgment, we must stand trial before Jesus, with all our sins on full display convicting us. But if our name is found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we will be acquitted of our sins and allowed to enter Heaven. (Jesus’ offer of salvation) If you haven’t yet accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, now is the time. We don’t know what will happen next week or next month, and it could be too late if you wait even another day. When you have some quiet time to reflect, think about His offer of salvation for all sinners and if in your heart you truly believe.     Scripture used in preparing this sermon is from the Common English Bible translation   [i] 1 Corinthians 12:12-15 [ii] Genesis 3:1-7 [iii] Romans 3:25 [iv] Matthew 23:1-3 [v] Mathew 22:36-40 [vi] Matthew 28:16-19 [vii] Matthew 6:13 [viii] Matthew 24-26 [ix] Revelation 10:6-7 [x] Matthew 6:19-20 [xi] Matthew 3:5 [xii] Romans 6:23 [xiii] John 8:12 [xiv] Matthew 4:4 [xv] Galatians 5:22 [xvi] 2 Corinthians 5:17 [xvii] 2 Timothy 1:7 [xviii] 2 Timothy 4:7 [xix] Ephesians 6:13-16 [xx] Luke 12:48 [xxi] Matthew 26:41      
Michael Meccia