FAITH: BELIEVING IN THE DARK

faith-and-doubtRev. David Holwick C “A FRESH LOOK AT JESUS” sermon series
First Baptist Church
Ledgewood, New Jersey
First Preached: January 17, 1999
Hebrews 12:2-4

 

 

BELIEVING IN THE DARK
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SERMON SUMMARY: Jesus was not a “plastic saint” but had spiritual combat
and won by keeping his faith. Christians also face a variety of
struggles and should look to Jesus as their inspiration. God may
speak to us quietly, perhaps through pain.

I. When is it hardest to believe?
A. For many, faith is simple and easy.
1) Brought up to accept it, never question it.
2) Life goes good with God.

B. Others see faith as a struggle.
1) They question what they should believe.
2) They find it hard to live what they say they believe.
3) Life is not always as cut-and-dried as a Sunday School
class.

C. Hardest to believe when it doesn’t seem to work.
1) Most people have heard of Rev. Jerry Falwell.
You probably are not aware of his family background.
Jerry’s father, Carey Falwell, ran bootleg during
Prohibition.
He later ran a nightclub called the Merry Garden in
Lynchburg, VA.

At the core of Carey Falwell’s soul was a sad bitterness.
He had a shoot-out with his wild brother Garland and
ended up killing him with a shotgun in self-defense.
When his ten-year-old daughter Rosha died of appendicitis,
Carey abandoned his faith, just like his father before
him.
#236
2) How do you react when your faith is tested?

II. Jesus knew what it was to struggle in faith.
A. Don’t assume it was easy for him.
1) Our tendency is to make Jesus a flat cartoon.
2) The gospels reveal a tremendous amount of tension.

B. Evidence of Jesus’ inner combat.
1) Being tempted in the desert.
a) Follow Satan, get all the good stuff quick.
1> No pain, no mess.
2> Not an empty promise.
b) Only thing Jesus fell back on was God’s Word.
2) Abandonment by friends.
a) As he explains his mission, many leave. John 6:66
b) He knew even the core disciples would be shaken.
1> Peter’s denial predicted, and return prayed for.
2> Expresses hope for Peter, but not certainty.

C. Jesus’ struggle intensified at the cross.
1) Pouring out his soul at Gethsemane.
a) Take cup from me.
b) But not my will, yours be done.
1> His humanness is never more evident.
2> He was torn between obedience and escape.
2) The arrest.
a) He could have let his disciples fight back, didn’t.
b) Legions of angels could have come down.
3) Confronting Pilate.
a) A few words, and Jesus could have gone free.
b) Instead, Barabbas is released.
4) Torture of the crucifixion.
a) My God, why have you forsaken me?
b) Yet he endured the pain.

III. Faith won out over fear.
A. In each struggle, Jesus kept his faith.
1) He relied on God’s word.
2) He communicated with his Father.
3) He never shirked the hard decisions.

B. His final struggle was the hardest.

At 7:05 p.m. ambulance #2 sped from McDonough County Hospital
with red lights flashing and roared down Highway 136 toward
the town of Bushnell, Illinois.
The dispatch on the dashboard was brief: “Car wreck.”

Sitting in the back beside the stretcher, Steven Mosley watched
the trees and telephone poles whiz past and wondered how
this call would turn out.
You could never tell.
Even the recent collision between a pickup and a locomotive,
which he was sure would be hideous, had resulted in only
a few scratches.
Rounding a curve they came upon a crowd of people and two
police cars beside the road.
Another false alarm, Mosley thought.

But then he saw something out in the field.
A Chevy that had once been white was crumpled up about thirty
yards from the road.
The car had turned end-over-end several times.
The Chevy lay there all alone, speckled in the moonlight.
Spectators lining the road maintained their distance.
Even the police did not go near.
Sure sign of a mess.

Clutching his attendant’s bag, Mosley and the other orderly
walked across the field.
They peered reluctantly through a smashed window.
The body was sprawled across the seat.
Then the beam of their flashlight illuminated the man’s face.
His eyes stared up at them, wide open and full of terror.

Steven Mosley had seen deaths before.
Usually their eyes seemed benumbed.
This man still shouted.
Terror, fully tasted, shone from his gray eyes.
It was Steven’s first encounter with death in the raw.
Deep in our hearts, we rarely go “gentle into that good night”;
life is ripped from our hands.

Few of us in the suburbs are touched by violence.
But there was one who took on all that which we rightfully
shudder at.
That incomprehensible violence that we pray never comes into
our neighborhoods has been heaped on the One with an
immaculate soul and has torn it apart.
Sometimes we do get a glimpse, if only in an accident victim’s
eyes, of the Cross as a spectacle designed to pierce our
minds and hearts.
For a moment it stands stark and unnerving as a silent scream
in a mangled car.
Christ crucified.

That is the ultimate measure of his courage: facing hell
open-eyed, taking on what no man could bear.
Christ looked straight into the specter of eternal separation
from the Father and yet willed himself to stay on the cross.
#4467
IV. Where we struggle.
A. Moral choices.
1) Doing the right thing can be hard.
a) The crowd you follow may disagree with you.
b) It may cost you, hurt you.
c) You won’t be immediately “happy.”
2) Not doing the wrong thing can be hard.
a) Temptations can dig deeply into our soul.
1> Crack and mothers who will abandon kids.
b) We know we can get away with it.
c) Don’t do what feels right – do what God says.

B. Life events.
1) Unemployment.
2) Unhappy marriage, family.
3) School, social pressure.
4) Sickness and death.
a) Why doesn’t God heal me? (or someone I love)
b) Believe even when it doesn’t work.

C. Spiritual struggles.
1) Unanswered prayer.
2) God seems distant, silent.
3) I have lost self-respect.
4) I remain unhappy, lonely.
a) Know God loves you even when you don’t feel it.

V. Through the darkness to victory.
A. Crosses are great educational tools.
1) No pain, no gain.

Maxie Dunnam tells about an American businessman who traveled
to Europe to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play.
Following the performance the businessman had the opportunity
to meet and talk with Anton Lang who portrayed Christ.
Seeing the cross that was used in the play, the businessman
wanted his wife to take his picture with it.
She got the camera and he lifted the cross to his shoulder.
To his surprise he could hardly budge the cross from the
floor.

“I don’t understand,” he said to Mr. Lang.
“I thought it would be hollow.
Why do you carry such a heavy cross?”

Anton Lang’s reply explains why this play draws people from
all over the world to that little Bavarian village
every decade.
“If I did not feel the weight of His cross,” he said,
“I could not play the part.”

If being a disciple of Jesus costs us no pain to acquire,
no self-denial to preserve, no effort to advance, no
struggle to maintain, then this isn’t what Jesus
had in mind.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we
should take lightly.
It involves our total commitment.
#2948
B. Maintaining our faith through the dark valley.
1) Know and love God when it is light.
2) Make strong Christian friends, bonded by faith (not
just friends who are moral church-goers).
3) Study deep topics like pain in Bible.
4) Have moral convictions that won’t be swayed by crowd.
a) Many are obedient because they have not been
challenged.
b) Live out your convictions – let them be known.
5) Understand that God’s voice is usually quiet.
a) Testimonies usually make it dramatic – supernatural
glows, hair rises on neck.
b) But usually it is an inner voice that prods you.
c) Listen to it.

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SOURCES FOR ILLUSTRATIONS USED IN THIS SERMON:

This series was inspired by Issue 56 of Discipleship Journal, March 1990,
and this sermon is modelled on the article “A Violent Passing,” by
Steven Mosley, page 35.

#236, “Strength for the Journey,” by Rev. Jerry Falwell, 1987, page 13.

#2948, “A Faithful Follower I Would Be,” by Rev. Timothy J. Smith,
Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Publishing, Fall 1992.

#4467, “A Violent Passing,” by Steven Mosley, Discipleship Journal,
Issue 56, March 1990, page 35.

These and 4,500 others are part of a database that can be downloaded,
absolutely free, at http://users.nac.net/wdh2000/illust.html
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