Where would you be…..right now….if it wasn’t for Jesus? Recently I heard a preacher ask that question in his sermon, and I remembered once more the need to frequently ask that of ourselves. When a Christian enters the doors of a church on Sunday mornings, and takes that familiar seat in the pew, and worships, and prays, and hears God’s Word taught….they should at some point remind themselves of where they would be without Jesus. If you ask this question….and you give an HONEST answer…you’ll find it almost impossible to be a prideful and arrogant Christian because indeed we are NOTHING apart from the Grace of God and the work of Christ in our lives.
Our past sins should not be something we’re proud of. But our salvation from those sins should cause us to SWELL with pride…not for ourselves….but for the God of all Grace who saved us out of them. So where would YOU be apart from Christ? I recently contemplated that question in my own life. Rather than being a Pastor, I strongly suspect I would be spending the majority of my Sunday mornings hung over….because I would be spending the majority of my Saturday nights in the Cowboy Bars of Oklahoma. Why do I suspect that? Because that’s EXACTLY what I WAS doing, before the Lord changed my heart. The stories are too numerous and pathetic to detail here, but I’m sure you see my point. Apart from Christ, my life is worthless.
So how does a guy like that end up a Pastor? The answer to that can be found in Luke 15. As Jesus spoke about the Prodigal Son, he told of a young man who wasted his Father’s inheritance on loose living. He ended up broke, unemployed, and miserable. Out of sheer desperation, he gets a job as a hired hand on a pig farm. And as he watches the pigs eat their slop….HE LONGS TO HAVE IT FOR HIMSELF, because he’s starving. But in verse 17, Jesus tells us that the young man “came to his senses” and returned to his Father. Clearly, we can see what Jesus is saying here. “Come to his senses” means he was convicted, he was changed, he was born again, he was saved. The boy repentantly returns to the Father admitting his utter worthlessness, only to find the Father thrilled at his return. The Father did more than make him an employee. He welcomed him back into his household….as a son.
The Apostle Paul describes the same reality in his life: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (1 Timothy 1:12-13 NASB) Personal testimonies are extremely powerful. Paul was a legalistic murderer. I was a redneck drunk. The Prodigal Son was a gluttonous brat. So what were you?
Once when Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843), the great Scottish Preacher was asked why sinners seemed to gravitate towards him he responded by saying it was “probably because they can sense how much my heart really is like theirs, apart from Christ.” McCheyne’s life was very righteous. He didn’t have a dramatic testimony filled with booze and women. To the contrary he lived a very righteous life, as have many Christians today. But the problem with McCheyne (and everyone else) is that his sin was really the mother of all sins…..it was PRIDE. A self-righteous kind of PRIDE that deep down believes that they're good enough for heaven….with or without Jesus. PRIDE caused Lucifer to revolt against God. PRIDE got Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden. And PRIDE has built a barrier between every person who has ever lived, and the God who created them.
As I’ve said before. You’re either guilty of dramatic sins in your past (drinking, drugs, sex, etc.)….or You’re guilty of being the Pharisee who looked down your nose at those who were committing the sins. Guess what? Both groups are sinners who deserve Hell. Both groups need Jesus. And the prideful Pharisees were just as bad of sinners as the drunks were. Jesus told another story in Luke 18: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'” (Luke 18:10-13 NASB)
Do you see yourself as the Prodigal? Do you see yourself as the unworthy sinner? Everyone SHOULD, because everyone IS. The self-righteous and proud WILL NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Jesus told us that “narrow is the gate” that leads to life and few find it (Matt.7:13). Entering through the gate to the Kingdom requires humility. It requires brokenness. It requires repentance……It requires us to realize that when we REALLY FOCUS and look intently at the Prodigal, we find to our amazement…that we’re actually looking…in a mirror. Rather than boast of all of our personal greatness….we fall on our faces and CRY OUT with the sinner of Luke 18: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Most people aren’t willing to do that, and will thus perish in Hell. Many Christians "cry out" initially, at salvation…then seem to drift over to the Pharisee side once they're saved. Scoffing. Complaining. Being annoyed with sinners. How easily we forget…that we were once just like them. I’m not suggesting we embrace sin. Quite the contrary, I’m suggesting we lovingly and truthfully call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. But we will never be able to do it as “Christianized Pharisees”…..we can only do it as “Converted Sinners.”
I’m devoting the next two Sunday sermons to the Prodigal Son. This Sunday will be “The Sins of the Prodigal Son.” Easter Sunday will be “The Salvation of the Prodigal Son.” I suspect the pews will be filled on Easter with Prodigals…it usually is. But rather than complain about them “only coming once a year” I plan to welcome them. I plan to rejoice that at least once a year they’re going to hear the gospel. I then plan to preach the truth of God’s gospel to them…just like I try to do every week. I hope to lovingly confront sin and point them to the Savior….and I hope that the Lord changes some of their hearts just like He once did mine. “Amazing Grace How Sweet The Sound That Saved a Wretch Like Me. I Once Was Lost But Now am Found, Was Blind But Now I See.” A converted wretch will preach at our church this Sunday. A congregation full of converted wretches will listen. And by God’s Grace…more converted wretches will be added to the Kingdom. So…where would YOU be…without Jesus?