Christian Education Is Vitally Important
Dear Heavenly Father, please instill within my heart the wisdom which comes from above—that wisdom, which acknowledges my own sin and weakness and understands my need for the righteousness and the presence of Jesus Christ in my life. As I enter into Your presence for worship this day, fill me with joy and confidence, with strength and hope, so that I might serve You with faithfulness all my days. I ask these petitions in the name of Jesus, Your Son and my precious Savior. Amen.
God’s Word reveals divine wisdom. Solomon urges us to seek it as a treasure. God promises to bless His saints (believers) as they do so and then apply that wisdom in their daily lives!
Jesus urges us to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and confessing His name to follow Him! If we were to gain the whole world and lose our souls, what would it ultimately profit us?
Text: Hebrews 12:1b-3
“…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
In Christ Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, dear fellow redeemed:
Today is our “Christian Education Sunday.” What is Christian education? Some might be tempted simply to point to our Christian Day School, or to consider this past week’s Vacation Bible School, or to think of our Sunday School and Bible Class programs and say, “That’s Christian education.” But all of those illustrations are simply sites wherein and programs whereby Christian education takes place. Christian education is not a place, nor is it merely a program. It is rather a content-driven activity, which we pray will yield eternal results. Christian education is the careful Bible-based instruction provided at home, at church, or in school, which lays the foundation for any individual to approach life with a Christian worldview, and which leads to this two-fold result—that individuals embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord!
How important is Christian education? In our Old Testament lesson Solomon suggests that Christian education is more valuable than hidden treasure, for it reveals God’s wisdom and brings His blessing (cf. Prov. 2:1-9). In our New Testament lesson Jesus states that there is absolutely no profit whatsoever in gaining the whole world, if we lose our souls (cf. Mk. 8:36-37). The information Christian education provides us and others is more important than anything else!
I recently heard a statistic that shocked me. It is estimated that 85% of young people in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in our country, are leaving their church and no longer practicing their faith after their high school graduation. That statistic made me wonder how Immanuel is fairing in that department. How many of our young people are leaving the church and no longer practicing their faith after high school? To find out I reviewed all of our confirmation classes for the 20 year period extending from 1988-2007. Of the 258 individuals confirmed here at Immanuel during those twenty years 127 or 49% have, to my knowledge, left our church and are no longer practicing their Christian faith. That is tragic! Consequently, I would suggest, my dear friends, that CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT! As we see from our text it enables us to run with endurance the race set before us, and it encourages us to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!
The writer to the Hebrews tells us as he opens our text: “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Many of us no doubt have been watching the Olympics in London this week. One might think of those athletes and their training when hearing these words. When athletes prepare for competition, whether it be in the swimming pool, in the gym, or on the track, they will set aside anything that might encumber them. They do not want any unnecessary weight to slow them down, or any unnecessary issues to distract them. They want to dedicate themselves to the task before them so that they can swim, vault, ride, or run as well as they possibly can in their particular event, for their goal is to gain Olympic gold, silver, or bronze. Even so, we as Christians want to lay aside those things which weigh us down and those sins which can so easily undermine our faith as we pursue our lives as Christians and seek to reach our goal of heaven. What are those things which weigh us down? What sins are we to avoid? How can we run with endurance? What is the nature of the race set before us? All of those questions are answered by God’s Word—the Bible. All of those answers are found within the principles proclaimed through Christian education.
The Bible proclaims that there is one, true God, whose existence is evident as we observe His creation and as we listen to our consciences. His nature is revealed in His Word as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The world does not believe this. The world suggests either that there is no God—a claim that borders on lunacy given the complexity of the world around us which cries out Creator, or that all of the gods created by the minds and hands of man are equal to the Holy Trinity—a claim that is truly blasphemous given the facts revealed in the Bible about God.
The Bible proclaims that there is a divinely revealed will of God—His law. It is summarized in the Ten Commandments. It is absolute—not relative as the world suggests. While it is true that not all situations are black and white—that we must exercise our judgment as guided by God’s Word, we must recognize that God’s law is not a mere suggestion we are to consider—something we are free to accept or reject without consequence. Rather God’s law is that standard by which our every word and action will be judged when we stand before God one day!
The world does not like this. It chaffs under God’s law and rebels against it. The world denies the validity of God’s law and replaces it with human opinions based upon sinful desires. Thereby the world becomes its own god, determining its own standard of right and wrong. The net result is that divinely revealed good is regularly declared evil, while divinely revealed evil is often proclaimed good! Consider the situation involving the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A just this past week. When the Founder and Chairman of that company stated in an interview that he supported the traditional and biblical definition of marriage, the forces supporting the homosexual agenda in our country went ballistic. They declared a boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants and a number of mayors of major US cities declared that Chick-fil-A restaurants were not welcome in their communities. They declared this gentleman, his corporation, and all those opposed to redefining marriage as being hateful, intolerant, and bigoted. My dear friends, right is declared wrong and wrong is upheld as right in our world. We need the clarity that Christian education proclaims!
Even more important, however, is that, knowing God’s law and having come to grips with the understanding that we have failed to measure up to that law, we need to know Jesus Christ! He is our Savior from sin! He is the bearer of our sin-burdens and the provider of necessary righteousness. He finds us when we are lost, strengthens us when we are weak, guides us when we are confused, and equips us for the race He places before us. Remember the words of our New Testament lesson—we are to “take up his cross and follow” Him, wherever that may lead us. For some, that race will lead them to foreign lands in service to their Lord. Earlier this week three of our members returned from a mission trip to Africa, while a fourth left to go there. For most of us that race will include the routine of our lives—raising families, but doing so in the Lord; or serving our neighbor through our work and volunteer activities, but specifically as directed by the Lord. God has a plan for our lives by which we can accomplish the goals He has ordained for us. It is our race and when well run it brings meaning to our lives! CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, therefore, IS VITALLY IMPORTANT, for it enables us to run with endurance the race set before us!
Our text continues and concludes with these words: “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT, for it encourages us to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!
Remember our definition of Christian education and its desired two-fold result—that individuals embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord! Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christian education. We want to focus all eyes on Him! But who is He? Whom are we to see when we look to Jesus? We do not see a mere man—a past historic figure as the world maintains. We do not simply see a teacher of morality, as many who claim to honor Him suggest. No, we see Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith!” Absolutely no one else compares!
Some might say that Muhammad, whose writings make up the Quran, is the “author” of the Islamic faith, or that Buddha, who composed the Eight-fold Path, is the “author” of the Buddhist faith, but neither man claims to be the “finisher” of those faiths. They simply provided the instructions for their followers to follow and so finish their own faith. Jesus, as the Son of God, is identified in the Bible as “the Word” (cf. Jn. 1:1-3, 14). Earlier in this Epistle, the writer to the Hebrews states: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (cf. Heb. 1:1-3). St. Paul says that in Christ “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” He is the One in connection with whom we are “complete” (cf. Col. 2:9-10). The confidence we can have in life and the absolute certainty we can possess as we approach death is all because of Jesus! He was chosen by God the Father from eternity to be our Savior. He entered this world and “endured the cross” on our behalf. He was mocked, ridiculed, berated, and abused—all in order to achieve God’s ultimate goal of redeeming our souls and bringing us back into fellowship with God. Having done that, Jesus now sits at God’s right hand exercising all authority in heaven and on earth (cf. Mt. 28:18). St. Paul says that there He is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (cf. Eph. 1:21). It is to Him that we are to look as we run the race before us. Our races will not always be easy, but that again is why we are to look to Jesus. His example of perseverance is to inspire our own.
I will close this sermon with a reference to an Olympic champion—not one of our American champions of 2012, but rather an Australian champion who participated in the Olympics years ago. Betty Cuthbert won three gold medals in the 1956 Olympics. After suffering career-ending injuries, she came back to win a fourth gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. She was Australia’s “Golden Girl.” After retiring for a second time she developed Multiple Sclerosis. Betty became a Christian. She was encouraged by friends to visit various Christian churches that promised healing, but she was never healed. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics she participated in the opening ceremonies by carrying the Olympic torch as she was pushed in her wheel-chair around Olympic Stadium. She was asked once, “Does it get any better than gold?” Her response was: “I wasn’t healed, but I met the Healer. My life has never been the same since. My salvation was a free gift. I didn’t have to work for it, and it is better than any gold medal I have ever won.”
My dear friends, CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT for it enables us to run with endurance the race set before us, and it encourages us to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith! May we be busy providing that Bible-based instruction in our homes, here at church, and also in our school so that individuals embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord. Then we and they will complete our races with success! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting