“Life is More Than Living”
March 12, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 12:1-4a John 3:1-17 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Are there people in your life that you trust?
We probably all have someone that we trust. And, depending on how long we’ve known them, and the history that we have between us, our trust varies.
So I guess the question is, “How much do you trust?”
As an illustration, I want to remind you about Charles Blondin, also known as “The Great Blondin,” or just “Blondin,” whom I have used as a sermon illustration before. Blondin was a tightrope walker and daredevil in the 19th century. In June and July of 1855 he strung a tightrope across Niagara Falls near where the Rainbow Bridge now stands. The crossing was 1100 feet long on a rope 3.25” in diameter, and 160 feet above the water. During those two months, Blondin made as many as 17 crossings between the United States and Canada, but his own personal drive was such that after the first time, just crossing wasn’t enough. On each trip he did something to make that crossing more spectacular than the last. He once crossed blindfolded, once with his legs in a sack, then on stilts, and once with both his hands and his feet in manacles. He stopped in the middle to do tricks; he did backflips, lowered a rope to the Maid of the Mist on the river below, hoisted a bottled beverage from the boat, drank it, and then continued on. He once carried a stove with him on his back, stopped in the middle, cooked, and then ate an omelet. Once he carried a chair, stopped in the middle, balanced the chair on one leg, and stood on it. He crossed once on a bicycle, once crossed backward, and returned pushing a wheelbarrow. Afterward, he reportedly asked the crowd if they thought he could do it again, and they all shouted “Yes.” He then asked if they thought he could do it again with a man in the wheelbarrow, and again they shouted “Yes.” But when he asked if any of them would volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow, not one of them volunteered. The crowd believed that he could do it, you might even say that they even trusted that he could do it, but there are limits to our trust. On the other hand, at least once, if not twice, Blondin made the crossing with a man on his back. Once he crossed with his manager, Harry Colcord, and possibly once more with his assistant.
And so again, we return to the question of how much do we trust. Do you trust your boss, or your employees, or coworkers, or anyone, enough to put your life in their hands?
It’s that kind of trust that we need to think about this morning as we begin in Genesis 12:1-4a with the story of Abram.
12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
At the age of seventy-five, Abram makes a new beginning, leaves behind everything that he knew, and sets out for a country that he’s never been to, and in fact toward a destination that he didn’t even know when the trip started.
God said “Go,” and Abram went.
God did not lay out a map, pass out lots of charts and graphs, and give a PowerPoint presentation to show Abram where he was going, what was going to happen when he got there, and what his standard of living would look like.
God said “Go,” and Abram went.
And to be totally fair, so did Sarai.
Because he trusted God, and because he went where, and when, God told him to go, Abram was honored and revered as the patriarch and founder of the nation of Israel for generation after generation. But what was it that made Abram and Sarai honorable? Should they be respected because of their actions or because of their faith and trust in God? And that is exactly the question that Paul answers for us in Romans 4:1-5, 13-17.
4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Paul reminds us that Abraham was described in Genesis 15 as being “credited with righteousness” because of his faith and belief in God. For Paul, wages are paid to someone who works and wages are therefore owed to the worker as an obligation of the employer. But on the other hand, for someone who simply trusts God for their justification, it is their faith that results in God crediting them with righteousness. In Paul’s equation, work equals pay, but trust equals faith.
Paul continues by pointing out that since the laws of Moses had not yet been written, it was not the law that saved Abraham either. For Paul, even though he was a Pharisee and a devout Jew, it was not the rules that brought about salvation. Instead, it is our faith, and the grace of God, that brings about our salvation.
All that means that Abram and Sarai weren’t saved because they answered God’s call to “Go,” they went because they had faith and trust in God and believed that God would be faithful in return. It is their faith that makes them admirable.
After all that, I guess the next question is this: Just how important is faith in God and in his son Jesus?
In John 3:1-17, we remember this meeting between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus:
3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [Note: “lifted up” means “exalted,” but also hints at the coming crucifixion] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
First, it is important to note that although we often hear stories about how the Pharisees made attempts to trick or trap Jesus, and how Jesus often criticized the Pharisees in return, Nicodemus was a Pharisee. Not only that, he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, and we know that he came to Jesus as a representative of others because he begins his talk with Jesus with a statement in the plural saying, ““Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” This tells us that at least some of the Pharisees and the members of the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was a teacher that had been sent by God and they agreed that the signs and miracles that Jesus had performed were certain evidence of this. But Jesus replies that simply knowing, academically, that Jesus had been sent by God was not enough. In order to be credited with God’s righteousness, you must not only be born physically, but also be born of the Spirit of God. In order to go to heaven, you must have faith and trust in God and in his son Jesus Christ.
What Jesus is saying, is that simply being born is not enough. Depending on your Jewish heritage and the covenant of God with Israel was not enough. Following the Law of Moses, the Commandments, and the rules of the Pharisees, was not enough. Living a “good” life and being a “good” person is not enough. Simply being alive is not enough.
There is more to life than living.
Real life is more than living.
Of all the people that gathered to watch the Great Blondin cross the chasm at Niagara Falls, only two had real faith in his ability. It wasn’t enough to believe that Blondin was capable of crossing the chasm at Niagara Falls. Simply believing that he could do it didn’t demonstrate faith or trust. The two that had real faith were willing to get into the wheelbarrow or climb up on his back.
Likewise, it isn’t enough to simply believe that Jesus has been sent by God. It isn’t enough to know, academically, that Jesus has been sent by God. It isn’t enough to believe, academically, that Jesus is the Son of God, and the savior and rescuer of all humanity.
We have to be willing to trust him enough to get in the wheelbarrow. We have to be willing to trust Jesus with our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
There is more to life than living.
Real life, which is eternal life, is lived by trusting Jesus with everything that we are, everything that we have, and everything that we hope for the future. We have to put our faith and trust in him and be willing to answer his call to “Go” wherever he sends us.
And so we return to the question that we started with.
How much do you trust?
Do you trust Jesus enough; do you have faith enough, to get in the wheelbarrow?
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.