Why Some Are Not Saved Ė Luke 13.34The first congregation I served as a pastor was located in a small town in Nebraska. This beautiful little town of 850 people was blessed with active churches. Our Lutheran church had a membership of 400. There was also a large Catholic church and Mennonite church. But in our town there was one lady who was an atheist. She was not outspoken about her beliefs nor was she anti-Christian. But when asked she would clearly and confidently articulate her view that there was no God. For a town full of conscientious Christians this was a constant source of concern. It was not that she was hated or that anyone wanted her to leave. In fact the feeling of the townís people was just the opposite. They loved her and cared very deeply for her. They were sincerely concerned about her salvation. It was not unusual for some of them to discuss how they might be able to win her to Christ. I think they also hoped that every new pastor might bring some special approach that would get through to her. In all of this there was always a nagging question: "why?" Why would someone reject salvation in Jesus Christ? To be sure she was commended for her honesty. Among these people the only thing worse than being an avowed atheist was to be a closet atheist who only went through the motions of spiritual life.
Rejection of salvation in Jesus can be a very frustrating problem for those who believe in Him. In a sense Iím glad that it is a frustrating problem. Too many people and too many churches are becoming indifferent to those who reject salvation in Christ. Many pastors and theologians are falsely teaching that we must be open to all brands of faith. Acceptance of all religions and philosophies is the new approach. (Actually it is nothing more than ancient paganism.) "Do not be judgmental. Do not discriminate. Be tolerant of all faiths" they say. "Who are you to say that a person is not saved unless they believe in Jesus?" When we point out that this is exactly what the Scriptures teach, quoting for instance Peter, who said, "There is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved," we are assaulted with a "Well, thatís your interpretation." No, itís not our interpretation. It is Peterís, and that is clear enough throughout the Scriptures (John 14.6; 1 John 5.11-12). People need faith in Jesus to be saved. We should be very concerned about those who do not believe. Jesus, certainly was concerned:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing." Luke 13.34
Some of us know someone who has their back turned to Jesus. They may even be a close relative. I pray that what we learn today from St. Lukeís Gospel will help us understand why some are not saved. I pray for confidence and strength in the Lord, who could not be undone by manís rejection. This sermon has two parts. First, I will show you the Bibleís answer to the question "Why some are not saved?" Second, I will show you the Bibleís answer to another question: What are we to do about those who are not saved?
Why Are Some Not Saved? They Resist
I have been reading the prophets lately for a number of different Bible studies. If there is anything to be gained from an experience with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets it is this: God must pour out His wrath on unbelief, yet He relentlessly pursues the salvation of souls. Page after page describes the pain and sorrow of Godís wrath. Godís wrath is a consuming fire (Isaiah 9.19). Frankly, I canít blame anyone for getting a little depressed reading it. But the other half of the prophetís message is summed up well by Ezekiel: "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?" (33.11) Over the years Israel had its revivals of faith, but besides a small remnant of believers who waited for the Messiah, for the most part it turned its back on God. Why? Stephen, a disciple and the first martyr for Jesus said, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7.51). There is the answer to the question. You might like to know more. But God will take us no further on this. In 2 Thessalonians 2.7 God describes this rebellion as the "mystery of iniquity." It is a mystery indeed.
I have run across a number of people exercising this opportunity to reject God. One man that I remember well was my sergeant. We were training for two weeks on a beautiful island just off of the coast of California near San Diego. There were many things to do during that time. But as the weekend approached I wanted to find out when worship services and Bible studies were going to be held. My sergeant, however, just couldnít bring himself to go to a worship service. He indicated that he wanted to be a Christian but he just felt uncomfortable going to church. I wasnít sure how to respond. One thing I did not do, however, was to tell him that it was OK not to worship. I remember very plainly explaining that something was wrong. Unbelievers will often try to blame their lack of faith on other things. People have said they donít believe because their parents shoved Jesus down their throats when they were little. As we heard in last Sundayís Bible class many Jews today blame their unbelief in Jesus on the Holocaust. Others say itís all just too confusing, or that thereís too many hypocrites in the church, or the pastor said something that made them angry. These are excuses. The reality is that unbelief is nothing more than resisting God.
Someone might ask, "Does it make sense that people can resist God?" Thatís a good question. Ultimately no one can resist God. But God can be resisted when He chooses to work through means. When he sends forth His word on the written page or in the mouths of His people, this word can be resisted and rejected. People can resist Godís prophets. God works through means so that we can be saved by faith. Otherwise there would be nothing left for us except to meet God face to face, and that would be judgment day.
We must all realize that we were born into this mode of rejection also. Even though God has overcome our rebellion (we did nothing to save ourselves), we still have to contend with the old self that wants to reject Godís word. While we may be saved, we cannot claim to be without vestiges of resistance. We also have a tendency to resist the working of Godís word in our lives. "Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief," (Mark 9.24) the man said to Jesus. For this we continually repent. Day after day God continues to break down that lingering resistance through the working of His word and Spirit.
What Is To Be Done About This? Godís Persistence Is the Answer
Before we can be of any help in overcoming the resistance to Godís Spirit, we need to consider what has happened in our own lives. The fact that we are here this day to worship God and to call upon His name for our salvation is due to His persistent love! Jesus was dismayed by Jerusalemís rejection. But that didnít stop Him from accomplishing His mission. Nothing could deter Him from the task of fulfilling this work of salvation. Not Herod, not the Pharisees, not Pilate, not being forsaken by His disciples, not the scourging, not the ridicule, not the cross, not the pain, not the death, could prevent Him from giving His life as a ransom for the sins of the whole world. After His resurrection this persistence of Jesus filled the hearts of the Apostlesí and of the church. No matter how persecuted, rejected, or ridiculed for their faith, they persisted by Godís grace. Down through the ages saints, pastors, missionaries, teachers, parents, friends, relatives all carried on this great work accomplished by our Lord. Man resists. But God persists. Thatís all we need to know.
O how God persists in overcoming manís rebellious nature! Francis Thompson, a Roman Catholic Christian from England, wrote a famous poem that describes this wonderful persistence of God. It is called the Hound of Heaven. I wonít read the whole poem but the opening lines give you the idea:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmŤd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbŤd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat -- and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
God never gave up on us. We are here because of that. We are not here because we are more holy or righteous than someone else. We are not saved because we chose God or committed ourselves to Him. All that is the result, the result of Godís overcoming our rebellion. Each of us can think of someone or maybe several people who played a role as the vehicles of Godís saving persistence. I can think of Sunday school teachers who put up with youthful shenanigans. Pastors carry on the persistence of God when they visit the erring and the fallen away. Parents refuse to concede the battle against Satan for the souls of their children. When we are up against rebellion, we must not try to understand it. Rather we must look to Godís mercy that the Bible says so often "endures forever."
Yesterday we baptized an 82 year-old man. What a convoluted spiritual journey this man has been on. How many regrets he has about his past life. But Godís grace came to him through his youngest daughter. She picked up the phone and called us to go visit him a couple of years ago. She was concerned about his spiritual life. We brought him the Good News. Others had sown the seed, still others had watered, and we harvested. Altogether Godís grace finally overcame the spiritual weaknesses and fleshly willfulness.
Some of you are grieving quietly in your hearts for loved ones who have yet to respond to Godís call. I grieve with you. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem, shall we not also weep over the unsaved? But our sorrow need not paralyze us. Jesus wept, but He kept on walking. He came to Jerusalem, and He came into your life and mine bringing us forgiveness of sin and peace with God. Now the persistence of God is ready to move forward again through you. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ĎYour God reigns!í" (Isaiah 52.7).
Some of you are already familiar with the story of St. Augustine. Nevertheless it is a true story that I never tire of hearing. Augustine lived in north Africa in the fourth century after Christ. He was one of those boys who was too smart for his own good. He grew up in a Christian home, but he left the Christian faith for philosophical speculation and a life of immorality. But Monica, his mother, never gave up on him. She can be remembered for two very important things she did. The two things are the classic assault on the rebellion of sin. First, she never conceded to Augustineís sinful choices. She always spoke the truth. She was not afraid to tell her son that he was acting wickedly and that he was not saved as he continued in these sins and unbelief. At times their relationship was stormy. One time she even threw him out of the house! Second, she never gave up on Godís love and the power of the Gospel. She loved her son. Her arguments with him were not about "whoís right" or "look how youíre embarrassing me" but about Augustineís salvation. This love that she knew from Jesus prompted her to incessant prayer and supplication on behalf of Augustine. Eventually she was blessed to see her son return to the Lord.
I leave you today with this encouragement: Your sorrow over those who reject Christ is overcome by the Christ who rejects no one. As Jesus persisted in bringing salvation to you and me despite our rebellious nature, so now we look to Him. He called us to faith by the Gospel. He will call others. It is our privilege to be part of Godís great persistence. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther March 11, 2001 Copyright: Michael P. Walther, 2001
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois Second Sunday in Lent
|HOME||BACK TO SERMON INDEX PAGE|