Motivated By The Invisible WorldErwin W. Lutzer | July 1, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
As Christians, we live in both the city of man and the city of God. We shouldn’t isolate ourselves from the city of man, instead, we need to learn to navigate it and even confront the people in it with the truth of God’s love.
We need to be living examples of people who have come out of horrible situations and backgrounds and have been transformed by God’s grace and mercy. We also need to demonstrate that this life isn’t where we always need to win because we know that, in Jesus, we have already won.
The cross of Jesus Christ and the message that it represents has always clashed with popular culture. Come with me to the city of Rome, lined majestically along the Tiber River. It had been there for 800 years and there was no reason to think that it might not be there for another 800 years. But in the year 420 Alaric the Goth overpowered the guards at the Salerian Gate and the pagans trashed Rome. Rome was not totally destroyed but it was greatly humiliated. Three days later the pagans left the area with their carts full of gold and silver and art and all the treasures of Rome. The question, of course, before the populace, understandably was who is to blame? And the blame fell on the Christians.
Now in order for you to understand why the Christians would be blamed we have to go back a hundred years before that to 312 when Constantine crossed the Tiber River and he won the city of Rome. He won the battle and he decided that from that time on Rome was going to be Christian rather than pagan. He had his own soldiers baptized in the river, conquered supposedly in the name and the symbol of the cross, and from now on Rome was Christianized. How do you think the pagans felt about this imposition of Christian values and a Christian message in Ancient Rome? They were quite unhappy. Some, of course, didn’t convert to Christianity, even though there was a great deal of pressure on them to do so. Some others converted but they brought their own pagan ideas into Christianity.
For example, Rome had a god if you were going to buy something, a god if you were going to sell something, patron gods that were used to protect you from the inclement weather or whatever, and these actually came into Christianity in the form of saints so you have this saint and that saint. But as a matter of fact, because of this imposition of Christianity in ancient Rome the pagans said, “Christians, it’s your fault. Our pagan gods would have protected Rome better than your (quote) Christian God.”
In order to understand that and the backlash, let us suppose that here in America the Christian zealots finally got what they wanted. We had a Christian Congress, a distinctly Christian president, a Christian supreme court, and we Christianized Washington. Then let’s suppose that we had the worst financial disaster in American history. You can imagine what all the people would be saying. They’d be saying, “It’s your fault you Christians. Look at what you did. This happened on your watch.” Well, that’s what was being said about the ancient Christians.
So in order to defend Christianity and to give some understanding as to what happened, a man by the name of Augustine (sometimes pronounced Augustin) wrote a very famous book entitled The City of God. And what Augustine said is that there are really two cities. At first there was only one but after the fall of man, there are now two cities, and these cities run along concurrently. Eventually they will be separated in the final judgment.
There is the City of Man that represents all of his hopes and dreams and everything that he could have ever asked for. That is the City of Man, but then there’s also the City of God. And the City of God has its values, and it has its trajectory, and it has its motivation. It is an unseen city. Now said Augustine, “Because there are two different cities, there are also two different inhabitants, or two different citizens.”
When Rome was sacked Augustine said that the members of the City of Man lost everything because this is just their hopes and dreams and this world is all there is. But the members of the City of God, they lost too, but nothing really eternal because they look for a city, which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.
To look at it in a contemporary way, when homes were burned in Colorado during those terrible, terrible fires, you had some people who were members definitely of the City of God. Rebecca and I know someone who is a very well-known Christian whose home was burned up. Probably many Christians and probably those who had no interest at all in any religion (members of the City of Man) lost homes. So the point is that both experience tragedy but the members of the City of God lost nothing eternal because they look for an invisible city. As the old song used to go, “This world is not our home. We’re simply passing through.”
Now the question is how do we live and manage this idea of living in both cities–being citizens of heaven as well as citizens on earth? In order to help us navigate this I’m going to ask that you take your Bibles and turn to Philippians 3 where the Apostle Paul gives us a description of The City of Man, but in the process we’re going to find out how we can impact the City of Man and how we should do it.
You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul, after he talks about enemies of the cross in Philippians 3:18, he says in verse 19, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things,” and we’re going to look at what all that means in just a moment. But notice in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” The Greek word is politeuma. Our politics are in heaven. Our citizenship is there, but of course Paul was also a Roman citizen. And just like many of us (most of us, I am sure) are American citizens we are also citizens of heaven. How do we manage it?
Throughout history there have been a couple of answers to this. Some people have said that what the City of God has to do is to capture the City of Man, and what we need to do is Christianize the nation by populating Washington with Christians. Now that has many, many difficulties. It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if this were the kind of a message where we could just kick back and talk about these things one-on-one or in small groups? But I simply caution you: don’t go there as quickly as some of you may want to. But that’s one view.
The other view is to say that what we should do is to isolate ourselves. What we have to do is to realize that the City of Man is on its way to destruction. And so we’ll have our Bible studies, we’ll help the saints, we’ll raise good families and we will isolate ourselves from the great controlling realities that take place in the City of Man, and we’ll be exempt from all of the struggles. That’s another possibility and in Church history some have taken that view.
I’d like to suggest today that there is a better view and that is of engagement with the culture and navigating this challenging assignment of belonging to two different cities and two different citizenships. So what I’d like to do is to give you a contrast now between the City of Man and the City of God–four different contrasts–and then to challenge all of us asking the question, “How do we navigate this very interesting responsibility?”
First of all, we must realize what the Apostle Paul is saying about members of the City of Man. Beginning in verse 17 he says, “Brothers, join me in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even weeping with tears, they walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Let’s just stop there. First of all, members of the City of Man and the City of God are walking in different directions. You and I are looking at the cross of Jesus Christ and we see there God at His best, if I may speak so imprecisely, because God is always at His best, but it is here that we see the attributes of God. To us the cross is absolutely essential. The Apostle Paul says that to those who are perishing the word of the cross is foolishness but to us, which are saved, it is the power of God, and it is the wisdom of God. And what our responsibility is today is to challenge the world’s opinion of the cross.
Now there are many ways that you can be an enemy of the cross. For example, one way is to simply deny the cross altogether, and billions of people in this world do right now. For example, our friends in the Islamic community! According to the Qur’an Jesus was not crucified. He did not die. He was captured by God and taken to heaven. So you have that.
You have denying the cross. You have replacing the cross, and we see this oftentimes in many different ministries on television where there is a health and wealth gospel rather than the clear message of the cross of Jesus Christ, which is really what people need to hear because it is the power of God unto salvation.
And then, of course, you can dilute the cross by adding to it. You can say that the cross of Jesus Christ is not sufficient for our redemption. We add to it our good works, our sacraments and all of the other things that people think they need to do to find they become acceptable to God.
Now those are the ways in which people inadvertently or directly can be enemies of the cross, and Paul says, “I weep when I think about it.” Why? It’s because the cross is our only hope.
Can you imagine what we really do believe as Christians? We believe that a man dying on a cross, bloody, hanging there in utter shame and apparent weakness–we believe that that man purchased our redemption, and without Him it is not possible to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and be translated into the Kingdom of God in this life. Without Him there is absolutely no hope. All of our hope is in Jesus Christ and His redemption because, you see, it is at the cross that we see most clearly God’s hatred for sin. Think of what Jesus Christ endured there on the cross, and He endured that because of our sin. God says, “I hate sin.” It’s not possible for us to over-exaggerate God’s hatred of sin, and we see it best at the cross.
But it is also at the cross where there is not only divine wrath against sin but there is a holy love for sinners. The felt humiliation of God is really the greatest wonder, and that’s why the Apostle Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is our hope. It is our pivotal anchor. It is that which redeemed us. And so you can see here that when we talk about the cross of Jesus Christ in today’s society, people may simply roll their eyes. They may simply say, “You know, I’m really sorry but So-and-so must be a nut case because he believes that a man dying on a stick of wood and an old tree is the redeemer of the world.” And the answer my friend, today, is yes, He is the redeemer of the world. (applause)
Now the question, of course, is how do we confront the world with this message? One of the best ways that I do it (and I’ve done it often) is challenge people to read the Gospel of John. I call it the 21-day experiment. You’ve heard me talk about it. It’s the best cure for atheism. It’s the best cure for skepticism. There are many people who reject Christ because they have not had any direct appreciation or understanding of who Jesus is, and the best way to do it is to get them into the text-21 days, 10 minutes a day–to find out who John thinks Jesus is, whether you agree with it or not. And what you find is that there in the presence of the living Christ, people finally see that this is not just a man. Truly this was the Son of God. So the Apostle Paul says, “We go in different directions. We go toward the cross. There are those out there who are the enemy of the cross.”
Secondly he says that we have different desires, different appetites. Did you notice it there when I read it? Verse 19 says, “Their end is destruction. Their god is their belly and they glory in their shame.” Now that seems to be a rather indelicate way to put it but what the Apostle Paul is talking about is not only the physical appetite. He’s talking about all of our appetites, all of our desires, which the world says we should fulfill, and these desires eventually lead, of course, as all of us know, to addictions and those kinds of things. But you only go around once in life so what you have to do is do what you have to do to try to enjoy it. So people today are oftentimes very enslaved to their desires and very happy about it because they don’t know where else to go. And I marvel when I read this passage of Scripture. The Apostle Paul says, “Whose glory is in their shame.” They glory in that which brings shame. They are proud. They are filled with pride over that which brings shame. How accurate the Bible really is!
And so, you see, we are a people of God who have different desires. We say, “Well, how do we confront the world with this? Do we (quote) impose our morality?” That’s not the idea. What we need is living examples of people who have been converted out of these lifestyles, and who have shown the fact that you don’t have to live according to the dictates of your desires. You see, this is the whole message of conversion. This is what makes Christianity so unique. It’s because of that message of the cross that we talked about. Actually when we believe in Jesus, God does a miracle within us. It is called conversion. So there is something within you after conversion that wasn’t there before, because “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away and behold all things have become new.” And today, scattered throughout this congregation there are many of you who could give testimony to the fact that once you were enslaved by sin but Jesus has come to be your deliverer. You could speak about that, and the world needs to be given hope. They need to understand that there’s more to this world than self-love.
To return again to the City of God Augustine said that in the City of Man self-love is so important to the exclusion of the love of God. He said, “In the City of God, self-love is so despised because of our radical love of God.” Now where does that love of God come from? Can you wake up some morning and say, “You know, I think it’s time that I fulfill the first commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?’ Today I resolve that I am going to be a God-lover.” You can’t do that. The love of God is implanted in our hearts at conversion and that’s what gives us the impetus to fight desires that want to overtake us, that are unholy desires. It is that radical transformation of heart that makes us new people, and our love for God is not natural. It can’t be conjured up. It is created within us through the miracle of God.
So we’ve learned that first of all we walk in different directions. We have different desires, though certainly we struggle with the desires of the past, but the fact that we struggle is oftentimes a sign that we are indeed redeemed.
And then there is a third, and that is that we have different values. You notice that the Apostle Paul says, “They mind earthly things.” That’s the last part now of verse 19. Listen to the conversations that take place in the office or in normal parlance as people are talking. And what is it? It is talk about the self. It is talk about earthly values, and it’s not wrong to talk about those but oftentimes they can’t raise the conversation to anything eternal or absolutely essential. The Bible says they mind earthly things. I think it is John Bunyan in his book who talks about somebody who always looked down and never looked up.
Now, how can we challenge the world’s concern with itself and the self-absorption we’ve talked about? You know, you think for example again of examples even in Scripture of how those who followed God were motivated not by the things of this world, but they were motivated by eternal invisible realities. It’s part of this series of messages about the invisible world, and look at the motivation. We take, for example, Abraham. Abraham was willing to give Lot, his nephew, the first choice and best pasture land. Why? Abraham says, “I know that there’s an eternal, invisible city that I’m going to. I don’t always need the best in this life. I don’t always need to compete. I don’t always need to be first because I’m going beyond this life, and that’s where my heart is.”
You take, for example, Moses. The Scripture says about Moses that he said no to the things of Egypt because he looked forward to the reward, because he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. And so those of us who belong to the City of God, or say that we do, what we have to do is to demonstrate to the world that this is not the place where we always need to win. As a matter of fact, we can lose here because we know that in Jesus we have already won and it is just a matter of time. (applause) And so what we have here is we have different values.
And then we have a different destination. This is really beautiful. Well, the first part isn’t beautiful. You’ll notice it says their end is destruction in verse 19. The Greek word is telos-teleology. I remember in philosophy we used to study teleology. It has to do with the ultimate purpose of all things, the end to which all things are moving. It says regarding the citizens of the City of Man their end is destruction. Could I just look at your heart today and your eyes and tell you that if you do not know Christ as Savior, if you do not see the cross of the resurrection of Jesus as your only hope and you have put your trust in Him, and if you continue on in the way in which you are going, your end will be destruction. The Bible speaks about an eternal destruction. What a warning! I urge you today to trust Christ if you’ve never done so. “Therein,” he says, “is destruction.”
But now notice the contrast. Could it be any more graphic, any more realistic and any more surprising? Verse 20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Could you visualize that for just a moment? Think about the person who is sitting beside you how they are going to look in eternal glory, and even better, what did you see when you looked in the mirror this morning? There is going to be a marvelous translation. We are going to have bodies like unto His glorious body. The body from which Jesus, of course, was raised, traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, in a moment of time; the body of glory, possibly even something like it was on the Mount of Transfiguration. See that’s why C.S. Lewis says that the person that you know may either someday be one of the most glorious beings which if you saw it now, you’d be tempted to worship, or in the future that person might be such a horrid creature that it’s the kind of creature you only encounter in horror movies. That’s the difference.
The Bible says that we are going to have bodies like unto His glorious body and when that happens we shall, in that body, see God. At last we shall see Him. In these bodies we cannot. No man has seen God at any time, but the time is coming when we shall behold God. Augustine was a God lover, and he prayed, “Oh God, no man can see thee and live. Let me die that I might behold thy face.” And it is in the new resurrected body that we shall behold Almighty God.
Now in order to nail this down so that we leave here transformed and we get our thoughts all focused on the salient lessons, let me give you very quickly three bottom lines. I suppose there should only always be one bottom line, but I want you to get your money’s worth, so I give you a couple of bottom lines.
The first is this. If you are a member of the City of God, for you there is no permanent tragedy. Tragedies yes, but no permanent tragedy! A friend dies, you are going through a divorce, or your house is being foreclosed! It’s a tragedy and we here at The Moody Church want to do all that we can (the little that we can) to walk with people through such experiences, but the Bible says if that’s happening, would you remind yourself that it says in 2 Corinthians that when we die we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens? It is not a permanent tragedy. Job loss, relational pain–not permanent because we know that eternity is coming. As the old line says, “It’s Good Friday, but Sunday is on the way.” There is no permanent tragedy if you belong to the City of God.
But the second lesson is that if you belong to the City of Man there is no permanent victory. You can amass all the wealth that you want, you can become as famous as you want, you can climb the ladder of success to the extent that you want to, but in the end you will lose it all. It will all be gone and as we’ve already emphasized, the end is destruction. You take nothing with you, and you enter into a realm of pain and unending sorrow. Wow! Think about that. Your victories over which you rejoice, and the pleasures that you so much enjoy, are all temporary. The Bible says that our lives are like a vapor that is here for a moment and then those vapors are gone. In the very same way, our lives are here today and they are gone tomorrow. There is no permanent victory for the citizens of this earth.
Finally, the way in which you make this transfer is, of course, as I’ve emphasized, through the cross of Jesus Christ. You see, it is indeed because of the cross that we have the forgiveness of sins, that Jesus met all of God’s requirements on our behalf. There’s a sense in which I can say today I owe God nothing because Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.
Those of you who are feeling as if you can never possibly please God, you are right, but there is a way in which it can be done, and that is to have somebody else please God for you, and that somebody else is Jesus Christ.
I urge you today to believe. There are some of you whose hearts God has already prepared for this meeting. Some of you are in this sanctuary today. Some of you are listening by other means and you know who you are, and that this is the moment to which God has brought you, to lead you to faith in Jesus Christ.
Years ago I told you this story, but I’ll tell it again. Apparently a little boy, possibly age six, was lost in a city. The policemen knew his name but they didn’t know where he lived, and he didn’t know his address. And then he said, “You know, I live not too far from a church in my neighborhood,” and they said, “Which church?” and he said, “It’s that church with the big cross in front of it.” Well, the police happened to know almost certainly what church that was with the big cross in front. And then the boy said, “If you take me to the cross, I can find my way home.” (applause) And today, there’s no other way. There’s no other provision. Only through the cross can you and I find our way home.
When Jesus was here on earth, in order to emphasize to the disciples the importance of His death, He in the upper room said to the disciples, “Take, eat. This is my body which was broken for you.” In anticipation of His death, He said, “Drink this because when you do this represents my blood that I am going to shed.” And then He said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and the Apostle Paul says, “We do it also in remembrance to the Lord until he comes.”
Our nation is in great need, but at the end of the day, what it needs to hear is a word of hope given by the Savior with nail-pierced hands who came from heaven to earth to redeem us at great personal cost.
Would you join me as we pray together?
And for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, you can even while you are listening say, “Today I believe on Jesus.” God has prepared your heart for it. You’ve come with a burden of sin. You know now that it is through Him that sin is forgiven. Acceptance and fellowship with God is made available because of His complete work. Call out to Him even now and be saved.
Father, do Your work in the hearts of all. We pray that You might enable all of us to be good witnesses to the City of Man and its great needs, to hold up a message that is transforming, and to live lives that are consistent with what we say we believe. And we shall thank You. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.