Grace seems too good to be true, doesn't it? It's free, it's eternal, it's divinely given. Yet these qualities which make it so desirable to some also make it so contemptible to others. That's because man, by nature, doesn't like being told he is powerless to save himself. When he arrives at the pearly gates, he would rather pat himself on the back and say, 'Look at what I have done,' than fall humbly to his knees before God and say, 'Look what You have done!'
You Can’t Get to Heaven in a Wooden Crate
My daughter gave me the lyrics to this little song she learned . . . she says one line and I was supposed to repeat it back.
You probably learned it too, a long time ago?!
Oh you can’t get to heaven,
In a little rowboat,
Cause the little rowboat,
It just won’t float.
Here’s another stanza;
Oh you can’t get to heaven,
In a limousine,
Cause God don’t sell,.
I’m thrilled with the grammar skills she’s learning . . .
I even made up a stanza to go along with my sermon today; here it is, you ready?
Oh you can’t go to heaven,
In a wooden crate,
Cause wooden crates,
Aren’t mailed to heaven’s gate.
In case you think I’ve had too much time on my hands this past week . . . I made that one up after reading about this article that appeared in the Associated Press.
The Associated Press ran a story last year about Charles McKinley, a 25-year-old shipping clerk for a New York warehouse. He’d decided to visit his parents who lived in Dallas, Texas, but wanted to didn’t have the money to buy an airplane ticket. So he concocted a plan to ship himself in a postal crate from the warehouse, to Dallas, and charge his company the freight.
So on Friday, September 5, 2003, after filling out paperwork describing the cargo as clothing and a computer, McKinley called for a courier service and then crawled into a 3 by 4 foot crate. The crate was picked up by truck and driven to New Jersey before being loaded onto a cargo plane. Eventually the crate was delivered to the McKinley home in De Soto, Texas on Saturday and Charles kicked open the box, startling his parents and the delivery man.
Without food or water on the 15 hour journey, he had actually taken huge risks he hadn’t thought of. The crate could have been handled roughly, giving him a concussion, or worse, breaking his arms or legs. The box he was in was placed in the pressurized, heated storage cabin, but it could just as easily been placed in the lower, unpressurized compartments, where he would have died.
This stunt could have cost him everything.
It did cost him something. He was fined $1,500 and placed on probation, but he could have been fined much more and given one year in prison.
I found it interesting that the shipping charges he incurred, ended up being $550.00. That could have bought him a seat in business class.
Adapted from 2004 Preaching Today.com, Citation: Greg Asimakoupoulos, Associated Press, 9-9-2003
What a picture of humanity, though, right? Eternity? Yea, I’ll get there my way!
Sure it was crazy to try to get to Texas in a wooden crate, but my religion is much more sophisticated – it will deliver me!
That’s certainly the picture Paul has painted of the Israelite nation.
They are proud . . . self-confident . . . secure . . . expert craftsmen who’ve constructed a crate of creeds they believe will guarantee them safe passage to heaven’s shore.
They’ve forgotten one thing in their journey . . . they’ve overlooked their heart. They have a serious medical condition that isn’t covered by their national insurance policy.
Their hearts are not prepared for the journey.
And would you notice the Divine prognosis.
You’ll find it in Romans chapter 11, verse 7.
The Spiritual Prognosis of Israel
7. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;
That last word presents an idea we haven’t covered yet.
It’s the condition of Israel’s heart, as a nation.
The Greek word, translated hardened, is from porow (porow) which means to harden, to cover with a thick skin, to harden by covering with a callous.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 1976), p. 372
The Greek word actually gives us our English medical word, porosis as in osteo-porosis – the formation of bone around joints.
In the Greek culture it was used of a callous . . . a growth on the skin on some part of the body that is scraped or roughened up with use.
I can remember my grandfather’s hands, the calluses that were permanent reminders of his hard work on the farm in Minnesota.
You could have taken a stick pin and poked all around the palm and fingers of his hand, without every causing him any pain.
A callous causes a part of your body to lose feeling. It becomes insensitive and unfeeling.
The Divine Physician finishes examines the nation Israel and says, among other things . . . they have porosis of the heart – a calloused heart.
It’s a terminal condition that will require a heart transplant if they are to survive.
Would you notice the symptoms of Israel’s disease.
The Symptoms of the Prognosis
1. The first symptom is a loss of spiritual direction
Paul writes in verse 8. Just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor.”
This verse is taken from the prophet Isaiah who writes in chapter 29:10, “For the Lord has poured upon you a spirit of deep sleep, he has closed your eyes, you prophets, and covered your heads, you seers.”
In other words, you don’t know which way to turn . . . you’re confused by your own spiritual wandering and speculation and disobedience.
One of the marks of unbelieving humanity is spiritual wandering.
You’ve probably noticed the celebrities who’ve begun wearing the red string around their left wrist – a belief from Jewish mystical cult known as the Kabballah.
The red string supposedly carries mystical powers to protect the wearer from the influences of the evil eye . . . that is, negative energy that flows from unfriendly people around you. They believe that this red string has mystical energy and protective power.
It all comes from the fact that all the individual bracelet strands are cut from a longer strand that is first wrapped around the grave stone of the Jewish matriarch, Rachel. It is then cut into pieces and worn by followers who are now protected from negative energy in every area of life
Whether it’s red string around the wrist or putting a mirror in the foyer of your house to direct the positive energy of the universe through your home, it is all the same.
It is spiritual wandering and superstition.
Listen, you don’t need a string . . . you need a Savior!
What greater protection in and through the challenges of life – including all those negative people you’re related to, right? All those negative influences at work.
Isaiah spoke of the prophets and the seers of Israel losing their connection with the God of Israel, and they began wandering around as if they are – the NIV translates it – under the influence of wine and beer (29:9).
Staggering from one day to the next . . . without any true spiritual direction.
Make your wooden crate . . . hope for the best. Don’t look for direction from the word of God . . . just make it up.
Whether it’s hanging a crystal on your rear view mirror to reflect mystical energy and light . . . or making sure your house faces the right direction or you put the plants in the right spots so that negative energy is thwarted . . . or maybe you’re into doing something physical and so you connect through Yoga (a word within Buddhism that means “yoke” . . . a series of exercises and postures that yoke the participant with the universal flow of energy in and through their bodies . . . or maybe you skip all that stuff and just wear a little red string . . . God calls it wandering.
The great Christian thinker and author, C.S. Lewis, once said very simply that there were two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”
You’d rather have a string than a Savior . . . have it your way.
You’d rather yoke to the universe than wear my yoke, have it your way.
You’d rather fight evil energy with mirrors rather than the mirror of my word . . . than have it your way.
But be warned . . . your spiritual experimentations may be symptoms of a hardening heart.
2. Paul goes on to give us the second symptom of a hardened heart against the gospel of grace; (not only a loss of spiritual direction, but there is) a loss of spiritual discernment
8b. Eyes to see not . . .
Somewhat repetitive, but with a different nuance.
Paul quotes another Old Testament passage – this on in Deuteronomy chapter 29 refers to spiritual blindness . . . the inability to discern truth from error which is the condition of the unbelieving world.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (I Corinthians 2:14)
The Lord often spoke of the willful blindness of the Jewish nation.
The Apostle John announced in chapter one of his gospel, “There was the true light which coming into the world, enlightens every man (John 1:9).
That word enlighten is from the Greek word, photizo (fotizw) which gives us our word photo . . . photograph . . . It means to shed light – to expose – to reveal.
In other words, Jesus Christ came to give us, as it were a photograph of God. To reveal God, for in Him, Colossians says, all the fullness of deity was embodied.
Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of the Triune God.
He is the photo album of the nature and character of God.
But unfortunately the nation rejected the light.
John writes in chapter 3, And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
In a sermon recorded in Matthew 13, the Lord quotes from the same passages in Isaiah and Deuteronomy that Paul quotes in Romans 11.
(loss of spiritual direction . . . discernment)
3. The third symptom is the loss of spiritual discrimination
8c. And ears to hear not, down to this very day.
In a sermon Jesus preached to his Jewish audience, he combined both the loss of spiritual discernment and spiritual discrimination.
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
15 For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matthew 13:14-16).
In other words, we want to stay in the dark! Since our deeds are evil, we don’t want any lights turned on . . . turn out those lights, they are hurting our eyes.
We don’t want to hear the truth and we don’t want to see the truth.
Paul writes to the Jewish nation and any nation that wanders from the light of the gospel, “You want the darkness . . . then you can have it . . . but beware, there are consequences.”
There are consequences not only to Israel, but to every nation that rejects the light of the gospel.
There is the consequence of moral darkness
Is it any surprise that a little more than 600 teenagers contract syphilis ever day.
Is it any surprise that during the next 24 hours, more than 35,000 adults in this country will contract a sexually transmitted disease – 13 million people every year and growing.
Is it any wonder that there are 3 million alcoholics in this country between the ages of 14 and 17.
There is no one to lead them.
Is any wonder that homosexuality, fornication and just about every other form of sexual deviancy from scripture is not only accepted, but defended as a personal right.
Just yesterday, yet another picture of a lovely woman in a white wedding dress with a veil, holding her bouquet of flowers, standing in civil ceremony next to another woman, also wearing a white wedding dress with veil and a bouquet of flowers.
I thought how sadly they wander . . . one side of them dreaming of being a bride dressed in white, and the other side, encouraged by the applause of an unregenerate society, they are bound in an unnatural union, Paul writes in Romans chapter 1, to one another.
You reject the light of God’s moral standard and you choose moral and ethical confusion and despair and lonely darkness.
There is the consequence of intellectual darkness
The inability to interpret and integrate truth.
On the way to college, to drop our guys off, we swung by the Sight and Sound Theater in Lansing County, Pennsylvania.
It’s a huge theater, seating some 3,000 people, continually sold out, putting on Biblical productions. They were playing Noah and the ark.
Live animals . . . a huge stage that wrapped around the front of the auditorium, some of it, 3, 4 stories high. It was designed to make you feel like you were in the ark when the storm began.
It was amazing to consider that the people could see the animals arriving . . . in pairs . . . wild animals . . . domestic animals – 2 of every species. I know, you wonder why Noah didn’t go ahead and swat those mosquitoes.
Imagine that scene long ago. The people from the surrounding region could see this undeniable sign that God was at work – yet no one outside the family of Noah made a reservation.
They missed the connection . . . they couldn’t integrate what they saw with the reality of Biblical truth. They didn’t see it and didn’t hear it.
Why? Paul wrote, In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
They just don’t see it, apart from the grace of God.
I love the satire of this incident involving Sherlock Holmes and his bumbling Dr. Watson. They were on the trail of some investigation and had to camp outdoors. They pitched their tent under the stars and went fast asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, Sherlock woke Dr. Watson and said, “Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what deductions you can make.” Watson rubbed his eyes, then said, “Well, I see millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite possible there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.” Holmes said, “Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent.”
2004 Preaching Today.com; citation: Sherman Buford, N.Y. Times 1-27-2002
You gotta let that sink in!
How brilliant we can sound at guessing things we know nothing about, while at the same time, entirely missing what’s in front of our nose.
One old puritan leader once wrote, “The man who deliberately shuts his eyes against the light of truth shall gradually lose the power of seeing.”
There are the consequences of moral and ethical and intellectual darkness . . . furthermore,
There is the consequence of spiritual darkness.
We’ve already given ample illustration of this, in Rome, in Israel, and in America.
To the Jewish nation who rejected the Light of the world, and screamed for Rome to extinguish the light, I find it fascinating that God gave them an illustration of what they wanted.
When Jesus hung on the cross, for three hours, Luke recorded, right in the middle of the afternoon, the sky went black. The sun’s light was miraculously obscured and the world hung in total, deep darkness.
It’s as if the Father said to mankind, “You wanted darkness . . . you hated the Light . . . I’ll give you three hours of it and there is an eternity of it ahead if you if your heat remains hardened.”
But for the believer? Revelation chapter 21 describes heaven and among other things it says, “God illumines it and there is no need of the sun to shine up it . . . it’s lamp is the Lamb . . . and there shall be no night there.”
For those of you who have accepted the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, your future will not include any remnants of spiritual or ethical or intellectual or moral darkness . . . not even physical darkness, ever again.
Now the Jews felt secure in their handmade crate, because they had the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.
It’s interesting to note that Paul quotes from all three in this paragraph.
He quotes from the prophet Isaiah – in Romans 11, verse 8a
He quotes from the law book of Deuteronomy – verse 8b
And he also quotes from the writings of one of David’s Psalms – in verse 9.
All three parts of the Jewish sacred scriptures condemn the choice of Israel to reject the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Here’s the Divine prognosis – you have a hardened, calloused heart.
Here are the symptoms of the prognosis – eyes that can’t see and ears that can’t hear.
Now, here is the seriousness of the prognosis – unavoidable consequences and coming judgment.
The Seriousness of the Prognosis
Notice that text - And David says, Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not and bend their backs forever.
Circle the words of warning . . . snare – trap – stumbling block – retribution.
They trusted in their table – perhaps a reference to their sacred feasts . . . their rituals . . . their Passover . . . their table of showbread . . . their confidence that God will continue to prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. (Psalm 23:5)
But the table is no longer protected from the nations.
Circle the words of judgment -
They move from eyes that will not see (v. 8) to eyes that cannot see (v. 10).
That’s the condition of a hardened heart. It moves from “I will not believe,” to “I cannot believe.”
So is Israel going to be discarded?
Look over to verse 25 – we’ll study it in detail later, but for now, Paul writes there, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, let you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
In other words, believe it or not, there is hope for the hardened!
The hardening of Israel’s heart is partial, not total – individual Jews can come to faith in Christ, even now. I met one last Sunday after one of the services who came in to talk with me. A Jew who has accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The hardening of the nation’s heart is partial, not total. Furthermore, it’s temporary, not eternal . . . Paul writes in verse 25, it will be over after the fullness of the Gentiles occurs.
You say, what does that mean? I say, you’re just gonna have to keep coming back, if you want to find out.
Let me say one more thing by way of application.
The Israelite hugged the scroll of the law to their heart – and believed they were safe.
God looked at their heart and new they were calloused and hardened . . . and in great danger.
The prognosis was deadly serious . . . the nation was confident, but in grave danger.
You know, the average American would never consider getting into his car without an inspection tag, proper identification, and plenty of insurance to cover himself, his vehicle and any other driver he might run into. Not to mention medical insurance and life insurance.
Coverage for earth journeys . . . no coverage for eternity.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a vast difference between Blue Cross insurance and blessed assurance. Amen?
Most people see the benefit of Blue Cross . . . not so many see the benefit of the rugged Cross.
But the truth remains . . . the light remains . . . run to the Savior; He’s your only hope of arriving safely in heaven.
In January 1985, a large suitcase, unmarked and unclaimed, eventually caught the attention of U.S. Customs agents in the Los Angeles International Airport. When Customs agents opened the suitcase, they found the curled-up body of a young Iranian woman. She had been dead for 4 days. The pieces finally fell together under an investigation. She was the wife of a young Iranian living in the U.S. Unable to obtain a visa to enter the states, she took matters into her own hands and decided to smuggle herself into America via an airplane’s cargo bay. Unlike Charles McKinley, the shipping clerk I mentioned earlier, she wasn’t put in a pressurized, heated cargo bay . . . and was killed.
Truth is, even if she’d survived the journey, she would have been an illegal alien, and returned to Iran.
Paul has made it clear to Israel and to us – you don’t get in by race, or ritual . . . you can’t sneak into the kingdom, or create some ingenious way to gain entrance – you can only enter through the Redeemer, who is the way.
It’s true, you can’t get to heaven in a limousine, in a rowboat, or
in a wooden crate of your own making. God has already
purchased a ticket for you in business class . . . no, first class.
So don’t try some man-made stunt of your own. Don’t bend
your back as Paul said the nation Israel is doing, under the
weight of the law.
Come to the gospel of Christ . . . and gain entrance forever into
the everlasting kingdom of light.