We feel an enormous burden for the salvation of people. To us, it is unthinkable that other people should be eternally lost. It is especially unthinkable that any person we know and love--our child, our spouse, our friend, our neighbor--should be lost.

Because of this enormous burden we feel, we often do two things that are spiritually disastrous to us.

What two things? First, we assume upon ourselves Jesus' role in salvation matters. We decide who will be and who will not be saved. Second, we oversimplify response to God through Jesus Christ. We assume people believe in Jesus Christ. We assume people repent. Saving others just becomes a matter of convincing them to be baptized. If we can just convince a person to be immersed for the remission of sins, salvation (in our thinking) is a fact.

The enormous burden we feel for the salvation of other people did not originate with us. Jesus felt that burden. As he taught in Jerusalem the last week of his earthly life, he made this statement:

Matthew 23:37-39 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' "

Jesus is the Christ. He is Lord. The form of grief the Savior felt was his, not ours. What was to occur to Jerusalem was unnecessary because the people did not know who he was and trust him. Their primary failure was their failure to believe in him.

  1. During Jesus' ministry, the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 13) records an occasion when Jesus taught some simple facts about God's kingdom by using a series of parables.
    1. The series of parables Jesus used were:
      1. The sower
      2. The tares among the wheat
      3. The mustard seed
      4. The leaven
      5. The hidden treasure
      6. The expensive pearl
      7. The dragnet
    2. The points about God's kingdom that Jesus made were these:
      1. The response a person makes to Jesus depends on the person's heart.
      2. Inside the kingdom will be people who belong to Satan and people who belong to God. This is by Satan's planning and efforts.
        1. God does not want anyone belonging to Him destroyed through uprooting those who do not belong to him.
        2. Therefore, there will come a time chosen by God when God's angels separate those who belong to God from those who belong to Satan.
        3. Those who belong to Satan inside the kingdom cause godly people to stumble while they refuse to place themselves under God's rule.
      3. God's kingdom will have a tiny beginning, but will grow into an incredible tree.
      4. God's kingdom grows through influence--one life will touch another life.
      5. Some accidentally discover God's kingdom just like a person who discovers a hidden treasure.
      6. Some discover God's kingdom because they search for it, just like the person searching for an expensive pearl.
      7. By God's design, God's kingdom will gather (attract) all kinds of people.
        1. Some are devoted to God, and some oppose God.
        2. The angels will separate the ungodly from the godly at the end of time.
    3. Note this series of parables about God' kingdom begins with the parable of the sower and ends with the parable of the dragnet.
      1. It begins by emphasizing a person's heart determines the response the person gives to Jesus.
      2. It ends by emphasizing all kinds of people will be in the kingdom when time ends, and the angels' job is to separate the ungodly from the godly.

  2. Many of you are quite familiar with the parable of the sower: focus your attention on that parable for a moment.
    1. The parable (story) is very simple and was taken from an every day scene of life in their planting season.
      1. A person sows a field with wheat or barley seed.
        1. The person sowed the only way they planted that kind of seed--by broadcasting the seed.
        2. The difficulty of that method: the sower has little control over where the seed falls.
      2. As he sowed, seed landed on four kinds of soil.
        1. The hard pathway that everyone packed down by walking.
        2. The rocky ground that had a little soil and too many rocks.
        3. The thorny ground--nothing wrong with the soil, but there was too much competition from the thorn plants.
        4. The good soil that produced a harvest.
      3. The soils are people's hearts.
        1. Some people are hard-hearted when it comes to Jesus.
        2. Some people are much too shallow to belong to Jesus.
        3. Some people have too many things in their lives that complete with Jesus, and the competition chokes Jesus out of their lives.
        4. Some people want to belong to Jesus, want their existence to serve his purposes, and bear spiritual fruit by producing the fruit of the Spirit.
    2. I want to make two simple points from this parable.
      1. Point one: there will never be a time when every person you know is good ground, or is a person who wants to belong to Jesus.
        1. There will always be hard-hearted people.
        2. There will always be shallow people.
        3. There will always be people whose lives are too crowded with other things for Jesus to fit in.
        4. Jesus did not give us the responsibility to determine who these people are.
        5. Jesus give us the responsibility to share Jesus and God's rule in the hearts of people with everyone.
        6. But I just plant, and you just plant.
        7. I do not determine the nature and quality of a person's heart.
        8. If people rejected Jesus himself, by what arrogance do I decide that no one will reject me when I introduce that person to Jesus and God's rule in his or her life?
      2. Point two: if all I accomplish is immersing a bad heart that intends to remain a bad heart, nothing has been accomplished.
        1. If I immerse a hard-hearted person who does not believe, that does not produce salvation.
        2. If I immerse a shallow-hearted person who, instead of believing, spiritually wilts and die, that does not produce salvation.
        3. If I immerse a person whose life is so crowded the he or she has no place for Jesus in his or her life, that does not produce salvation.
      3. Our primary challenge is to encourage real faith, real trust in God's work in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        1. Baptism for the remission of sins means nothing without that faith.
        2. Faith in God's work in Jesus can turn hard hearts into good hearts, shallow hearts into good hearts, thorny hearts into good hearts.
        3. BUT--the person must soften the hard heart, or dig out the rocks, or pull up the thorns.
      4. For decades we have been focused on baptism with little attention to encouraging faith.
      5. A result: far too many people who have been immersed for the forgiveness of sins who have little or no faith in Jesus Christ.
        1. We made church membership more important than trusting God.
        2. In the New Testament, people who trusted what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection were baptized.

  3. The parable of the dragnet is not nearly as familiar to us as the parable of the sower.
    1. It, too, was a simple parable (story) taken from their everyday existence.
      1. Food was often scarce and starvation was a real possibility.
      2. One source of food was fish.
      3. One means of catching fish was the use of a drag net.
      4. The problem with a dragnet was that it caught everything--fish that were eatable and fish the Jew was forbidden to eat.
      5. The procedure was fairly simple:
        1. Use a dragnet and catch everything you could.
        2. When you pulled the net to the bank, separate everything in the net.
        3. Place what was eatable in containers.
        4. Throw away what was not eatable.
    2. Jesus said God's kingdom would catch all kinds of people, some truly devoted to God's purposes, and some who opposed God's purposes.
      1. But Jesus did not place us in charge of determining what kind of person each person was.
      2. Nor did Jesus place us in charge of the separation.
      3. At the right time, God will be in charge of the separation, and He will send His angels to take care of that task.

  4. Allow me to share some simple conclusions with you.
    1. Saving people is basically about challenging people to change their hearts by placing their trust in what God did for them in Jesus Christ.
      1. Using the parable of the sower:
        1. My primary responsibility is plow the hard ground, or dig out the rocks, or pull out the thorns in my own heart.
        2. My secondary responsibility is to encourage others as they work on softening their hearts, digging out their rocks, and pulling out their thorns.
        3. The greatest encouragement I can give them as I encourage them toward faith in God's work in Jesus is to let them see in the genuineness of my faith the desirability of being good hearted people who belong to Jesus.
      2. Will that convince everyone? No! Everyone does not wish to belong to Jesus.
        1. If we want to be God's kingdom, we must be committed to living in faith and calling others to faith.
        2. We must understand that immersing people for the forgiveness of sins when they do not believe is meaningless.
    2. Purifying God's kingdom by placing ourselves in charge of separating people in "the dragnet" is God's business, not ours.
      1. It is God's business because we know what is in a person's heart only if that person chooses to reveal it to us.
      2. Too all of us, that should be wonderful news.
        1. God knows which direction my heart is moving even when people cannot.
        2. Plowing hard ground and making it soft is hard work and takes time; digging rocks out is hard work and takes time; pulling thorns is hard work and takes time.
        3. God's knows if I am involved in that process when people do not!
        4. Because God knows, God is qualified to use the angels to separate.

My challenge is simple: do not entrust your salvation to the fact of baptism or church membership. Everyday of your life, work on your heart. Have the faith that lets God rule you. Let your immersion stand on that faith. Let your faith rule your heart. Never forget that God knows what is happening in your heart.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 28 April 2002

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