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Christ Alone – sermon

On Sunday I began our Gospel Alone series with this sermon on Christ Alone.

Audio here.  Excerpt beneath.  Full sermon at the end.

We do not know God except in Christ alone.  We are not saved by God except in Christ alone.

Does that sound narrow?

It’s only as narrow as Christ is.  So how narrow is Christ?

He is the Eternal Image of the otherwise Invisible God, the Creator and Redeemer of the Cosmos in Whom the fullness of deity dwells.  How narrow is He?  He is vast, He is beyond imagining.  He fills the universe and the fullness of God fills Him.

We don’t say “Christ alone” to be narrow.  We say 'Christ alone' because there’s no room for anyone else!  He is the eternal Son of the Father, our Maker and our Saviour, Who reconciles the cosmos back to His Father – there’s just no room for anyone or anything else.  That’s why we say 'Christ alone'.

It’s not about being narrow.  It’s just about naming the true Lord of this world.  The true Lord of this world is not Buddha or Allah or Krishna, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not money, sex or power, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not a big bang or a tiny particle or a long equation, He’s Jesus.

This is not narrow, this is simply naming the vast majesty of His Person and work.  It’s Christ alone, because when you understand who He is, there’s no room for anyone else.

And when you grasp the all-sufficiency of His Person and work - it transforms your view of Christ, of His Father, of the world, of salvation, of yourself.  To know Christ for Who He is means being drawn into His very life and work - to be caught up into the heart of all things.  Grasping 'Christ alone' changes everything...

Full sermon text below...

In August we’re going to look at five short phrases that have become very important in affirming what the gospel is.  The gospel – the good news about Jesus – is the beating heart of Christianity.  If you mess with the beating heart of Christianity, the whole thing dies.  You’re just left with a corpse.  A dead body.  It might be a large and sprawling and impressive body – but without the gospel, it’s a dead body.

And so historically, one of the ways Christians have defended the gospel has been to insist on these five phrases as guarding essential truths about how God saves His people.  Here are the five phrases we’ll be looking at over the next five weeks.  God saves His people:

[by] Grace alone

[through] Faith alone

[in Christ] Christ alone

[revealed in] Scripture alone

[all to] God’s glory alone.

We’ll see what each of these phrases mean over the next five weeks.  But that word ALONE is crucial.  Because if you add things to grace and faith and Christ and Scripture and God’s glory you KILL the gospel and Christianity becomes a lifeless corpse.  So these phrases protect the very heart of Christianity.

Now it’s important to say that living, biblical Christianity has always held these truths dear in every age.  But these phrases were particularly developed in the 16th century because at that time the gospel – the beating heart of Christianity – was stone cold dead.  And the whole church needed root and branch Reformation.

Because let me tell you what the church was teaching in the middle ages.

Everyone knew we were sinful.  And everyone knew there was a judgement.  Question is, how do sinful people like us escape hell and get saved?  How do sinners get through the judgement and into God’s wonderful future?

The answer given by the medieval church was essentially, Listen to us, come under our authority, we’ve got a special system where you can pay off your sins and earn some merit with God. Submit to our system, try hard and hope for the best.  You probably still won’t make it to heaven when you die, but hopefully you can spend a few thousand years in purgatory, burn off your sins there and then you’ll get upgraded.

So what the medieval church offered you was a system of salvation – and it was a system that even lasted beyond the grave.  Even when you died you couldn’t get off the treadmill – there was still purgatory to go through.  And your whole life was taken up by a system of churchy things – going to mass, going to confession, doing penance, praying your set prayers, visiting shrines, buying indulgences – a system where you try to pay for your sins and earn a bit of merit before God.

Now the church taught that God does help you along the way.  One of the slogans of the time was “God will not deny grace to those who do their best.”  If you’re really trying, God will give you some help to get through the system and earn your salvation.  But of course who does their best?  How could you ever know you were trying hard enough?

Now of course this system has got NOTHING to do with the bible’s teaching.  But this was before the printing press.  Bibles had to be hand-written, so of course they were very scarce and VERY expensive.  Usually locked away in monasteries and only available in latin.  What’s more the church’s official position was that ordinary folk like you and me couldn’t read or understand the bible for ourselves.  Only the official teachers of the church could possibly understand its difficult message.  So it was best if Christians just shut up, let the church engage in the tricky work of understanding Scripture and we all just submitted to church’s system of salvation.

A number of people during the medieval period did manage to read the bible for themselves and there were many even in the so called “dark ages” who saw the truth of Christ in the bible.  And there were even underground movements of revival and reform for centuries before Martin Luther.

But events conspired together so that in the early 1500s when Martin Luther got hold of the bible’s message, reformation happened.  The printing press had just been invented – so Luther’s teaching could spread like wildfire and bibles could get into the hands of the common man like never before.  Also politically Luther was in a good place in Germany to take potshots at the pope and not immediately get squashed.  He had powerful friends who could keep him from immediately being burnt alive for his teaching.  So events conspired so that it was Martin Luther who spearheaded the reformation.

And as I’ve said these reformers of the church started to develop these handy phrases to summarize the bible’s teaching on how we are saved.

We are saved by God’s sheer grace alone – only by HIS kindness, mercy and love.  It’s not about us ascending through the ranks of some system – it’s purely about His loving kindness coming down to our level to save us.  We take hold of this salvation by faith alone – simply by trusting Him.  God graciously gives us salvation and ALL we do is receive His gift.  And what is His gift – His gift is Christ alone.  Jesus IS our Saviour and He is ALL we need – Christ alone.  We know all this through the Scriptures alone – we don’t need the Pope and the church to tell us what’s what.  And we don’t need the pope or the church to help us interpret the bible – the bible alone can tell us how to be saved through faith in Jesus.  And all of this is to God’s glory alone.  It’s not a system where God does some of the work and gets some of the glory and we do some of the work and get some of the glory.  We do NOTHING.  He does everything.  So to Him be ALL the glory.

Do you hear how different this is from the SYSTEM that the church was teaching?  If you become convinced from the bible of those ALONES – the freedom on offer in the gospel is breath-taking.  And God is always wanting to blow away the system with its guilt and pride and earning mentality and to give us joy and peace and freedom in Christ.

And so that’s what we’ll be studying for the next five weeks.  And I’m praying for another little reformation here at Souls at 7.  And another major reformation of all our own hearts.  Because I know that we all drift from Scripture, we drift from Christ – and we fall for the system.  Time and time again.  It doesn’t have to be the Roman Catholic system.

We’ve got our own systems – certain bible reading plans and quiet time regimes, and certain measures of holiness that tell us how we’re doing.  We live out our Christianity as though we’re in a system.  Always measuring ourselves against the system, against each other, and not measuring up.  And the joy and the peace and the freedom is not there and we manage SOMEHOW to have a Christianity without Christ.  It sounds impossible but actually we manage it all the time.  We routinely try to live out a Christianity that is without Christ.  The whole PERSON of Jesus is not there.

You know the sort of thing... There’s a mechanism over there called the cross, and we’re grateful for it but it’s one mechanism of many which includes my quiet times and growth groups and making sure I keep a certain distance from a certain selection of sins and, if I don’t, to feel dutifully guilty for a certain length of time as some kind of penance.

Our default setting is to live in a system.  God wants us to live in His Son.  And it’s all the difference in the world.

So that’s the first phrase we’re going to study this evening.  Christ alone.  When we see where CHRIST really belongs – ALONE at the centre of our lives, at the centre of all reality, then those other phrases will fall into place and we’ll be saved from the systems the choke the life out of us and find freedom in God’s Son.

So without any more introduction let’s dive into Matthew 11, our reading for tonight.

Here we have Jesus who seems to have hit a bit of a brick wall in His evangelism.  He’s speaking the living and life-giving word of God, He’s answering every question brought to Him with the wisdom of heaven, He’s performing the mighty works of God – He’s like a little oasis of paradise walking around planet earth.  Everything that He touches turns to Eden, everyone brought into His sphere is made whole and given peace.  But so many of the people have looked on with cold, stoney hearts and refused to acknowledge the bleeding obvious – that here is God’s Son come into His own world and setting it straight again.  Instead when the light shines, people prefer the darkness.  That’s what verses 20-25 are all about.

Does this phase Jesus?  No.  In fact He turns this into a prayer of praise!  Astonishing.  Look at verse 25.

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

Jesus says the Lord of heaven and earth takes pleasure in hiding the truth from the wise and learned.  Those who think that they are so clever they can piece together the truth by themselves – the Father laughs at them.  But those who are simply little children – the Father rejoices to reveal everything to them.  Little children are contrasted with the wise and learned because little children have to receive everything don’t they?  They are completely dependent for everything and come with empty hands to their parents.  Jesus says, it’s the simple, dependent, child-like trusters who will understand the things of God.  While the ‘wise and learned’ will have the truth hidden from them.

Where will God hide the truth?  He will hide it on full display to the world.  He will hide everything IN Jesus.  Jesus is the one place where the wise and learned will refuse to come.  But it’s the place where the little children flock to receive the truth.  God hides EVERYTHING in His Son Jesus.  That’s what verse 27 says:

27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father.

ALL THINGS are in the hands of Jesus.  God the Father commits everything into the hands of His Son.

Before there was even a universe, God the Father is pouring God the Spirit upon and into God the Son (Jesus).  That is the very life of God.  The Generous Father entrusts all things by the power of the Spirit to His beloved Son.  So that Jesus is the Heir and Executor of the Father’s Will.  He is the Father’s King and Ruler and Saviour and Judge.  Everything the Father is and does He commits into the hands of His Son Jesus.

So that if you refuse to come to God’s Son then you cannot know God.  Verse 27 continues:

No-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

This is one of the most important verses in all the bible.  Whenever the church has broken away from systems and returned to God’s Son – this verse has been vitally important.

It pictures a kind of family secret between God the Father and God the Son.  There has been this eternal family secret locked up between the Father and the Son and if you just read the first half of the sentence you would think that it was an impenetrable family secret.

Put your finger over the last ten words of the verse.  Block out everything from “and those to whom.”  Cover up that ending and what do you have?

No-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son.

If Jesus ended the verse there, no-one would know anything.  If the verse ended there, no-one would know God except God.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be having a whale of a time enjoying their family secret, but that would be it.  And it would be tragic because, as Jesus says in John 17:3 – to know God the Father and His Son Jesus – that IS eternal life!  Eternal life IS knowing the Father and the Son.  To be let in on that family secret – that is salvation, that’s what it means to have real, true, satisfying and everlasting life – to be IN that divine family.

But no-one knows the Son except the Father and no-one knows the Father except the Son.  How can we know God?  How can we have eternal life?  Is there a way INTO this knowledge of God, this life of God, this family of God?  Yes.  Verse 28 goes on:

No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.

The Son reveals the Father.  The Son – Jesus – reveals His Father.  Thank God – the Son reveals the Father.  There is a way into the family secret.  There is a way INTO the life of God and His name is Jesus.

And the Father sent Him into the world to reveal Himself in all His true wonder and glory. When I see Jesus I am seeing the eternal Son of God revealing to me our Heavenly Father.

And if I like what I see, I will come to Jesus like a little child with nothing to offer.  And I’ll find that Jesus has EVERYTHING to give.

He will bring me into the very life of God.

And so Jesus calls out to the whole world from v28 – Come, Come in, Come one, Come all, Come to ME – I will bring you into that true knowledge, that true family, that true life, that true rest.  Read v28 with me:

28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

A yoke was an old piece of wood that goes across the shoulders of your two oxen as they pull your plough.  The yoke makes sure the oxen are keeping in step.

Jesus says that you and I have some kind of yoke.  Even before we come to Him, He assumes we’ve already got a yoke, and it’s heavy.  So we plod through life attached to something – it could be another person, it could be some vision of the good life – career, family, travel, it could be some religious system – but you’re yoked to something and it’s determining your speed and direction, it’s determining your life.  And it’s a heavy, wearying, burdensome weight.

And whatever that thing is, Jesus says – “Lay it down, and yoke yourself to Me.  I’m the only one with an easy and light yoke.  Every other yoke fits badly.  But when you’re joined to me it’s not a burden – it’s true rest.  Rest for your very soul.”

The whole world tires itself out trying to live right and think right and Jesus says, stop trying to figure it out yourselves.  “Become like little children, lay down your burdensome quests and tiresome yokes and simply receive my rest.  I will join you to myself and bring you to the Father, that you might be a little child resting in me, calling on your Father, drawn into the very life and family of God.”

That’s what Jesus offers.  But I hope you can see that this offer comes through Christ ALONE.

Verse 27: No-one comes to the Father except through the Son.  Without Jesus no-one knows God, no-one can come to God.  Without Jesus we’re left on the outside with blind ignorance and burdensome yokes.  ONLY Christ reveals God to us and ONLY Christ saves.

This is a theme repeated again and again in the bible.  We don’t have time to go through these verses but let me just mention them.

No-one has ever seen God, but God the Son, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.  John 1:18

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6

For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5

The bible is crystal clear: If you don’t know Christ you don’t know God and you have no salvation.

Now does that sound narrow?  Because let me tell you some implications.  It means the sincere Muslim does not know God nor are they saved by God.  It means the sincere Hindu does not know God nor are they saved by God.  It means the cheery unbeliever in the pub talking about “God” is not talking about the true and living God.  Because the true and living God is known in Christ alone.

Does that sound narrow?

Well it’s only as narrow as Christ Himself is.  How narrow is Christ?

Let’s turn to Colossians 1

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation...

Verse 15 is another great Christ alone verse – Christ is THE Image of an otherwise Invisible God.  Christ is not an Image, not the best Image – THE IMAGE.  If I’m not thinking of Christ when I think of God, I’ll start thinking of an idol – a false god.  God is known in Christ alone.

Again we might ask the question: Is that narrow?  Well again, it’s only as narrow as Christ is Himself.  How narrow is Christ?

Well this passage paints Christ on a cosmic canvas.  V15: He is the firstborn over all creation – that doesn’t mean that He’s the first creature, no He’s the Creator.  It means that He is the Heir – the Inheritor of all things.  All things have been committed to Jesus by His Father (we’ve already learnt that). Verse 16 all things have been MADE by Jesus.  Verse 17 all things HOLD TOGETHER in Jesus.  Verse 18 in all things He has the supremacy.  You cannot think too highly of Jesus.  Verse 19 – all God’s fullness dwells in Jesus.  And v20 – all things are reconciled back to God by Jesus through His death on the cross.

Verse 20 is immense.  It says that salvation is completed IN JESUS.  Salvation doesn’t happen in ME.  And it doesn’t happen in any religious systems.  It happens IN JESUS.  He does the whole work of reconciling the world to God.  I don’t do any of it.  My religious systems don’t do any of it.  He does it all.

When you see Jesus hanging on that cross between heaven and earth He is reconciling heaven and earth back together again – it is a cosmic and divine work.  The cross is VAST.  Because on the cross the Creator is bleeding and dying to save His own handiwork and bring the whole creation back into fellowship with the Father.

Tell me: How narrow is Jesus?

We’ve wondered whether “Christ alone” is a bit narrow.  Well it’s only as narrow as Jesus is.  So how narrow is Jesus?  He is the Eternal Image of the Invisible God, the Creator and Redeemer of the Cosmos in Whom the fullness of God dwells.  How narrow is He?  He is vast, He is beyond imagining – He fills the universe and the fullness of God fills Him.  And friend – if your Jesus is not this big, you’ve got the wrong Jesus.

Listen, we don’t say “Christ alone” because it’s narrow.  We say Christ alone because there’s no room for anyone or anything else.  He fills the universe and is filled by the fullness of God.  He is the eternal Son of the Father, our Maker and our Saviour – there’s just no room for anyone else.  That’s why we say Christ alone.

It’s not about being narrow.  It’s just about naming the true Lord of this world.  The true Lord of this world is not Buddha or Allah or Krishna, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not money, sex or power, He’s Jesus.  The true Lord of this world is not a big bang or a tiny particle or a long equation, He’s Jesus.

That’s what Christ alone means – Jesus is our Cosmic Lord and King, the uncreated Creator and Redeemer of the whole cosmos and there’s no room for any other Saviour or for any other work.  He’s it.  And that’s not being narrow, that is simply naming the vast majesty of His Person and work.  It’s Christ alone, because there’s no room for anyone else.  No-one could ever add to His glory or His work.

And if we really grasped that, it would change everything.  When we see that Jesus takes our salvation up completely into His own hands – He does it all.  That’s what the bible calls faith – and it means crossing over from death to life.

Look with me at v21 and see what a difference Christ’s work makes:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.

That was life before we were yoked to Jesus.  When a person is not joined to Jesus, this is how God sees you.  Alienated, enemy, evil.

In a world made by Jesus and for Jesus, if you are not FOR Jesus – what are you doing on planet earth?  The sun, moon and stars are for Christ – if you are not for Christ the bible says, you are alien to the whole of creation, you’re an enemy of God, you’re evil.  The most basic aspect of being a creature is to be rightly related to your Creator, Christ.  If you’re not – you’re completely out of step with all reality – an enemy of God.

That’s was before we were joined to Jesus.  But then v22 describes what happens when we are joined to Jesus.  Verse 22:

But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation-

Look at those words: Holy… Without Blemish… Free from accusation.  That’s how the Father sees you, if you’ve been reconciled through Christ’s work on the cross.

What a turnaround.  No longer alienated, an enemy and evil.  Now: Holy, without blemish and free from accusation.  Apart from Christ you were as far from God as it was possible to be.  In Christ you are closer than you could ever imagine.

How does that work?

Well Martin Luther used to describe it using the illustration of marriage.  He said, Imagine a wedding between a King and a prostitute…

…When we are joined, yoked, married to Jesus all His riches come to us and all our debts go to Him.  He takes care of the whole of our salvation.  Our status before God, our forgiveness, our righteousness – Christ takes care of it all.  Christ ALONE.  We do nothing – we simply receive Him and He does EVERYTHING.

Let me just finish with the story of John Bunyan’s conversion.  John Bunyan wrote the second most read book in the world after the bible: Pilgrim’s Progress...

But before he became a Christian he struggled for years in a religious system that gave him no rest, no peace, no joy.  He always felt guilty, never felt like he’d done enough.  But one day the truth of Christ alone captured his soul and he was changed forever:

“One day as I was passing into the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest all was not right, this sentence fell upon my soul: ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. ‘There,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness!’ So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ For it is always right before him.

I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness IS Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

Now I could look from myself to him and could reckon that all my character was like the coins a rich man carries in his pocket when all his gold is safe in a trunk at home. Oh I saw that my gold was indeed in a trunk at home, in Christ my Lord. Now Christ was all: my righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”

- John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Do you see the effect on your soul of understanding Christ alone?  It is freedom from every SYSTEM that weighs you down and wearies you.  God is saying to you right now – Don’t live in a system, live in MY SON.  IN CHRIST is EVERYTHING you need.  He is our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption.  He is our standing before God and all the world.

Do we need to renounce our silly little systems and return to Christ alone?

Let’s be quiet...


0 thoughts on “Christ Alone – sermon

  1. Tim V-B

    Great stuff Glen! Gives me ideas for a series after Christmas.

    Back in Stone, Staffordshire, some folk, myself included, went around the local church buildings praying in each. The Catholic one was an eye-opener! There was this intricate carving of people, hands and feet chained, in the fires of purgatory. In one hand they held a rosary, lifted high up towards heaven. The notice on the side explained everything; although I can't remember the exact words it was something like "the souls in purgatory make intercession with the rosary."

    Horrible. Praise God that salvation is Christ alone!

  2. Leon

    Live in my Son! Thus coming to the Father as his 'sons' in the Son, and truly knowing Him. And unless we know God THROUGH THE SON BY THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION, we don't know God as Father. And unless we know God as FATHER through the Son by the Spirit, we do not know God at all. But when we do know God in the Son as sons or little children, then we know Him as he really is, we know Him as He is from eternity, we know Him as the Son Himself has always known Him, we know Him as none other than Father. Or more importantly, He then knows us as none other than His children or sons. And perhaps following from this, the Father then reveals Himself to us and shows us all things as He shows His only Begotten and Beloved Son all things (still through the Son and by the Spirit of course).

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