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THE PASSING MARATHON -
AND THE ETERNAL PROMISE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 A sermon preached on Lord's Day Morning, March 6, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).


Here we are this morning, a group of people in a church building in the civic center of Los Angeles. Outside the walls of this building the people of Los Angeles are holding their yearly marathon. All the streets are blocked off. There is only one way to get through this mess and find our church. You must have a map, because it is very hard to find the way in. You must get off the freeway at one obscure street to the east, and then come down a side street, and then walk nearly three blocks to get here. But we are survivors. We got here. If we had to come in a helicopter we would be here. They can't stop us from coming!

The marathon is held each year on Sunday morning, during the traditional hour of Christian worship. Sunday morning is when Christ rose from the dead. Christians have commemorated that by going to church on Sunday morning for two thousand years. The people of the world know that, but they couldn't care less. Church isn't important to them. Christ isn't important to them. They don't care that the streets are blocked during the traditional Sunday morning hour of Christian worship. They think, "What difference does it make? Those Christians don't matter anyway." Christ is of no importance to them, so they block the streets and run half naked in their marathon. Their view of Jesus Christ is perfectly described by the prophet Isaiah:

"He was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3).

"We esteemed him not." "We saw no value in Him, nothing worthwhile, nothing worth bothering about or thinking about, certainly nothing worth changing the day or hour of our marathon for."

They "esteemed him not." They saw no value in Him. It was the same last week at the Academy Awards. The most accurate portrayal of Christ's crucifixion ever filmed, and the second largest box-office draw in history, wasn't even nominated for any major category and didn't win a single award. The master of ceremonies at the Academy Awards made a joke out of it. He said, "No one wanted to make 'The Passion of the Christ.' They made six 'Police Academies,' but no one wanted to make 'The Passion of the Christ.'"(laughter).  "I saw 'The Passion of the Christ.' Not that funny really" (big laugh). The crucifixion of Christ was just a big joke to them. The suffering and death of the Son of God - what a laugh!

Nothing has changed over the centuries. When Christ was arrested,

"Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands" (Matthew 26:67).

While He was hanging on the Cross,

"They that passed by reviled him [hurled abuse at Him], wagging their heads" (Matthew 27:39).

"We esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). "We saw no value in Him, nothing worth thinking about." "We'll have a marathon instead of worshipping Him." "We'll make a joke out of His suffering and crucifixion and have a big laugh." That's what the world says.

And yet there have always been people who disagree with the world. Nothing has changed. There have always been people who believe in Christ no matter what the world said. There's a great revival going on today in China and Southeast Asia. Literally millions of people are coming to Christ, often in spite of great persecution. While the Western world mocks Christ and sees no value in Him, many others are turning to Him.

Nothing has changed over the centuries. In the first century the Christians were called insane. In A.D. 152 Justin, a defender of Christianity, said that the Romans "proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give a crucified man a place equal to the unchangeable, eternal God." "Those Christians worship a dead Jew," they sneered. Graffiti scratched on a rock in a guardroom near the Circus Maximus in Rome in the first century says it all. In that graffiti a man with a donkey's head hangs on a cross. Below the cross a man is kneeling in worship. The inscription says, "Elexa Manos worships his God." They made Jesus into an ass. They called the Christians fools. And yet thousands of people turned to Christ - just as they are today in China and Southeast Asia. The Roman world was against Christ - but many people believed in Him anyway. And it was this minority of Christians that the Apostle John spoke to when he said,

"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

There is power in those words. There's an appeal to them today, just as there was in the first century.

The Roman world of the first century is gone. There's nothing left but ruins. I've been to Rome twice. My wife and I walked through the ruins of the Colosseum, where Christians were thrown into the arena and torn to shreds by lions while the crowd laughed and jeered. But the crowd is gone. The arena is in ruins.

"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof…" (I John 2:17).

What was the attraction? What was it about Christianity that drew these people to undergo ridicule and the threat of persecution? And why are thousands of people today in China willing to go through great risks to believe in Christ? I think that part of the answer lies in the great truths of our text. Look at it. First John 2:17.

"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

There is such a powerful argument in the first half of that verse that, if you give it any honest thought, your mind is compelled to at least consider the second half.

I. First, the world passes away, and the lust thereof.

That's a powerful statement. It's impossible to refute. There is evidence for it everywhere. The original Greek, from which the English is translated, says that the world "is in the process of passing away" (Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1980, p. 788). It's present middle indicative in the Greek. That means it's happening right now. It's in the process of passing away. It's not something in the future. It's happening right now, all around us. Take, for instance, the marathon. It's already passing away. It started very early this morning. Our service has been going on nearly an hour now - and the marathon is already ending. The marathon is now "in the process of passing away." The same is true of the Academy Awards. They are in "the process of passing away." Can you remember which movie won the Academy Award for best picture in 1935? How about 1945? How about 1955, or 1965, or 1975, or 1985 - or even 1995? So, you see, it doesn't matter that they gave the award to Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" instead of "The Passion of the Christ." It doesn't matter that "Million Dollar Baby" contains propaganda against Christianity. It doesn't make the slightest difference, because the world is already passing away - and no one will even remember what movie won ten years from now. Not a soul will remember or think about Clint Eastwood's movie. Just another old movie. But millions of people will continue to watch "The Passion of the Christ" every Easter until the world ends. In the next five years it will become the most viewed motion picture of all time - and no movie will ever break its record - because every subsequent Easter millions more will watch it. You see, Clint Eastwood's movie is already passing away. It's in the process of passing away right now. But the story of Christ is timeless. Its appeal will never end. Even after the world itself ends - we will still be talking about Christ's passion and crucifixion, and His resurrection from the dead!

The greatest movie of all time? And the award goes to - "The Passion of the Christ." It will never be forgotten. Why? Because it is the greatest story ever told!

Some day somebody will walk through the rubble of Beverly Hills, like my wife and I walked through the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome. They'll say, "You know, rich people used to live here." They will be as forgotten as the pagans who jeered the Christians who were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. They'll be as forgotten as the pagan who said, "Those Christians! What fools! They worship a man with the head of an ass!" We will find out who the fool is - for "the world passeth away, and the lust thereof."

"And the lust thereof." That is, "the desire of the world" (Bengel). That is, the things the world "longs for" and thirsts after (Strong). The world longs for this thing or that thing, this sexual experience or that one, this drug or that one, this money or that fame, this position or that one. The people of the world are always longing and thirsting for things - things that will pass away as quickly as the marathon, which is already finishing as I speak. No one will even know who won it a week from now. All of this hustle and bustle and excitement - for what? For something that is already "in the process of passing away."

Clint Eastwood is 74. At the Academy Awards he bragged that he's going to live another 20 years. What if he does? They'll pry the Oscar out of his cold, dead hands. He can't take it with him when he dies. "You can't take it with you, you know."  That's what Lionel Barrymore said in the 1938 Academy Award winning film, "You Can't Take it With You."  It got the Best Picture award, and starred Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Donald Meek, and Harry Davenport; directed by Frank Capra; Best Picture and Director, 1938. "You Can't Take It With You" is a beautiful old film. But who remembers? What difference does it make? Everybody in it is dead. The Oscar is in an archive somewhere. Who knows where it is? Is it in a closet, or on a shelf, or in a box in some attic? Clint Eastwood should remember that. "You can't take it with you, you know." 

"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof…" (I John 2:17).

That's a powerful statement. No one can refute it. It was persuasive in the first century, and it's persuasive today.

By the way, what is it that you long for, and hunger for, and want so desperately? Is it something that is "in the process of passing away"? Does it have any eternal weight or lasting value? What is your life about? Did you ever think of that? What's it all about? Is it just a few laughs, making some money - what? "Well," you say, "nothing is permanent." Are you sure about that? The Bible says that some things are permanent.

II. Second, he who does the will of God abides forever.

That's the second great argument in our text.

"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

"Abideth" - what does that mean? The Greek word means "continue, endure, remain" (Strong).

"…but he that doeth the will of God 'remains' for ever"
    (I John 2:17).

That's hard to explain today. The word "abide" has dropped out of our language. Most people don't know what it means. The NASV foolishly leaves it as "abides," even though that is the one word that could use updating! That's why I stick with the King James Bible. These modern translators may know Greek, but they don't have degrees in English! You have to know English as well as Greek. You may as well stay with the King James. At least you know that the Greek text is reliable - and that the translators were great masters of English as well.

"He that does the will of God remains." Everything else passes away. Just like the marathon - which is now over as I speak. Everything passes away - except the person who does the will of God. That person remains. That person continues to live on.

That was the message that penetrated the Roman world in the first century. "He that doeth the will of God abideth [continueth, remaineth] for ever." After the circus was over and the games and tortures were over, the dead bodies of the Christians, torn to pieces by lions, were dragged off of the floor of the Colosseum and thrown in a pile. Under cover of darkness, after midnight, the Christians would come to get the bodies of their beloved friends and relatives. They took them down into the catacombs, and buried them in the walls, in those tunnels beneath the city of Rome. And they put verses of Scripture on the panel that sealed in the body. This is one of the verses they used like that,

"He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

So, what is "the will of God"? If that's what's required to "abide for ever," what is it? This is critical. The whole question of eternal life depends on this. I will answer that by telling you a story from the Bible. One day some people asked Jesus, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" (John 6:28).

"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

Believing on Jesus. This is the main work, says Dr. Gill,

There are other works which are well-pleasing to God, when rightly performed, but faith is the chief work…the object of it is Christ (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, vol. I, page 814).

Jesus said,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

Since this is the critical test, you must know what it means to believe on Jesus. It means to believe what the Bible says about Him. The Bible says that Jesus died to pay for your sins and rose again, and is now alive at the right hand of God in Heaven. You must believe that. But you must do more than merely believe those Bible facts. You must believe on Jesus Christ Himself!

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

Spurgeon said, "Lay yourself flat on Christ." What did he mean by that? He meant to rely on Christ alone. Lay yourself on Him. Trust Christ alone. Do not look at yourself. Do not look at your own feelings or emotions or thoughts. Look to Christ alone.

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).

I wish that you not only knew you should believe on Jesus. I wish that you would actually believe on Him.

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3:36).

It isn't something you get after you die. Oh, no! You receive everlasting life the moment you believe on Jesus!

"He that believeth on the Son hath [present active indicative] everlasting life" (John 3:36).

"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

And it is the will of God for you to believe on Christ. Jesus said,

"Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).

Come to Him. Lie flat on Him. Let no other trust intrude. Jesus cannot lie. Jesus told the truth. Jesus said,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

How we pray that you will come to Jesus - and rest on Jesus - and believe on Jesus - for

"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

Take the world, but give me Jesus, All its joys are but a name;
But His love abideth ever, Thro' eternal years the same.
Oh, the height and depth of mercy! Oh, the length and breadth of love!
Oh, the fulness of redemption, Pledge of endless life above!
    ("Take the World, But Give Me Jesus" by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).

(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I John 2:15-17.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Take the World, But Give Me Jesus" (by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).

THE OUTLINE OF

THE PASSING MARATHON -
AND THE ETERNAL PROMISE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:17).

(Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 26:67; 27:39)

I.   First, the world passes away, and the lust thereof, I John 2:17a.

II.  Second, he who does the will of God abides forever,
I John 2:17b; John 6:28-29, 47; Romans 5:1-2; John 3:36, 37.

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