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A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
"It is not good that the man should be alone"
"It’s a Wonderful Life" stars Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Beulah Bondi, and Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy. It was directed by Frank Capra, and it is America’s favorite Christmas movie. I am sure everyone here has seen it on television at some time or other. I don’t like most Hollywood movies, but this one is harmless on television, better than most syndicated programs, I think. If you’re going to watch TV, which is better, "Roseanne" or this old movie? The answer is obvious.
Made back in 1946, it did not do well in theaters. I think the reason for this is because it is essentially about the great depression. That’s when the story takes place. The themes which grabbed people’s hearts when they were so poor no longer had much appeal after World War II. We just couldn’t relate to George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. It was no longer a depression era. Everyone was making money and succeeding by 1946. "It’s a Wonderful Life" was about the past – a past people wanted to forget about.
But this movie came into its own on television. I have seen all or part of it more than fifteen times. I saw it flickering on a TV screen at the hospital when my mother was dying at Christmas time in 1997. It became America’s favorite Christmas movie in the 1950s, 60s and seventies, and continues to be watched on national television by millions to this day.
We no longer see it as an outdated depression movie. Instead, we now view it as a period piece, a picture of what America once was, with its simpler life-style, in a small town atmosphere. We now see it with nostalgia and a longing for the old-fashioned way of life it portrays in our day of high technology and modern living.
"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a wonderful movie. It is not perfect, of course, but it does faithfully show us the simple life that Americans once lived. And in some sense you could call it a "Christian" movie. Oh, it doesn’t preach the Gospel and some of its themes don’t give us the complete Bible picture, as perhaps they should. But it does give us a "Christian" view of life in, I think, at least three ways.
I. The story shows us that money isn’t what makes life worth living.
"Take no thought for your life (don’t be too concerned about it), what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat (or food), and the body than raiment (clothing)?" (Matthew 6:25).
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).
The villain in the movie is old Mr. Potter, played to the hilt by that master actor Lionel Barrymore, in one of his finest roles. Old Mr. Potter is the villain simply because he loves money more than anything – more than people, more than God, more than life itself. He is a greedy old man who wants to own everything. The Bible says, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (I Timothy 6:10). It does not say, as many people misquote it, "money is the root of all evil." No, it does not say that. Instead, it says, "The love of money is the root of all evil." When a man loves money the way Mr. Potter does, it is evil and it brings ruin and sin.
I always find myself feeling sorry for old Potter. He has no real friends and, apparently, no family – and certainly no church. He is alone, all alone with his possessions. What a sad and pitiful old fool he really is. He’s a modern-day Scrooge who never wakes up as Scrooge did, in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
No doubt Potter wakes up in Hell, as the rich man did in Jesus’ story, recorded in Luke 16, and as the rich fool did in Luke 12.
"He said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods… But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided (and saved and worked for. Who’ll get them then, when you die?)" (Luke 12:18, 20).
And then Jesus said,
"So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21).
Those are sobering thoughts which the Mr. Potters of this world never seriously think about until it’s too late. Mr. Potter ended his life all alone. How sad.
Young person, don’t live your life just for money or pleasure. Make sure that you live your life for God, so you won’t wind up alone like this old miser some day. Be in church every Sunday and live for God. That’s the only way to live!
II. Then, secondly, the movie shows us that being with people and loving
them deeply is what really counts in life.
Our text says, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). It is good to be with people and to love them. That’s what George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) found out. With his family hugging him around the Christmas tree, at the end of the movie, we have the message of a wonderful life.
The Bible says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (I John 3:14).
The Bible teaches that God created three institutions for man’s welfare and happiness: the home, the government, and the church. In our day, we see all three of these institutions breaking down. We don’t trust the government or respect the president anymore. The home either doesn’t exist or is nonfunctional. And the church has been abandoned by millions.
But we pay a terrible price, especially for losing our connection to each other through the church.
I was reading an article in Prevention magazine a few days ago. Prevention is the magazine that tells you how to prevent disease and maintain good health. They had a cover story titled "The Number One Best Thing You Can Do for Your Health." Do you know what it is? No, it’s not diet or exercise! Here’s what psychiatrists and sociologists tell us is the number one, most important, thing you could do to be healthy and live a long life. They said:
Modern technology may make life seem easier, but it also makes it shorter. Science says that people who have a lot of human contact can live twice as long as those who are isolated (Prevention, December, 2000, p. 122).
Studies show that the fewer human connections we have…the more likely we are to get sick, flood our brains with anxiety-causing chemicals, and die prematurely (ibid.).
Connectedness (with other people) is as much a protective factor – probably more – than lowering your blood pressure, losing weight, quitting smoking, or wearing your seat belt (ibid.).
Now, here is what these psychiatrists and sociologists say is a big part of the answer: regular church attendance.
Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said this in the Prevention article:
Even if you don’t have a lot of faith…just sitting in church… for an hour a week is good for you. There are…studies now that show that people who do that live longer (ibid., pp. 126-127).
That’s what I’ve been saying to you for years – it’s good for you to be in church! In many ways, it’s good for you! Come home – to church – every Sunday!
III. Then, thirdly, there is this lesson from "It’s a Wonderful Life" – the
movie tells us that there is an unseen world, another dimension,
where God and angels and Christ live.
Now, I don’t think "Clarence the Angel" in the movie portrays what the Bible teaches about angels. It is a distortion of the Biblical picture. But I do know that the Bible tells us that each of us has a guardian angel in Hebrews 1:13-14 and elsewhere in the Scriptures.
We have become so materialistic in this period of history that we no longer think of the spiritual world all around us.
"It’s a Wonderful Life" understands the positive and the negative aspects of life and of the spiritual dimension. It’s almost Manichaean in its depiction of good and evil, light and darkness, Satan and God. And that’s one of the things that rings true, that makes the movie believable, because there are good and evil forces at work all around us. Little children intuitively know that there is a spiritual dimension, both good and evil. You might call it "The Twilight Zone" on the evil side, or "Touched by an Angel" on God’s side. Yes, I believe there is a Devil and demons – and Hell. Yes, I believe in Hell. But I also believe that there are guardian angels, and God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and Heaven. Yes, I believe in Heaven.
"We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal"
(II Corinthians 4:18).
And you must cultivate a knowledge of the spiritual dimension by prayer and Scripture reading and church attendance and conversion. Otherwise you will come to look at life as hopeless and meaningless, like the druggist in "It’s a Wonderful Life," or like the people in Potterville – in George Bailey’s dream. We’ve simply got to have God in our lives. Without God, there’s no meaning and no hope for the future.
And we must have Christ, the only begotten Son of God. That’s what Christmas is all about. God sent Jesus, His Son, into the world. Theologians call this "the incarnation." It means that Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, was covered with flesh. Charles Wesley, in his great Christmas carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," said this:
Veiled in flesh the God-head see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
("Hark! the Herald Angels Sing"
by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).
God sent Jesus Christ into the world primarily to die so our sins could be atoned for – vicariously, through His payment for sin on the Cross. Our sins can be washed away by His Blood. And Christ has risen from the dead. He is alive in Heaven at the right hand of God. You can come to Jesus Christ and He will pardon you, and save you, and give you a wonderful life.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
(END OF SERMON)
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Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "I’d Rather Have Jesus"
THE OUTLINE OF
A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
"It is not good that the man should be alone"
I. Money isn’t what makes life worth living, Matthew 6:25, 33;
II. Being with people, especially in church, is what really
III. There is an unseen world, another dimension, where God,