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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, December 6, 2009

“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”
(Matthew 27:4).

That was the first Bible verse I ever memorized (Matthew 27:4). If that seems like a strange verse, especially as the very first verse to memorize, listen attentively to my testimony and you will find out the reason God used it in my life.

I was not raised in a Christian home. My parents never attended church. They never read the Bible to me. I never heard them pray. The only prayer I knew was the “Lord’s Prayer,” which I learned from an uncle, the husband of my mother’s sister. I often prayed the “Lord’s Prayer,” but I did so as a sort of magical incantation. I prayed it when I was in trouble or scared. But I had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, and what little belief I had in God was nothing more than superstition.

When I was thirteen years old the next door neighbors took me with their children to a Baptist church for the first time in my life. I have a vivid memory of that service, but I don’t remember anything that the preacher said. I only remember that he spoke very loudly and waved his arms in the air. He had on a light grey suit and a bright green tie. As he shouted and waved his arms, the tie swung back and forth. That is all I remember about the first sermon I heard in a Baptist church. At the end of his sermon he asked people to come down the aisle and stand in front of the pulpit. The people stood up and began singing. My friend, the son of the next door neighbors, got out of his seat beside me and walked to the front of the church. I thought, “That must be the thing to do.” So I followed him. The pastor told us to come back a few nights later to be baptized. That’s all he said. It was a “decisionist” church, so no one spoke to us or asked us why we had come forward. My friend and I went back. They put white robes on us and we were baptized along with several other children. That is how I became a Baptist! But I was not a Christian. I had not been converted. I did not know Jesus Christ. The only thing I believed was that you could get “magical” help by reciting the words of the “Lord’s Prayer.”

I kept going to church every Sunday with the people next door. They were friendly, and I liked going over to their house to watch TV with them almost every night. TV was a new thing when I was thirteen. We all sat around a little nine-inch screen and watched black and white programs almost every night. And then I would go to church with them every Sunday morning. I don’t remember anything that was taught in Sunday School. I don’t remember anything from the sermons I heard. In my memory, the pastor talked a great deal about Heaven. But I don’t remember what he said about it. All of his sermons are just a blur, very unclear in my memory.

Then one day when I was about fifteen the church decided to put on an Easter play about the crucifixion of Christ. Somehow I was cast in the part of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver, which led to Christ’s arrest and death on the Cross. It was then that I first memorized a verse from the Bible.

I was Judas. I had been paid thirty pieces of silver to lead the soldiers to the place where Jesus prayed. They had arrested Jesus and beat Him in the face. As Judas, I went to the chief priests who had paid me to betray Him. I threw the coins down at the feet of those priests and cried out,

“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”
       (Matthew 27:4).

Then I ran offstage and hanged myself, as Judas did.

I played the part of Judas each Easter for three years. The words of Matthew 27:4, which I memorized, were deeply engrained in my mind,

“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”
       (Matthew 27:4).

That was the first Bible verse I ever memorized. The words sank deep into my soul. It seemed to me that I was Judas –that I had betrayed Jesus, that I had crucified Him by my sin.

I was so conscious of my sin that I wanted to do something to get rid of it. On Easter Sunday morning, at the age of seventeen, the pastor asked if there was anyone who would dedicate themselves to be a preacher, and if they would, to come forward and stand in front of the pulpit. I had never thought of becoming a minister until that moment. But I thought, “This is what I need to do.” I got out of my seat and went forward. After the service everyone came by and shook hands with me, congratulating me for my “decision.”

I believe that God really did call me into the ministry that morning. I have not doubted that God wanted me to be a minister since that day, over fifty-one years ago. But I was not a Christian. I had still not been converted. I did not know Jesus Christ. I understood nothing of cleansing from sin by His Blood. Now I was simply a lost Baptist preacher. They licensed me to preach a few months later. That license is framed and hangs in my office here at church. But I was not born again. I memorized the Gospel, and I preached many sermons, but I was not converted. I was just a lost Baptist “preacher boy,” trying to earn salvation by being good. The words of Judas in Matthew 27:4 had brought me under conviction of sin, but I found no relief by becoming a Baptist preacher. The words still pierced my heart,

“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”
       (Matthew 27:4).

A few years went by and I read about James Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China. I thought, “That’s what I need to do. I need to become a missionary to the Chinese.” I thought that would help me to be a Christian, and take away my guilt. So I went to a Chinese Baptist church and joined it. The next fall I went to Bible school, to Biola College (now University) to prepare to be a missionary. It was there that I heard Dr. Charles J. Woodbridge preach for a week every day in Chapel. Dr. Woodbridge was born in China, the son of missionaries. That made me listen to him more carefully. He was also a very interesting speaker, and a very Bible-centered preacher. He was preaching straight through the Epistle of II Peter. When he got to II Peter 2:1, he spoke powerfully against the “false prophets” who would deny “the Lord that bought them.” He made the atoning work of Christ on the Cross very clear, that Christ died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. A day or so later he went on to II Peter, chapter three. Here he spoke about the “scoffers” of the last days that would laugh at the Bible and deny the Second Coming of Christ. He went on to speak of the coming Judgment,

“…in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Peter 3:10).

Then he came to verse thirteen, to the words,

“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth” (II Peter 3:13).

He said, “They, the lost people in the world, have no hope! They are just waiting to die! ‘Nevertheless we’ have hope in Christ! ‘Nevertheless we’ know Christ, we have been saved by Him! They have no hope! ‘Nevertheless we’ have salvation and hope in Christ.” Those words shot through my heart like an arrow. All my goodness and religion were worthless. I knew that the world was finished, and judgment was coming. I came to Christ by faith in that moment. My sins were gone, washed clean in His Blood. I was converted. I knew it then, and I know it now.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
   Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
   And shall be till I die;
And shall be till I die, And shall be till I die;
   Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
   (“There Is a Fountain” by William Cowper, 1731-1800).

I know from personal experience what it’s like to come to church without knowing anything about Christianity. That’s how I came to church as a thirteen-year-old boy. I know what it feels like to be confused, and not know what to do to become a real Christian. I know what it’s like to be under conviction of sin and not know how to get out of it. I know what it’s like to come to Jesus and be saved. And I know that I was saved by Jesus to serve Him throughout my life in the fellowship of the local church.

It has now been fifty-five years since the neighbors first took me to a Baptist church. As I look back across five decades I am more certain than ever that the most important things in life are these – Jesus Christ and His church. Only Christ can give us freedom from guilt and fear. Only His church can give us stability, fellowship and strength and discipline in a hostile and desolate world. Only Christ and His church can give us meaning in an otherwise futile and hopeless existence.

If I had only one sermon to give I would tell you, without hesitation: make sure you know Jesus Christ, and make sure you live out your life here in church. John Calvin said, “Whoever has God for his Father has the church for his mother.” How could anyone who reads the Bible disagree with him on that?

These are the things that will matter most at the end of your life. In the end these will be the only things that matter at all!

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
      (I Timothy 1:15).

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree”
       (I Peter 2:24).

“So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God”
       (Mark 16:19).

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”
       (Acts 16:31).

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

May God give you the grace to come to Jesus and believe on Him. May God convert you to Christ. May you be baptized into the fellowship of His church. In the end these will be the only things that matter at all!

Oh, what a fountain of mercy is flowing
   Down from the crucified Saviour of men!
Precious the blood that He shed to redeem us,
   Grace and forgiveness for all of our sin.
(“Oh, What a Fountain!” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 27:27-36.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Oh, What a Fountain!” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).