“who believes in him”
INTRO.: for sermon hymn show DVD of “Team Hoyt.”
That father and son duo is known as Team Hoyt. Dick is the father, Rick is the son. And they love to race. Just listen to these statistics that I pulled from their web site: 257 triathlons, 6 of which were Ironman Triathlons; 72 marathons, including 32 Boston Marathons; 97 half marathons; 219 10K races; 162 5K races; and a whole host of others that I found on their web site. They’ve crossed 1130 finish lines since 1975. They even crossed the United States of America. It took them 45 days to run and pedal 3770 miles, but they did it because Team Hoyt loves to race.
But as you saw in the video, only half of Team Hoyt can run or pedal. Father Dick can, but his son Rick can’t. And the reason Rick can’t is because at his birth in 1962 the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and starved his brain of oxygen just long enough to deprive him the ability to be mobile. The doctors gave him no hope, but his parents, Dick and Judy, begged to differ. They knew their son was bright. Though he was physically unable to take care of himself, mentally he was very sharp. So they enrolled him in public school and he graduated from high school. He even went to college and graduated from Boston University. But what Rick wanted to do more than anything was run. So at the age of 15 he asked his dad if they could enter a 5-mile benefit race. Dick was not a runner at that time, but he was a father. So he loaded his son in a 3-wheel wheelchair and off they went. And they’ve been running ever since then…or at least up until 2014 when Dick finally retired from these grueling races.
Rick Hoyt relied on his dad to do it all, didn’t he? To lift him, push him, pull him, pedal him. Other than a willing heart, Rick made no contribution to the effort. Instead, he depended entirely on his father.
Well, Rick’s relationship with his dad is really no different than your relationship with your Heavenly Father. He wants you to come to him with the same deep-seated dependence. The verse that we’ve been studying intermittently for some time now in a sermon series that I’ve entitled “The Gospel in a Nutshell,” John 3:16, reflects this when it says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” As we’ve been working our way through this familiar Bible verse, we’ve been doing so one word or one phrase at a time. Today our focus will be upon the two-word phrase “in him.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him.”
And really the phrase “in him” doesn’t fit very well in our day and age of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. “Believe in yourself” is the song that most people like to sing today. “Try harder, work harder, dig deeper, roll up your sleeves and give it your best shot.”
That phrase “believe in him” also smacks of intolerance and exclusion. And that doesn’t set very well with a lot of people today who are much more open-minded and much more willing to believe that all paths lead to God and heaven. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, humanism – it doesn’t matter what path you follow because salvation comes in many forms. Well, that may be the opinion of the majority today, but it’s not the opinion of Holy Scripture. The Bible swims upstream on this issue and says, “No, salvation doesn’t come from many sources, but from only one. And that source is Jesus.” “Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Tucked within those two words are two absolutely essential line-in-the-sand truths that we want to ponder this morning. Truth #1: You can’t save you. The reason you can’t is because you bring to the spiritual race what Rick Hoyt brought to the physical race. You bring morality with no muscle. You bring spiritual legs with no strength or endurance. And as for your good deeds and efforts? Forget it for the Bible tells us that they are like filthy rags in the sight of God. So they cannot carry you across heaven’s finish line. Romans 4:5 puts it this way: “People are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.” And in Rom. 3:20 the Apostle Paul clearly says: “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” What those passages are telling us is that God gives salvation not to the self-sufficient but to the inefficient, not to the self-righteous but to the one who is totally reliant upon the righteousness of Christ.
The only way we can be saved then is to bring to the race what Rick Hoyt would bring to his races…one word, trust. For when we bring trust – and by that I mean trust in the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the payment for our sins – then God does for us what Dick Hoyt did for his son. He takes responsibility for us, start to finish responsibility. Jesus puts it this way in John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Isn’t that nice to know that the security of the saved rests squarely in the nail-scarred hands of the Savior? And the only thing I know of that could ever remove you from the Savior’s hands is you. Should you willfully and obstinately reject his love and his offer of salvation, should you make it very clear to him that you want nothing to do with him, he, being ever the gentleman, will never force himself on you just as he will never stop loving you and trying to reach you. But when you do that you place yourself in grave danger of losing the one thing you could never attain for yourself – your eternal salvation. And there could be no greater tragedy than that.
So stay close to God and you have his personal guarantee that he will stay close to you and he will get you safely home. Recently I came across a story about an Air Force pilot who climbed into his high-powered jet one day and forgot to do something very important. He forgot to buckle up. Now that posed a problem because according to the design of this particular aircraft, once the plane is airborne you can no longer buckle up. To further complicate matters the parachute was connected not to the pilot but to the seat. So as he flew he was very much aware of the fact that one mistake could mean ejection and one ejection would mean that the parachute would go one way with his seat and he would go the other way and plummet thousands of feet to his death. After he landed the pilot said, “I did not enjoy that flight.” Indeed, who could under those circumstances?
Well, my friends, Jesus is our seatbelt. And when we buckle up with him, when we attach ourselves to him he attaches himself to us, and no matter what we have to face, he’s not going to let go of us. Even those times when we do really stupid things, those times when we stumble and fall, those times when we hurt and disappoint him, he holds onto us, offering his grace and mercy and forgiveness if we’ll just come to him with humble, sorrowful, and repentant hearts.
So believe in him, just as he invites us to do in John 3:16, because you can’t save you. And then secondly, believe in him because Truth #2: They can’t save you. Encyclopedias and history books have a tendency to lump Jesus in with all the other religious leaders our world has seen: Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith. But Jesus refuses to share the stage with anyone else. In John 14:6 he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” His followers did the same. They refused to allow anyone else to share the spotlight with Jesus. Peter said in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Now folks, we live in a generation that absolutely recoils at such dogmatism and exclusivism. Ours is a culture of inclusion rather than exclusion. That’s why you’ll hear people making the comment that all roads lead to heaven. Or, “It doesn’t matter what religion you are because we’re all trying to get to the same place.” Now that may make for impressive water cooler theology around the office, but I would ask what I think is a very fair question. And that is, does it pass the test of common sense? Can all religions or all approaches to God be equally correct?
For example, Islam claims that Jesus was not crucified or resurrected, but Christianity says he was. Both can’t be correct, right? Judaism rejects Jesus as their Messiah while Christians embrace him as such. Again, both can’t be right. Buddhists look to a life after nirvana that is achieved after no less than 547 births or reincarnations. Christians look to one life and one death followed by an eternity of enjoying God’s presence. Someone has to be wrong. Spiritists read your palm; Christians consult the Bible. Hindus perceive a god who is plural and impersonal. Christians perceive a God who is singular and intimate. Again, both can’t be right. And then most importantly, every non-Christian religion says “If you just try hard enough, maybe you’ll be able to save yourself.” Christianity says, “My efforts can’t save me, but Christ’s can.”
So you get my point? How can all religions lead to God when they’re so different from one another? We don’t put up with such illogic on other issues, do we? What if I said, “All roads lead to Salem”? Would you believe that? Of course not! Why not? Because you know that that simply is not possible and it simply is not true. You know that there are plenty of roads in this country as well as other countries that do not lead directly to Salem, IL. And to acknowledge that is not being narrow-minded. It is not being hard headed. It is not being intolerant. It is only being truthful.
Or what if you students tried that tactic with your teachers? What if you said, “All answers that I give on this test are correct regardless of what you think”? Well, you know as well as I do that you’re not going to get very far with that line of reasoning because 1 + 1 always equals 2 and the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west and Germany is always in Europe and so on. There can’t be more than one correct answer for a question just like there can’t be more than one correct source of salvation.
So you can’t save you and they, meaning the other religions of the world, can’t save you. Only Jesus can. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” And the way in which that verse works its way out in our lives is when we do what Rick Hoyt did with his father Dick, when we go to our Heavenly Father and say, “I don’t have what it takes to do what I want to do. I don’t have the strength to cross the finish line I want to cross. But you do. So would you do for me what I cannot do for myself?”
You know, when Dick and Rick Hoyt would cross the finish line in the races they participated in, both would receive finisher medals. Though Dick did all the work, Rick received a medal too. And when you would look at the listings in the paper the next day of those who finished, you would see Rick’s name listed right alongside his dad. You see, the son gets to share in the celebration because he believed in the right person. God’s promise to you today – no, his guarantee to you today – is that you’ll get to do the same if you’ll just believe in the right person too, namely, the one and only Savior, the one and only hope of salvation, the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.
That’s what Leila Dippold of our congregation did. She died 3 weeks ago, but one of the things she left her family was a beautiful statement of faith. Here’s what it said:
I’d like to tell my family and friends the following: I commit myself to God’s care, being secure in his love for me and trusting in the salvation purchased for me through Christ’s suffering and death. I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith and have now joined my Lord in eternal glory.
Oh that we would have a similar statement of faith on our lips and in our hearts until the Lord sees fit to call us home. Amen.