I don’t know how many of you are diehard baseball fans. I’m certainly aware that there are some in our congregation who wait eagerly for each new season to begin, and who agree with columnist George Will. According to him, there are only two seasons in life: baseball season and “The Void.”
But I want to take us back to a difficult and painful time for our nation. In the late summer of 1994, the entire MLB roster of players decided to go on strike. There was posturing; there were threats; there was the possibility that baseball would lose its precious postseason with millions of dollars in revenue. And fans who were hoping one side or the other would “blink” and give in waited and waited to hear two words. The greedy baseball owners were on one side; the greedy baseball players were on the other. And when August 11, 1994 came, neither side was able to say these two words:
“We . . . surrender.” Those are two of the most miserable, sweat-drenched, self-destroying words in the English language. “We surrender.” Or on a more personal note, “I surrender.” Both sides in the baseball wars dug in their heels, refusing to give an inch. The playoffs were wiped out. The World Series was canceled. People were reduced to watching soccer and reruns of That Seventies Show in that dismal October. Why? Because no one would surrender.
The history books tell us that when the British army surrendered to the rebel American army at the end of the Revolutionary War in October of 1781, their Redcoat band played the song, “The World Turned Upside Down,” as the British troops trudged sadly to the boats and headed back to England. General Washington watched in wordless triumph aboard his favorite horse, Nelson, as the stunned English army left in defeat. Some of the Redcoats actually ridiculed American troops for being shoeless even at the victory ceremony. But after so many years of trying to win, of trying to squash this ragtag rebellion, the illustrious forces of His Majesty had to surrender.
Well, what does the concept of surrender mean to us as Christians? It’s the theme of one of our most beloved hymns: “All to Jesus I surrender; I Surrender All.”
Now, what does that mean? Frankly, I think we’ve had kind of a shallow view of “surrender.” A “baseball strike” view, if I can push that metaphor a bit more in a few moments.
“I surrender ALL.” Maybe when you hear that expression or hear that Christian gospel tune, you think to yourself—or the Holy Spirit says to you—”I really should give up my cigarettes. I ought to surrender my cigarettes.”
And so you try to stop smoking.
Perhaps drinking is the sin of focus. “Okay, I’ll surrender drinking.” For the next few months you focus your efforts on staying away from alcohol.
Maybe it’s a bad temper. You fume at your friends and seethe with resentment over real and perceived slights. So this is your prayer: “Lord, I surrender ALL—and I guess that means my temper. Lord, I want to have victory over my temper tantrums.”
Sometimes even good Christians struggle with lust or even adultery. Or using bad language at the office. Or maybe a bit of dishonesty; you have just a bit of a pattern of fudging the truth or being a bit casual in your expense reports. You send out e-mails that leave a false impression. So you think you ought to surrender that.
Well, that’s surrender of a sort, but it’s not the kind of surrender God is inviting us to experience here. We’ve been exploring in this gospel series of sermons five steps that are part of the salvation process. Five things that have to happen . . . and you’ll remember we’ve been noticing that all of these things so far are things that God does for us. He gives us a desire for something better than what we’ve got; He points out to us what that “something better” is; He convicts us of the truth, the diagnosis, that we’re sinners with a great need, and He finally helps us to admit that we’re helpless to fix things ourselves. Four steps so far, and all of them are His doing. About all we can do, we’ve discovered, is to put ourselves in a place where we can hear and understand this process.
So we’ve arrived at the point where we admit that we’re helpless. And now comes the moment where we surrender.
But surrender what? What do we surrender?
Do we surrender things? Smoking and drinking and our bad temper and our Playboymagazines and our imaginative tax returns? Do we say to the Lord, one thing at a time, “Okay, Lord, I guess You can have this thing. And now this one. And, well, all right, that thing too”? And we kind of checklist our way up the freeway.
I want to suggest to you that this is a dead-end approach. It has never worked, and it never will. We can’t “checklist” our way into surrender.
No. When we admit our helplessness and then finally surrender, what we’re surrendering is the idea that we can fix anything ourselves. We give up on US. We surrender US.
You know, in that 1994 baseball strike all baseball fans endured, both sides were willing to surrender things. The owners wanted a salary cap and the players said, “Absolutely not. No way not a chance never never never never. We’ll go to the mattresses forever on that issue.” Well, down the road they finally said, “You know, actually, maybe a cap set at 55 million dollars per team would be all right.” Then later, “Well, maybe 52 or 51 million.” And the owners surrendered on some fine, ticky-tack points about arbitration and a few minor clauses here and there.
So both sides were willing to surrender a few tiny points here and there. But neither side ever threw up its hands and said, “We surrender ALL. We’re giving up on self; we’re completely throwing in the towel and admitting that this problem is too big for us to solve.” That never happened; in fact, most labor disputes don’t end with one side surrendering. The two warring armies generally lurch to a muddled solution somewhere in the middle . . . and those of us watching from the sidelines wonder what took so long!
In wartime surrenders involving guns and bombs, we usually see this same kind of piecemeal negotiation. The loser says, “Well, you got us. You won. Here’s what we’ll do: we’ll give up this and this and this . . . and that’s it.” You rarely have a war loser who admits: “All right, we give up everything. We give up ourselves.”
In the brief interim between World War I and World War II, American flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker was privileged to get to take an extended visit through Germany. He was flabbergasted to find that the German military was openly preparing for more war. Their national pride had been wounded by the defeat in the first global conflict, and they made no bones about the fact that they were in serious preparation for Round Two. Rickenbacker watched in horror as they showed him a new and improved war machine which would be virtually unstoppable. Why was this happening? Because they had never truly “surrendered” the first time.
In fact, when Eisenhower’s forces finally defeated Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers in 1945, this was the sticking point again between the victorious Allies and Germany. The losers offered some conditional half-hearted terms, but the victorious Allied forces finally were in a position to demand UNconditional surrender.
And you know, that’s where we are today right at this moment. God’s not calling you to simply give up a few things. He wants you to give up on the idea, on the concept, that you can do anything for yourself. You and I need to sing, “I surrender all” . . . and not be thinking as we do so, “I surrender all my sins.” No, it goes this way: “I surrender all of me.” I surrender the idea that I can obey in my own strength. I surrender the belief that I can fix anything myself. I surrender the hope that maybe I can make myself better. “Lord, I’m giving up on me.”
Someone recently pointed out that something like 80% of all Americans believe that they will someday be in heaven. But only about 35% of those same Americans have a conviction that Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation, and confess to having a born-again relationship with Him. What does this mean? Out there in our very town, something like 45% of all people we meet have some other plan to get to heaven. They have a backup plan of some kind; they think their good deeds or their family heritage or their standing in the community will be what warrants their receiving a crown of life and a mansion.
But even for those of us who look toward Calvary, here’s the tough thing. Surrender is something we can’t do. WE CAN’T DO IT!! Self-surrender is an impossible thing.
You know, I heard about a man whose car horn was broken. So he drove down to the auto repair garage and found that the doors were closed. But there was a sign there that said: “Honk for service.” You’re there with a broken horn; honk for service. That’s an amusing conundrum, but in the realm of salvation, our dilemma is more sobering.
And right here’s where we are. We can’t do anything . . . and here we look at an assignment that’s huge. SURRENDER! It’s impossible! We can’t do it!
Let me say this. Right now, this Sabbath morning, as you and I are reflecting together, perhaps you feel drawn at this very moment to surrender SELF. If so, then praise God! Because it’s God who is leading you to that decision. Surrender is not something we can do for ourselves.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times a truly helpful book by Pastor Morris Venden; it’s entitled To Know God: A Five-Day Plan. “If you want to kill yourself, there are a number of ways you can do it. You can take a gun and blow your brains out. You can jump off a tall building or bridge. You can take an overdose of some lethal drug. But there is one way in which you can never kill yourself. You cannot crucify yourself. There is no way you can do it. If you are to be crucified, someone else must do the job for you.”
If you happen to own the classic book, Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis, I’d like to give you a Sabbath assignment today. I want you to go home after lunch and just sit by the fireplace and read through the entire chapter entitled “The Perfect Penitent.”In case you don’t own either the book or a fireplace, let me read right now just one paragraph for you. Here it is:
“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life all over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of a `hole.’ This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance.”
Well, so far so good. This lines up with what we’ve been saying. But C. S. Lewis recognizes the same dilemma we’ve already thought about. Here’s a bit more: “Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person—and he would not need it.”
Isn’t that the Catch-22 of all time? Only Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, was spiritually able to surrender, to repent . . . and He didn’t need to! But in a way—and this is Lewis’ point—Jesus surrendered perfectly for us on the Cross of Calvary. And it’s Jesus who helps us to do this impossible task of surrendering our selves, of giving up on us.
Let me warn you of something. The minute you walk into the door of a church like ours, or begin to read the Bible, or begin to think about spiritual things like this, the idea will come to you: “Okay, I want this. I want to come to Jesus. And if I can just give up these three or four or four hundred things . . . then I’ll be ready to come to Him.”
It seems to me there was a sitcom a zillion years ago where someone like Ricky Ricardo was going to hire a maid for his wife Lucy. The house was a mess and she must have been too tired from combing her red hair, cooking up schemes with Ethel, and taking care of little Ricky. But the night before the maid came over to get to work, Lucy spent half the night cleaning up the apartment herself! Why? Well, she didn’t want for the maid to see how dirty her house had become. And in the same way, we often feel like we need to clean up our lives ourselves, getting rid of sins and healing our sin-sick souls . . ., before we invite the Great Physician to come into our lives.
This idea leaks out of all our churches: Adventist or any other denomination too. “You can come in the door,” someone says, “and sit down in one of our pews. But first you get rid of your sins, and then you come in.”
And let’s bluntly assert that this is a heresy straight from the Prince of Darkness. If you’re going to come to Jesus, there’s only one way to come. And that is right now, just as you are, this very moment. You don’t quit lying first, you don’t quit swearing first, you don’t quit kicking your dog first. If you’re going to surrender, you surrender right now. You come to Jesus as is. That is what surrender is. Maybe we have been bothered when we see a homeless person on the beach who hears a preacher’s sermon and they walk right into the ocean and get baptized that very same afternoon. They surrender and go straight into the water. And we wonder: shouldn’t they take Bible studies for six months first? Shouldn’t they get the victory over tobacco before they become Christians? Now, I’m not against six months of Bible studies, and I’m certainly in favor of all Five-Day Plans to Stop Smoking, but I also find in the Bible that when people are truly ready to surrender to Jesus as their only hope of salvation, that is all it takes for them to be ready to have Him enter their lives. Both the Ethiopian ruler and the Philippian jailer got baptized the moment they grasped their need of surrender.
I know many of you have read through the great Adventist book, Steps to Christ. And the author, Ellen White, makes this very point as clearly as she is able to. We might all do well to read this paragraph ten times a day:
“The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, `Come unto Me.’ . . . If you see your sinfulness, do not wait to make yourself better. How many there are who think they are not good enough to come to Christ. There is help for us only in God. We must not wait for stronger persuasions, for better opportunities, or for holier tempers. We can do nothing of ourselves. We must come to Christ just as we are.”
As they say over at Nike world headquarters, “Just do it.”
Father in heaven, it’s difficult enough for us to lay our sins on the table and give you our anger and our selfishness and our desire to do our own thing on the Sabbath. It’s much harder for us to surrender our selves, to surrender the dream of doing anything at all in our own power. We come to you today to simply ask that you give us this gift. Please help us to surrender everything, to give up all plans and ideas that conflict or compete with Calvary. Thank You for Jesus, who is everything to us. We ask this in His name, Amen.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2009. Click here for usage guidelines.