How the Gospel Integrates

This past Sunday I preached from John 3.14-21. In an effort to help us hear with fresh ears, I offered my own translation from the Greek. Of note in the translation, instead of “perish” as is typically used for the word apollumi in the Greek, I opted for “destroy.” The lexical range for the word can also include “to undo” as in “untie.” What a strange word or concept to consider that to be destroyed is to be untied or undone. What is John (and Greek!) getting at?

As we consider the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation, the idea of being untied is a beautiful picture of what happened at the Fall. That is, when our first parents fell to the temptation of the Serpent they were untied, unglued as it were. They were broken down from the integrated selves God had made them as.

So many times we can understand the death we experience from the Fall as puntiliwr in nature. That is, as in that moment in the Fall death happened. What we see as the biblical storyline unfolds is that the concept of “death” is one of living under the reign of death. That is, the moment we close our eyes for the last time is merely culmination of living under the tyranny of death. Prior to that moment, we are being undone, untied, thread by precious thread.

I believe this coheres with our own experience. Consider the moment by moment decisions you and I make. Each one of those decisions could potentially be one more thread pulled out of our already threadbare sweater. Sin entices. We get hooked. Sin unravels us. After a life of this, we become naked and unashamed–where there should have been a covering and shame for the rebellion we relish. At the end of such a life, we come to the final thread being snapped.

The Gospel, however, is about the work of integrating us. Of bringing us into wholeness. Whereas we continue to live under the reign of death, we are merely tenants and not inheritors of such death. We have been given the life of Christ and are being knit back together into the integrated self that God had intended from the beginning. And so, the Gospel saved us, saves us, and will save us from the frayed existence of those who do not believe on the Son. Those who refuse to come to the Tailor to receive their garments of praise, will continue to wear the ashes. Those who do not submit to the rectifying work of the Author and Finisher of our lives, will find that they are undone. They are ultimately destroyed.

In this way, the Gospel of Jesus a moment of transference into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. And it then acts as the agent of reifying the imago Dei that was unraveled. What a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives moment by moment! When confronted with a juicy morsel of sin, by the power of the Spirit to say “No” to ungodliness and our own rule, another thread is tighter in our fabric. Each moment when the promises of slavery seem enticing, instead of being undone and destroyed, we are made into wholly, integrated image bearers.

“Life From the Serpent and Through the Son” John 3.14-21

For the last three weeks of this season of Lent, we have been focusing on the need to reflect and repent in our lives. I have to admit, it has been a little difficult for me to walk through these very difficult passages of dying to self and Jesus’ challenge to the kind of Savior we want and the need to repent. Unfortunately this focus of the Christian life can easily slip into a self-congratulatory or self-justifying event. Consider the tendency throughout church history where believers needed to perform ornate expressions of devotion. I am thinking of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain where people crawl on their hands and knees. Hear one pilgrim’s account:

Some crawled for miles on their bleeding hands and knees. Others dragged cinderblocks and stones along the asphalt. Many arrived at the chapel exhausted and bleeding after excruciating treks barefoot, on their knees, or even dragging themselves along the ground. Many wore the traditional sackcloth of penitence.

Too often when we speak about repentance for our sin, we forget the beautiful motivating aspect of salvation. It’s repentance and faith. Faith is the motivating force for repentance. It’s the selling of all we have for the priceless treasure hidden in the field. It is the pearl of great price worth the price of great sacrifice.

Today in the midst of all this darkness and sadness and brokenness we ought to feel for our sin and rebellion, we see a bright ray of light. A piercing light that divides the dark. That provides hope to the powerless and strength to the hopeless. My plan is to highlight several aspects of our passage today and to trust the Holy Spirit to let various emphases land on your heart and change your life as a result.

As such, I am going to forego the translation we have in the bulletin and am going to offer my  own translation to hopefully draw out aspects of the text for us this morning.

Just as Moses also lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it is necessary that the Son of Man to be lifted up. In order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only-begotten Son in order that all those believing on him may not be destroyed, but that they may have life eternal. For God did not send his Son into the world in order to condemn the world but in order that the world would be saved through him. The ones believing on him are not condemned. But the ones not believing are already condemned, because they have not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this is the condemnation: That the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness more than the light, for their works were evil. For the one who does evil works hates the light, and he does not come toward the light so that his works will not be exposed. And the one who does the truth comes toward the light so that his works will be revealed because they are worked out in God.

As you think about some of our favorite love stories, what are some common threads? Romeo and Juliet loved each other to the point of death. Bonnie and Clyde were fully devoted to each other. Leonardo DiCaprio or Bradley Cooper or Matthew McConaughey…in anything they ever played are generous, self-sacrificing, committed in spite of circumstances or difficulties. Every story of love is a glimpse, a shadow of the love that God has displayed in his Son Jesus. Indeed, whenever we get the feeling of love, it is meant to lift our eyes to a more perfect love. Because eventually the credits to these stories roll and the script is finished and these amazing stories end. The Honeymoon always ends and we are aways let with sinners who say I Do.

I am convinced that if you and I were more convinced and sure of the love of God for us our lives would be dramatically affected everyday. Every interaction we have. Every thought we have. Every word we speak would be saturated with grace and humility and a pointing away from our self-sufficiency and magnifying the worth of God.

Let’s start at the most well-known verse in the Bible, v. 16: For this is the way that God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son. God loved the world. He loves the world, without measure because he is infinite and without boundary. This is the word kosmos, which is where we get our word for “cosmos”. Consider the vastness of the entire creation.

We went to the Roper Mountain Planetarium a couple weeks ago. They had a telescope that could see out over 1,000 lightyears. 1 lightyear = 5.9 trillion miles. The most powerful telescope is able to see 13.2 billion lightyears away…and that’s just what we are able to see now. Let that consume your mind. The love of God is vast. You’re standing on the edge of the ocean and yet the love of God is more consuming. Were you to sail out a 100 miles and be dropped in the ocean and be surrounded and drowned in it. The love of God is deeper still.

God is not scowling. He is not in a perpetual rage. He is not constantly fuming with anger. As he pleaded with wicked Nineveh. As he pleaded with his own people who did not receive his Son but beckoned them to come under the shelter of his wing for comfort and protection. As he fed and watered a people who grumbled and complained about his grace.

Who does Scripture say that God loved?

Consider for a moment the “just as” Jesus references in v.14 from Numbers 21, the account that we just heard. “Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes on him may have life eternal.” Why was the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness? Because Israel had murmured and complained against God. They had despised his salvation. They had hated his way of healing them. While were yet murmurers, Christ died for us.

While we were yet sinners, while we were still weak, while we were in darkness…at that moment Christ died for us.

How does Scripture say he loved us? 

By giving. He did not merely give a gift. He loved his Son with an eternal love. A pure and holy love. My love for my children is a shadow of the reality of God’s perfect love for his Son. I have often said that part of me would die if I lost any one of my children. I can’t imagine life without one of them. I would die. Before the creation of the vast galaxies that cannot be measured by our greatest instruments. Before this, God the Father was delighting in an relishing the Son of glory. In this Trinitarian dance, the Father and the Son and the Spirit were in perfect and sweet communion.

Yet, God, in his grace. In his love. Sent his beloved and one and only Son…not merely to be an example for us, but even more to lay down his life for us. For the unlovely. For the ungodly. He gave us God. He gave us his very life.

Notice to whom this offer is made.

All those believing on him. Anyone. Any person that bows their knee can be saved.

Are you discouraged by your sin? Are you without hope that the one you love the most is beyond the reach of God? Remember your own state in which God found you. He didn’t just make you a better version of your already good self. By confessing and acknowledging your wretchedness, God would remind you that he is able and willing to save anyone.

Our passage from Ephesians 2: But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.

It is only by one’s own pride that he will not come to this All-Sufficient Savior. Before Christ came to us, we loved the darkness more than the light. Our deeds. Our thoughts. Our words. The very orientation of our lives was crooked and small.

It is only by relying on our own ability to save ourselves that we will remain in destructive condemnation.

You were not saved by your strength. You were not saved by your works. You were saved in spite of yourself. You were saved. Saved.

Notice how this salvation is made real. 

All those believing on him. Belief. It is not the amount of belief we have. Jesus himself said that faith as small as a mustard seed could move a mountain. It is not the faith, but the one upon whom we place our faith. Are you downcast from something you said this morning. From something you did last night. Something you thought this week.

In the same way that Israel merely looked up to the bronze serpent to be saved, so also God is calling you to merely look away from yourself and look up to the Sufficient One who can cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Look to him. There is no strength you need to bring. You just need to look to him.

Look to the one who took the initiative in this cosmic redemption. Be overwhelmed by his deep affection for you. He did not wait for you to come to him. He sent his Son. He did not send him to condemn you. He sent him to draw you out of the miry clay out of the deep waters and save you.

It is not merely that God wants you to merely look to the Lifted up Son on the Cross. He’s not an unwilling king—as though you look to him and he extends his scepter because he is bound by some law outside himself. The love for you wells up from his own heart. For when you look to him, you are born again. You are made new. Your works go from serving your own wants and desires to being exploded and expanded to magnify the strength and beauty of the One who loved you and gave himself up for you.

Your evil deeds are converted into works done in God. v.21! He doesn’t hold his nose when you enter the room. He doesn’t turn his face away. He looks you full in the face and says, “I. Love. You.” He raises us with our Perfect King and seats us with him. We share all that Christ has with him.

By the power of the Spirit, God promises to make you who he intended you to be from the foundation of the world. From before the cosmos was made in all its expanse and immensity and gravity, God planned to come to you. To save you. To redeem you even today, if you will but come to the Light. If you will allow his saving grace to consume your darkness. To shine light on your deeds and convert them to Christ.

Are you burdened by your sin? Come to the light this morning. It wasn’t intended for you only when you walked down the aisle so many years ago. He bids you to come to the light. To receive the fullness of life. Of eternal and ever-full life.

Are you lacking courage this morning? He loves you. He traversed the expanse of the universe, the even greater distance between our sinfulness and his infinite purity. The light of his Star that shines even brighter than the Sun. He traveled such a distance that God became man to be near you. To love you. How can you not leap a wall of whatever fortress you have built around yourself? How can you not take up the feet of a deer and spring to the heights?

Are you lacking faith for the one you love? Know that all who believe on him, he will not cast out. He will not shrink from. He will embrace. Whatever station of life. Will you not draw near to that one and love them with the love of Christ?

Questions to Consider

  1. How easy or difficult for you to accept the proposition that God loves you?
  2. What is your view of God? Do you often see him as a distant king or one who draws near to you?
  3. How does courage and joy relate to understanding God’s love for us?

“Hearing & Healing” – Mark 1.29-39

Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?

There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.

The Hearing of the Gospel

Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:

Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out

Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.

We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”

The Healing of the Gospel

This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.

These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.

But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.

Two Implications

The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Call to Righteousness

As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.

Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”

Our Call to Pray for Healing

Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.

We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.

There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.

To Consider

Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?

What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?

What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?

Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?

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On Conformity

As much as I hate to admit it, Christians push conformity. Conformity to the wrong things. Being shaped by a group and set of ideals is inherent to being part of a group–be it Christian, straight edge, atheist. But I am speaking about and to my tribe.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of being a part of several different denominations and have seen this shadow overtaking much of the piety of its adherents. It wasn’t meant to do so.

Do you homeschool? The correct answer depends on the group you’re talking to. Do you go on mission trips? Do you adopt? Do you run around incessantly from meeting to meeting showing how you are making an impact for the kingdom?

We have steered far off course when we get away from the simplicity of the Gospel. Of a life changed and being changed by the Gospel. That is, before Christ’s ascension, he said to merely teach all that he commanded. Yet. Yet, much of our passing on of information is not what Christ taught. They are various implications and applications of what he taught. And so,

Might I encourage you to be slow in conforming to the standards? Not just of popular culture, but of the popularity of whatever group you find yourself milling about. The shadow looms to block out the sun of joy and hope. It chokes out the simple call to humble obedience to Christ, changing out a yoke that not even the teachers can bear.