Taking the Gospel Too Seriously
And yet. . . these are two distinct characteristics that every committed Christian must embody, endure and excel to be in constant possession of. Why? Because these are the very same character traits demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ during His entire earthly, itinerant ministry. He was deemed to be radical; embodying the teachings of the Law of Moses before the people while simultaneously exhibiting all manner of blasphemy toward the very things the Law sought to safeguard against – or so it seemed to the religious authorities – those that determined, or rather judged, that Jesus was, in fact, a naïve, blaspheming Nazarene whose death would ultimately save an entire nation.
And so it is with us – as we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ – or at least I hope it is with us. Today is a celebration leading to a greater awareness of how we have fallen short of living our lives in a full, unapologetic commitment to emulating our Lord and Savior.
In 1 Peter 2:24, the disciple wrote, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
It is by the sacrifice on the Cross that we are redeemed, healed and made right before God the Father. The end of the whole cosmic affair of the Cross and Resurrection was to make humanity right before God. The freedom from the curse of sin corrupting every human life, every intention & purpose under Heaven was & continues to be made available through Jesus Christ alone.
This is the inevitable consequence of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is singular and it is unique. Nothing compares to Him and to His ultimate sacrifice. It is exclusive, unpopular and not moved by, influence or compelled by polls or pundits.
Now comes the part that makes us cringe. . .
Again, 1 Peter 2:21 – “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
How dare God expect or even tacitly suggest that we “owe” Him something for what has always been taught (and expected as entitlement) as a “free” gift from God. Why should I somehow feel “guilty” or “committed” in having to choose to suffer and to live a life that is equated with sacrifice and with constant association to this man of sorrows; well acquainted with grief?
This leads us to the ultimate question of love. For love is the underlying message and purpose of all this. In our day and age where love is most often equated to sex and to instantaneous gratification, it almost seems absurd, if not altogether outrageous, that an individual could possible view love as (1) a choice (2) a life of sacrifice, in pursuit of healing and embodying forgiveness (3) an expression rooted in God and perfectly expressed in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Nothing that we do for someone we love – if we genuinely love them; that is to say – in freedom and in truth – is ever viewed as a necessity. It is viewed and experienced as a desire to make the other happy, comfortable, remain confident in our love for them and to enjoy their pleasure as if it was our very own. This is the love God has for us and it the love He desires for us to have toward Him. As it was freely given, it is desired to be received in Spirit and in Truth.
Through our devotion, through our sorrow, through our brokenness, through our holding on for dear life, through our giving over to Him all of our control and through the ultimate expression of selflessness – giving Him the coveted first priority over everything else that we worship over God – our family, our lives, our comforts, our pursuit for money, status, appearances & pride – just to name a few gods. . .
What I have found is that this isn’t sufficient for many. The sense of repulsion and indignation people feel at the thought that somehow they are responsible for the death of a prophet – a good man who taught great things 2000 years ago is inconceivable and in the face of a postmodern, scientific worldview – totally unacceptable. There is no way to rage against this position for it is born out of the resistance and rebellion all human beings face when confronted with the reality of the human condition.
And so, this is where the parable of the Prodigal Son performs the miracle it has been doing for the last 2000 years.
Read Luke 15:11-32...
You see, my friends, coming to Jesus on this day isn’t about the guilt of having somehow contributed to killing Jesus, but it is about coming to terms with the reasons for why we are not able to free ourselves from the spiritual quicksand our ancestors threw us into eons ago. In this case, we’re guilty by nature of our humanity and by the consequences of our being human.
So, yes, Christ did, indeed, die for you. That is a non-negotiable of cosmic proportion. He died for me, and for every single person on the face of this planet – past, present and future. He took upon Himself the sins of the entire world – past, present and future.
Christ died so that you could be free from the slavery to sin – from being estranged from God in the here-and-now and of having to meet the inevitable consequences of sin – death. In more theological terms - estrangement from God in the afterlife. You see, to follow Jesus means that we follow Him forever. It means that the spiritual dimensions of our humanity become the centerpiece of our purpose on this planet – every single thing we say, do and think of is inextricably rooted in the nature of our spirit. This is why it is an inaccurate & malnourished understanding of Christianity to be so preoccupied with death and with the end of all things, for our eternity is secured in Christ and our attention should therefore be on the things of this world that need to be transformed by the Gospel.
But let’s go back to this issue of sin – past, present and future. . .
All too often the emphasis is on what we’ve done as the cause for Jesus’ death on the Cross. However, there are some of you who will receive these words, or listen to them and as you consume these paragraphs, you will struggle with the consequences of the sins that were transgressed against you.
Yes, we’re all sinners, but there are those out there who are victims of rape, sexual abuse, drunk driving, domestic violence, war and of crimes and injustices that boggle the mind of every conceivable stripe. What about the victims then? The death of Christ on the Cross heals those brutal and inconceivable transgressions. The sins waged against you are not forgotten in the divine economy of God’s mercy, purpose and grace. All the contrary… the blood and wounds of Christ are available to heal the indescribable pain victims struggle with in silence and often without any measure of advocacy or solace available to them.
The death of Christ was to redeem us from being lost. It occurred so that we, like the prodigal son, could come home to God the Father and be reintegrated into the Kingdom of God. It happened so that we could be forgiven and healed. It took place so that we could be transformed from transgressors to healers and from victims to more than conquerors. This is why the offense we feel at the scandal of the crucifixion becomes the celebration of the sacrifice of the King of Glory - and of Life - itself on Resurrection Sunday. Truly, He makes all things new and doesn’t leave any stone unturned.
And what about the stone of the tomb? What does that invite us to pray, reflect and/or consider?
Do not be afraid. . .
The Gospel According to Matthew 28: 1-20 provides a vivid and compelling description of the those early hours of Resurrection Sunday.
For me, the most engrossing part is found starting at verse 11 to verse 15. More specifically, “… Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were sleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
This day will end and we will return to the regular course of the days, weeks and months to come. I am reminded of how the disciples that were with Jesus on the day of the transfiguration wanted to build booths and remain before the majesty and wonder of the clouds, beholding Jesus, Moses and Elijah. As soon as the desire to remain in the moment of glory, avoiding the necessary travails of the Passion, became the desire of the disciples, the cloud dissipated and the opening to Heaven was – for the time being – no longer within their ability to see.
This is the problem with days like today. Within the 24 hours, many experience momentary glimpses of glory. It’s as if they were watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and walked out of the cinema humbled, quiet and “not-the-same”; remember? Did it happen to you? Remember after 911, the churches were filled with “the faithful” - what happened after approximately 6 months? The numbers returned to as they were prior to the attacks.
We must be weary of those that will slander the Cross and seek to undermine the Truth. It is going to be attempted often in sophisticated and elegant ways. Reasons and explanations will be offered in order to destroy the joy you may feel at this moment. The fire you may feel at this time, others will seek to overtake with water and sand.
Do not be afraid. . .
Trouble will come your way and circumstances in your future may be referred to as a Calvary of sorts. Too often, Christianity comes across as triumphant and the notion of “favor” sets many on the course to emotional and spiritual suicide.
Do not be afraid. . .
11 disciples went up a mountain with the Risen Lord and worshipped Him. 11 disciples and others, I’m certain, who would be on the front lines of this revolution stood on top of a mountain and were witnesses of the authority, glory & reality of God. The Jesus I preached about on this occasion is the very same that Scripture speaks of and testifies to. For 2000 years, every imaginable war has been waged against Christ and His Gospel and yet – here we are today – rejoicing in the absolute, unquestionable Truth – Christ has risen, He has risen indeed.
When you close your computer or leave a place of worship, prayer and proclamation– made holy because He lives and because of the Holy Spirit’s overwhelming power and purpose, you will be challenged. Days of famine will come when you will feel weak and distracted. You will feel deflated at times and confused. You may think I am referring to non-believers. Sadly, I speak of all of us – do not let this collar fool you. Here is where the message of the Resurrection transcends the possible superficiality of the day. The Resurrection is my proclamation and in the truth of the event, I live. It transforms my entire life. . . in the midst of the death of my sense of purpose, God resurrects me. When I feel weak, He strengthens me and gives me rest. When I feel dead in spirit, He resurrects me, inspires me and sets me ablaze with His Spirit. I am never alone. He is with me and He will always be with you. No trial or tribulation will ever be in vain again. For His wounds have healed you and in your suffering you will be used to heal others – for His glory!
If you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today – you will never be alone and you will see His presence, glory and grace embrace you – now and forevermore. All authority was given to Him and He has given that to you – if you receive Him into your life today. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ breaks the bonds of death and releases you to savor and experience true life – and you don’t have to die to start living it today.
Receive Him – today.