It’s that time of year again. Baseball is in full stride and my team is doing well. The other day, though, they got beat pretty bad. If you looked at the seats in the last hour of the game, they were emptying out.
Game over; mercifully.
The disciples had a more disappointing 9th inning, when Jesus went to His death via the crucifix. Perhaps they hoped for some last-minute reprieve from Pontius Pilate. Or, maybe they thought Jesus would put on His running shoes and take off for Egypt. Instead, time ran out, Jesus died, and the game was over.
Funny thing about God, though. He loves hopeless, utterly hopeless situations. He wants to wait until hope is lost, faith is a mere cooling ember, and everyone has left the stadium.
It’s actually the best time to go back and see what will happen.
You see, while everyone was talking about “how good Jesus was” and how disappointed they felt, and they were beginning to mourn, God was resurrecting Jesus. The lights were out (in the tomb) the door (stone) was closed, and everyone was back home.
But the light of the world was about to show them the Glory of God.
He didn’t listen to the game being called at the end of the 9th. Instead, God made a tenth inning. An eternal tenth. A tenth inning in which He began the victory over not just the world, but the flesh and the Devil as well.
With just one small piece of wood, Jesus hit the home run of all home runs, bringing all the stranded base runners out of condemnation to the home plate of eternal grace and salvation. He crushed our enemies like a deep ball to left field.
And people are still running home on that hit.
May God give us the strength and courage to proclaim the greatest victory in the history of humanity to all people, Amen.
The gospel is not: a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.
The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”
In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.
The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.
What is ‘Gospel’? It means ‘Good News’.
It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.
What’s the bad news?
First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up
Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth
Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention
In other words, the situation is hopeless.
God loves hopeless situations.
God loves hopeless sinners.
Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin. He came to seek and save that which was lost. Jesus came for sinners (including me).
And, He continues to be the good news for us.
When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.
When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.
When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus. He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.
He is hope fulfilled. Both now and forever. Amen.
When I was in high school, I worked as a stage hand one semester. I was in the background, helping to move stage elements. We changed backdrops, moved furniture, and moved props.
We got to see everything back there. The audience, though, was unaware of anything but what they saw in front of them.
This is true for our view of the world, too. Most people are largely unaware of what “backdrops” are behind their thinking. It’s too much work to figure it out. It’s more fun just to watch the play.
Our view of the purpose of the Bible is also influenced by our background beliefs. Everyone comes to it with beliefs/perspectives of what it’s about. And, if they don’t have any prior experience with it, they soon become aware that it talks a lot about commands, God, promises, war, sex, death, resurrection, angels and other “religious stuff”.
This helps to explain the differences in denominations. If you go to a church, you probably accept their “backdrop” explanation of the purpose of the Bible.
But, is it correct? Have you ever considered that conservative Christians (not talking politically here) have legitimate and valid differences concerning the purpose of the Bible?
One of the current “backdrops” is called “Lordship Salvation”. It assumes that the Bible is a book of rules that we must follow perfectly otherwise we are not true disciples. Christians in these churches assume that their church is “Biblical”. They assume that Christians in other churches are weak or disobedient. They assume this because this is the result of what they believe about the Bible and the Christian life.
Where does this belief come from? Why do people believe that once they “receive Jesus” or “repent and believe” (as the Lordship Salvation camp would say), they must “get to work”, “live obediently” and “put your nose to the grindstone”? Why does the Christian life return to me and my works?
Simple. This is the theology of the Old Adam. It is a theology that denies the Lordship of Christ. The Old Man denies that Christ is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He denies John 6:28-29 which the disciples ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The Old Adam denies Hebrews 10:10 which states, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
And in so denying that these verses are for Christians, the Old Adam denies Christ, Himself. The Old Adam replaces Jesus with his own works, effort and obedience. The Old Adam works to keep himself alive rather than submit to the crucifixion of Jesus as both the one who births faith in us and feeds faith through the means of grace.
The Old Adam is busy keeping himself as god. He is his own lord. He lives a blasphemous life.
And because of the extreme moral demands of Lordship Salvation, Christians under this theology can go only three directions:
In the first option, they can become self-righteous, arrogant about their relationship with God, and in denial about the depth of God’s demands on their lives. This person is willing to judge others harshly and never examine his/her own life in light of the “full thundering” of the Law. They become deeply judgmental, lacking any love.
In the second option, the Christian of sensitive conscience is thrown into despair about their salvation. Martin Luther, the great reformer, fell into this camp when the terrors of Roman Catholic theology scared him into a monastery to find peace. Eventually, these Christians will either leave the church, or have their faith shipwrecked. Some of these people become hopeless and becomes agnostics/atheists because of the lack of mercy in these church bodies.
In the third option, they can remain superficial, never taking any of it seriously, and covering up with a false edifice.
There is a fourth option, however. Along with many other who have escaped the clutches of Lordship Salvation, I encountered a completely different backdrop when I read Martin Luther. Because I had lived in both the first and second options, Luther’s Bondage of the Will was like a key to open the prison door I lived in.
His view was that we begin and end with Christ when it comes to the Christian life. In Biblical terms, that means that Jesus retains His lordship as the Alpha and the Omega. We are to come to church to hear “Christ crucified” rather than the “ten steps to overcoming sin”.
This is a theology of reception. It is a theology that believes that God is at work on and in us, and that it is His pleasure to do so.
It is a theology that views the Scripture as the manger in which we find the Christ-child. He is the heart of its meaning, purpose and proclamation. Read Hebrews. Is it about you or about Jesus? Read the Gospel from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Is it about you or Jesus?
And, having this “cross theology” also means that we interpret the Bible as being Law or Gospel. This means that God’s demands reveal our inherent sinfulness, but God has provided His own Son to fulfill ALL of these demands and cleanse us from ALL sin. Even the sin of trying to be your/my own God.
Why does He do this? Look at Romans 3:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Acts 4:12 states; “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name, not even your own.
To the Glory of His Holy Lordship, Amen.
Since my first daughter was very little, she liked to dip things into ketchup (catsup) or ranch dressing. It really didn’t matter what the food was. Even if we put teriyaki chicken on the table, she would say, “ketchup!”
You and I aren’t much different; think of your favorite spinach dip, or nacho cheese dip. Sometimes, the food we eat is simply a “delivery method” for the condiment.
If the dip is really good, you might wait until everyone looks away at the party and dip that baby carrot into the ranch dip after you’ve already gnawed on it. Our society frowns on double dipping, though. It has a negative connotation. It’s kind of a germ issue.
In truth, though, we live in a ‘germy world’. Staph is everywhere, bacteria grows in places that are apparently clean. Even when I am careful not to touch public handles and doorknobs, I come into contact with strains of things that make me sick. And, inevitably, it gets passed on to those around me.
Sin is like that in a way. When Adam and Eve made their choice, they chose against the will of God. They chose sin, and became infected with a life-threatening disease. More than that, they were guaranteed to die. Without the proper medication, they were doomed for all eternity.
Their offspring were also doomed, because we inherited the infection of utter sinfulness. Now, we have no choice, but to sin.
Into this dark situation, the Son of God and Light of the World provides another option. It took His entering into this world and becoming sin for us to set us free from the Law of sin and death (Law is best understood as “rule”). But, His death on the cross is not merely historical, static fact. It was an intercession that continues to this day. The following passage illustrates this;
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”l
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,m neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage is pure gospel for those who are persecuted, ill, suffering, dying, poverty-ridden, or undergoing various trials. It also identifies what kind of Jesus we have; a double dipper.
Although He fulfilled the Law and died for our sin as intercessor, He so identified with our continued need that He intercedes for us continually. Our living Christ, our living King, comes before the Father and talks to Him on our behalf.
Is there a greater love possible? And He is active in other ways, too. He comes to us in our water baptism. He comes to us through the communion table. He comes to us in the hearing of the Word and the rightly divided Law and Gospel preaching of the pastor.
Jesus doesn’t merely double dip as an intercessor. He lives as our intercession. For now and forever.