My church here has a student run midweek service every week. I've been involved in it almost as long as I've been here at Grad School. I give 1 message a semester and this was my week. I thought I would go ahead and post the message here for all the world to see.
This midweek has been very difficult for me to put together. I challenged myself to do a midweek on something I have been struggling with because it will forced me to work through it. It was challenging for me to write, I hope it is challenging for you to hear. Please join me in prayer.
I pray that you are with us here tonight and that your words are heard, either through me, or in spite of me. May the words of my mouth and then meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable I your sight, Oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, specifically of book that challenge the status quo and many things that we were taught in Sunday School. They have affected me a great deal. They have both challenged and broadened my understanding of God, the Bible, Christianity, religion and the essence of our relationship with the divine.
One of the most outward effects of all of this reading is that I have a new favorite holiday. I used to love Easter. As I grew as a Christian, Easter became increasingly important to me. Easter, being the celebration of God’s triumph over death and our salvation, was the highlight of my year. I truly was an Easter person. I’m not anymore. Now I am a Christmas person. I have recently come to understand the great importance of Christ’s life. So to me his life has become so much more important then his death. Understanding what his life meant has begun to shape who I am as a Christian. So, naturally, I’m beginning to understand again the great importance of the celebration of his life.
One of the important things Christ taught about is The Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven (which I incidentally saw modernized as “The God Movement”). Jesus said “The kingdom is at hand,” like its coming, to be here on earth. In fact, John 4:17 in The Message says: “This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: ‘Change your life. God's kingdom is here.’”. This makes me think that maybe the kingdom isn’t a place we go to but instead something that comes to us. This is contrary to what many people think of when they hear “Kingdom of God,” or “Kingdom of Heaven” because many people think of heaven, or the place we go to when we die. Consider with me that perhaps the “Kingdom of God,” this God Movement, isn’t only the place we go when we die, but a phenomenon that exists, or could exist, here on earth. And consider that as Children of God, we are called to be part of this “God Movement,” bringing the Kingdom here. If this is the case, Christ’s teachings about the kingdom have a new meaning. He is teaching us not only how to live in the kingdom as people of “the Movement” but also how to bring that kingdom here so that it has power over all the earth. I find this whole idea very exciting. It means there is way more to belief then just Salvation! At least not salvation in the normal sense.
To explore this, lets us consider John 3:16, a verse that I have struggled a lot with in the past. This oft memorized verse is usually said “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Most people, when they hear this verse think immediately about “life after death.” But if God’s Kingdom is on earth, is it really about “life after death?” Brian McLaren puts it this way in Secret Message of Jesus:
This conversation [between Jesus and Nicodemus] unfolds in the third chapter of John’s gospel. Interestingly, John almost never uses the term “kingdom of God” (which is at the heart of Jesus’ message for Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There are two exceptions, both of which occur in this unique conversation. Instead, John normally uses a phrase that is notoriously hard to render in English. Most commonly, John’s translation of Jesus’ original phrase is rendered “eternal life” in English. Unfortunately, the phrase eternal life is often misinterpreted to mean “life in heaven after you die” --- As are kingdom of God and its synonym, kingdom of heaven --- so I think we need to find a better rendering.
If “eternal life” doesn’t mean “life after death,” what does it mean? Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus reduces the phrase simply to “life,” or “life to the full.” Near the end of John’s account, Jesus makes a particularly fascinating statement in a prayer, and its as close as we get to a definition: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [God has] sent” (John 17:3). So here, “eternal life” means knowing, and knowing means an interactive relationship. In other words, “This is eternal life, to have an interactive relationship with the only true God and with Jesus Christ, his messenger.” Interestingly, that’s what a kingdom is too: an interactive relationship one has with a king, the king’s other subjects, and so on.
Anyway, what does this tell use about John 3:16? No translation captures this as well as one done by a famous Computer Scientist, Don Knuth, as part of a study he did studying all of the 3:16’s in the Bible. His translation reads: “Yes, this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Child; So that all People with faith in him can escape destruction and live a full life, now and forever.” There are some important, subtle distinctions here that I won’t go into. I leave, for example, the difference between belief and faith as an exercise for the listener.
Anyway, this concept of Christ’s life being about having a full life leaves me asking 2 questions.
First, if His life is about teaching us to bring his kingdom and live full lives, why did he have to die? And second, why was he raised from the dead?
Or, if Christ’s death isn’t about salvation, and life after death, what is it about?
I think there are many important things about Christ’s death. First, Christ, who truly lived a full life, showed this by submitting fully to God’s will, all the way to his death. As Christians, we should also submit fully to God’s will in our lives. We shouldn’t “just believe”, but truly have faith.
One could also parallel the sacrifice of Christ with Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Issac. God wished to test Abraham’s commitment to and love for him by asking him to sacrifice his son. In the same way, God showed his love and commitment to the world by sacrificing his only sun that fateful day on the cross
There is one more important meaning of the death on the cross that I want to talk about tonight (there are many more then what I have talked about tonight). Christ sacrifice frees us from sin. This is essential for leading full lives. Why is that? Because carrying around the burden of sin literally drags us down. Sin builds up a wall between us and God. This impedes our relationship with God, which is an essential part of life to its fullest extent. So because of Christ’s death, we have been freed from sin so that we might truly live. In Romans 6:1-14, Paul says:
“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Which provides a good transition to the 2nd question, “Why was Christ raised again?” One reason for this that Paul touches on is that in Christ’s resurrection, we see a new life after we die from sin, a life of righteousness. Also, in raising Christ, God showed that he has dominion over death. Christ’s resurrection also shows that God’s work on the earth didn’t just end with his death. Just as Christ continued to have life so does his work. His resurrection reminds us that Christ’s work continues, even today. I’d like to close my message tonight with a passage from Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis which summarizes this all pretty well.
The point of the cross isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to something much bigger: restoration. God isn’t just interested in covering over our sins; God wants to make us into the people we were originally created to be. It is not just the removal of what’s being held against us; it is God pulling us into the people he originally had in mind when he made us. This restoration is why Jesus always orients his message around becoming the kind of people who are generous and loving and compassionate. The goal here isn’t simple to not sin. Our purpose is to increase the shalom in this world, which is why approaches to the Christian faith that deal solely with not sinning always fail. They aim as the wrong thing. It is not about what you don’t do. The point is becoming more and more the kind of people God had in mind when we were first created.
It is one thing to be forgiven; it is another thing to become more and more and more and more the person God made you to be.