” . . . is love, sweet love . . .” Right? Think about it. What is your greatest desire? Before you answer, don’t settle for giving a response about a passing experience that is over in less than a day. What is your greatest desire, the one thing you want the most?
I would agree with the song, “love, sweet love.” I would add that the love we seek is not really romantic love, not really love of our mother or father. The love we all seek is love that is selfless, sacrificial, and will never stop.
Enter you and me. Is anyone here perfect? Good, I’m in the right company. I’m recovering from a lot of things: a disappointing Bears season, mistreatment from those I thought were friends, people who misunderstood us, my own failures and mistakes, and now have said negative things about us, and some behaviors that were religious but not based on God’s love.
How about you? What things are you recovering from? Addictions? Fears? Emptiness? You’ve chased what seemed fulfilling and it was a cup with a hole in it, or just an empty cup.
Enter God. I know, what does God have to do with you. But just humor me. What if God started everything? What if that’s the reason you’ve searched for something and have not quenched that thirst? What if the right place to look is in God? Why not?
Then what if you woke up in the middle of the night and realized you could never do anything to have God’s approval.
There’s bad news and good news.
The bad news is that you’re right. None of us can have God’s approval, because all of us have earned His anger. Our wrong doing towards each other, towards Him, towards ourselves, has all added up to the short end of the stick in the eyes of Holy God. He sits at court and judges, and sees us falling short. Not that He wants us to, but because He is the epitome of justice, His scales weigh accurately.
But wait. Then there’s the good news. It’s like we’re sitting there, terrified and scared, afraid to breathe because the greatest being ever to live has stated that we don’t deserve anything good. In fact we deserve Zeus’ lightning bolt. God can and should use it on us. Suddenly Jesus Christ steps forward in the court and reminds the court He is God. He reminds the court of His testimony, how He lived a perfect life, how He willingly was beat up, slashed, gashed, spit on by filthy mouths, how His body was torn by sharp jagged whips and thorns, and how He was left for dead. He reminds the court of how it felt to be cold, gasping for breath, and then it got worse. He tells of how they took his right hand and placed a stake against his wrist, then hammered it through, ignoring his screams and yells of terror. He reminds us of how they did the same with his left hand, as if he was no longer a person, but an animal being hung and gutted after a well-executed hunt. He tells of how he grew colder as the blood from his head and wrists leaked down, and he could not wipe it up because his hands were fixated to splintered wood. He could not see out of one eye. He tells of how the torture continued as he felt his feet spiked to the same splintered wood. He talks of the odd emotions as he watched people capable of giving medical assistance to their fellow wounded soldiers laughing at his pain, humiliating him, stripping him of his last garments. Then they ignored him, and fought over his clothes, throwing dice for them.
In the courtroom, you now feel like Jesus has something in common with you. You feel like he understands suffering. Then you whisper to someone next to you, “What did he do wrong?” The man next to you shakes his head signifying “nothing.”
Jesus continues, reminding the court that was only half of his pain. The worst was yet to come. In loneliness on a “T” of wood, Jesus reached out to God for comfort, as all of us can.
Jesus was the only person in history to reach out for God’s mercy and hear God say, “NO!”
This one time, never before, and never again after, God denied forgiveness. Here’s the kicker, it was denied to the one person who was absolutely perfect and sinless. He cried out, screaming in horror and agony as spiritual cold joined physical cold and he endured the full fury of God for sin. He can’t describe it because there is not language you could understand for such pain.
He passed through physical death, dying and breathing his last, and was under the full anger of every wrong that God would ever judge you for. For me too.
As I write this I have a tear, because Jesus did not have to do this. As He endured God’s merciless wrath, He at the same time created an opportunity for God’s mercy to be placed upon us.
He says this, and there is silence. Everyone is reminded that Jesus paid it all. A. L. L.
What if in that moment then all eyes were fixed on you, and you tried to figure out why. You sat with a full plate of terrible guilt and wrong, ashamed before God. Jesus stood across from you, having made a bottomless pit for that shame to disappear into. He extends his arms and invites you.
If that was true, would you take that free gift? The payment was already made, and the check written. Would you sign and cash it? Could you refuse God’s grace, offering you such an expensive gift you could not buy? I could not.
Here in 2012, we are among many hundreds of thousands in the Western world who are trying to tell this message to people who need to hear it. Many of you want to hear it. Unfortunately, the people saying it the loudest have many times used megaphones of pride, boasting of themselves, distorting the message, repulsing people. Or sometimes they have created long documents, a small addendum to what Jesus did on the cross, as if it wasn’t good enough and needed to be “Atonement 2.0.” I wish that were not true, but some of you reading this have endured such disappointments.
Or maybe you’ve been hit with making a one time decision, getting wet, and then it doesn’t matter how you live? That was a while ago and now you wonder if it had any substance. Only you would know, and I’m sorry you were misled.
So we arrive at what the world really needs. I submit to you that the mission Jesus sent His followers on is the love the world really needs. Jesus said for us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus said to make disciples, not make decisions or make converts. He didn’t mean we should be Pharisees with apps that keep spiritual score and post on our blog who screwed up how, ranking everyone’s spirituality.
Jesus said to make disciples. Not religious people. This means we give up our lives. Not 52 hours a year (1hr/Sunday, no more). Jesus also said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
We are planting a new church in the hope of having a community of Jesus followers who are on mission together for Jesus Christ. A few have joined us in the last 3 months since we relocated in faith. Our mission is simple, it is the only mission allowed by Jesus, because it is the only mission He gave. Matthew 28:19-20 above. Our way of getting there is Luke 9:23. Someone asked me recently “So what is your new church about?” My reply is always, “Simple. You just have to die.” Sometimes they ask, “What do you mean?” I repeat, “Die. D.I.E. Die to self, so you can live for Jesus.”
In closing, when you think of what the world needs, you might lean towards programs, events, music, improving your worship service, though I have chased those things and more, and they are empty. Or maybe you lean towards the perfect sermon, the perfect small group, the perfect discipleship program, more prayer time, more Bible study, helping the poor, a better economy, better government, success, accomplishment, cosmic romance with the special someone, or family, keeping rules like not drinking, smoking, or chewing, or many other things. All of these I have also chased, and they are empty.
If you want what lasts, what your heart desperately searches for, it can only be found in Jesus Christ and living a Gospel centered life on mission for Him.
Let’s return to where we left you in the courtroom. What if you’re in that courtroom and Jesus extended His hands and you took them, and found love.
I’m curious about what you will do, hoping you take Jesus’ hands and waiting with bated breath. You changed from pursuing daily bread to pursuing what He has taught us about dying to self and living for Him. You received His forgiveness because He took your place when He suffered. You felt new life inside you, and suddenly had a purpose for living. You found light in the good news (otherwise known as the Gospel) of the story of Jesus and what He’s done for us. And it is filling today, filling when you sleep, filling when you wake up, filling the next day, and the next, and the next. Daily Jesus changes us as we encounter what He has done for us and God’s grace. It is glorifying to God and we feel it, as we make a big deal about Him and that light in us comes out to a hurting world.
Well, this is God’s plan to bring the world what it needs. I can’t imagine any other purpose in life.
If you have not already experienced these “what ifs” above, you can. It is not hypthetical. It is real. Scripture says it. Thousands of years of tradition say it. I have experienced it. Billions have. I invite you to leap in faith towards what will satisfy. It is what the world needs now. It is what you need now.
email firstname.lastname@example.org for more on The Stand, a church on mission for Jesus, or how you can live on mission for Jesus where you are.