Holiness: Why It’s Worth It

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Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

If you’ve ever heard them, it would have been at a time when things were tough and our fuse is short. They are words breathed and prayed when Christians react against God’s call. I’ve heard them when I’ve challenged a husband to stay faithful. I’ve heard them from a young woman bent on destructive choices. And Peter’s readers may have breathed them. They were under great pressure. Following Jesus was proving to be a costly decision.

These words may even have been on your lips: in the heat of challenge, in a moment of desperation, when it all seemed too much.

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

Peter mentions three powerful reasons which comprise a compelling rationale for a life of reverent fear. To keep living God’s way. To stay on the path of holiness. The first of Peter’s reasons is found in v.18

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV)

Peter’s challenge is to think about the futile life you’ve left behind. Eugene Peterson gets a little more into our faces, calling it the ‘dead-end, empty headed life you grew up in’.

That’s about an 8/10 on the arrogance scale, right? Why live God’s way? Because your old life was futile. Vain. Empty.

Is this true of you? Perhaps more than you realise. Maybe you’d say you were only trying to get ahead and be financially secure. But perhaps your trust was in your wealth. You had made security your idol, and you trusted yourself to deliver it. Money is a good good, but it makes a lousy god. And so it’s useless as a doorway to hope. What’s all your money going to do when you’re on your death bed? What will your cash do for your feelings of guilt, or failure?

Another scenario: Your life has revolved around your kids, setting them up, meeting their wants and needs. Maybe you’d say you were just loving your family, wanting the best for them, and doing what every good parent should. Then again, maybe your sense of purpose, worth and significance was invested in your family. Loving your family is good. Making your family god isn’t. Seeking your security and significance in your children places all sorts of expectations on them, and doing so will never really deliver the love and security you ultimately seek.

We could go on. We could talk about how people numb life’s frustration and pain with alcohol. Or shopping. Or hoarding. Or aggression. Or secret relationship. Or overeating. Or a constant yearning for affirmation.

That’s the deceit of the human heart, isn’t it? It takes what’s good, and makes it god. It lets us down every time. That’s sin for you: it promises the world and delivers nothing. It’s futility. Worthlessness. Uselessness.

So, Peter is saying, “sure, it may be tough. But what is best? A wholesome life of eternal purpose even though it may be tough, or an easier existence in the here and now that will never deliver what you seek?”

This was something Paul knew all about, too. He had dedicated a large portion of his life to seeking God’s approval and the approval of others through scrupulous religious devotion. His peers at the time agreed: this man has made it.

Then, Paul met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus met Paul. And Paul realised all he’d been trying to do, had in Christ, already been done. The perfection he was very unsuccessfully trying to maintain had already been met. He looked back, observed all his supposed achievement, and said “it’s all useless, empty, futile.” In fact, he went further: Paul used the Meatybites rule. You know, you put the meatybites in one end of the dog, and what comes out the other end? The word translated as ‘garbage’ is skubala (see Philippians 3:8). It can mean garbage, but that is a little sanitised. Dung, stinking refuse, or other forms of offensive waste are more in view.

He was making a very humbling confession: When I look at all my achievements, my obsession with religious devotion before Jesus, everything I had ever done, even though everyone else saw it as perfect and blameless, I now recognise it now as poop.

Now, when you’ve been striving for perfection all your life, but all it has achieved is poop, that is futility. And it’s a pleasure to be rescued from it.

By Jesus as Redeemer, God has rescued people from the futility of trying to fill their own lives with hope and meaning. He has delivered us from the terrible worthlessness of glaring imperfection. So we live in holy, reverent fear in honour of our great redeemer.

Think about where you’re headed

So, (1) think about the useless stuff you’ve left behind. And, (2) think about where you’re headed:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)

The God who has become your Father in Christ is also your Judge. One day you will stand before him.

Think about that.

Carefully.

See, sometimes we think that Christians will not be judged. That the errors of our ways will remain undisclosed. That our secret and concealed sins will never be known. Well, they are known. They are known to God, Christian, and one day you will stand before him.

That’s serious, isn’t it?

Yes, God is our father. He is gracious and loving. He gave his one and only son for us. We’re redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed and free. But the day will come when we all stand before him. Paul writes:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

When we stand before the judgement seat, what excuses will wash there? Do you think it will work to blame others, or circumstances, then? What good will it be to delete the history then, on that day when all secrets will be laid bare?

Our father is also our judge, and an impartial one at that. Just because we are children of the father does not mean we are free to live however we like. Think of your earthly father. When you did that thing that made him so angry. Did you ever try the ‘hey, you can’t give me a beating because I’m your son!’ No, it’s actually because you are my son that I can utilise the ‘board of education.’

Fathers impose boundaries. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. If those boundaries are ignored, resisted or rejected, there will be a day of reckoning.

So, think about your life. Consider your behaviour. It needs to be holy. And you know there are bits that aren’t. This has not escaped God’s attention. One day you will stand before him to give account for everything you have done.

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

Yes, in Christ, no condemnation – punishment has been taken.

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

Yes, in Christ, new heart, new soul, new beginning.

But we will still all stand before the living Lord of all, the creator God, the Righteous Father, and he will ask us to give account for the things we have done.

So, why should you? Why follow? Why live a holy life? Just think about where we are all headed. We will all stand before the Judge to give account for everything we have done. So walk in godly, reverent fear.

Remember: God has given you all the guidance you need: v.12 You have heard the Gospel. You have the Word. It’s a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. v.2 You have the Spirit. He is sanctifying you, leading into holiness, drawing the glorious character of Jesus to gloriously beautiful expression in your life.

Think about what it cost

So, (1) Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind, (2) Remember: you’ll stand before the Judge. Two powerful reasons. But Peter’s final point is the clincher:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Why live a holy life? Think about what it cost God bring you into it. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t gold. Which, incidentally, is how they used to redeem slaves in Peter’s day. The slave would be taken to the temple of one of the gods on that region. Money would be paid, theoretically to the god, but passed on to the slave owner. After that, the slave would be recognised as free because he had been redeemed by that deity. So Peter’s non-Jewish readers would have clearly understood the image.

His Jewish readers would also know the Old Testament redemption imagery:

“… it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

As good as the exodus story is, it is dwarfed by the ultimate redemption of the Cross. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. The blood of the lamb meant the redemption of the people of God.

Why should I? Because you’ve been redeemed at great price.

“… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

I wonder: Have you ever really thought that through? The depth of God’s love in Christ? His eternal desire to free you from sin and bring you to life?

Think: Would you lay down your life for a family member? What about someone down the street? Or a stranger? An indigenous person? A refugee?

Jesus did more. Considerably more. He poured out his precious blood for rebels, for sinners, for people who hated him, for these very people who crucified him.

So, He did this for me? Then the only question is: where do I sign up? How could I not live a life of reverent godly fear? Why would I not want your glorious, gracious new life character to overflow from mine?

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

And the amazing footnote Peter makes is that God has planned your holiness, your obedience, your redemption, from before the creation of the world.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

The world was in wretched sin, rebellion and futility. Broken with a humanity that rejected him. Screwed up his image. Killed his prophets. Rejected his messengers. Crucified his own dear son. But the Father’s heart is to restore his world, to mend the broken and ravaged world human sin had brought.

Your God knew and planned the complete program of redemption even down to the detail of making you a part of it. Grafting you into the vine, reconciling you through his son, and drawing you into his family, making you an heir, putting his Spirit in you, and all of that with the one goal that his broken and twisted image in you would, through Jesus, be gloriously redeemed, restored and eventually recreated in all its beauty.

Why should you? Knowing this, how could you not? Because you mattered to God, living in godly fear should matter to you.

It matters that you live in the fullness of his holiness. It may mean you’ll the flack like a refugee in a foreign land, living his way, revealing his character, in the full beauty of godly reverent fear. But it’s worth it. Look at what you’ve left. Look at where you’re headed. And look at the cost to Jesus.

You cannot find a more compelling reason for us to be holy as our great God is holy.

Time for Justice #3 – God Hates Injustice

Reading: Isaiah 1:10-17

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Before we get underway, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to challenge and extend you:

The Just Church – Jim Martin Martin begins with a few stories which underscore the need for Christians to think seriously about justice issues. Martin’s approach is deeply rooted in Scripture, and he takes good time to step us through the Bible’s teaching on justice related matters. The final section of his book is a very helpful strategy for a church to commence their justice journey. Martin is sensitive to the unique context of every local church, and rather than impose a series of outcomes, his generalised strategy will enable each local church to use their unique resources and context to advance the Kingdom of Christ.

Generous Justice – Timothy Keller Wow! This book. If ever you wondered how, and whether the Old Testament injunctions could be properly and graciously applied to churches in the 21st century, you will hungrily and gratefully devour Keller’s book. Keller’s characteristic well reasoned, deeply scriptural approach motivates the reader to respond to injustice in the light of the Cross of Jesus. I am so thankful for this book!

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What can’t you stand?

I can’t stand rap music. Some love it, even thrive on it. Not me. Can’t stand it.

I can’t stand tepid, weak, insipid coffee: like Starbucks. I was kind of happy when Starbucks folded in Australia. There seemed to be something good and right about that.

I can’t stand it when Perth drivers don’t know how to merge. Despite a speed limit of 100 kmh on most freeway onramps, some people – typically Honda drivers – dawdle along at 70kmh down the onramp, and then when it comes to the merge point they get the jellies and slow down even more. What is it with that anyway? Can’t stand that.

This week, I saw that one of my Facebook buddies had been in the habit of packing noodle snacks for the little bloke’s play lunch. One night as she was emptying the lunchbox she found this note:

No guessing where this little guy is coming from...

No points for guessing where the little bloke was coming from.

So, yes, there are a number of things I can’t stand, and I find them really irritating. But when you hate something, your response is one of intense hostility and deep aversion. You hate. You abhor. You are appalled. You detest.

All my kids will tell you that whenever they said they hated something, I’d caution with: ‘hate is a strong word.’ I’d encourage them to verbalise their feelings differently. And I think that when I use it of stupid drivers, or rap music, or pathetically coffee, I was either cheapening the word, or elevating pathetic coffee to a status it clearly did not deserve. So, I wonder how often in life we have actually felt things strongly enough to really hate them in a way that would do the word some justice.

What’s going on?

Surprisingly, right here God says there are things that he hates. And most astonishing of all, back in Isaiah’s day, he hated his people’s worship:

“When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:12–14, NIV)

How can this be? What is going on?

Valid question. And what makes it all the more pertinent is the apparently lavish nature of this worship from God’s people. There are thousands of sacrifices! Rams, and bulls, and lambs, and goats, and fattened animals! All considerably more extravagant that what was required. So some impressive worship going on. Awesome worship. Everything looked right, powerful, and awe inspiring.

But things are not always as they seem. For with all this impressive worship there is a dark and sinister reality:

“…Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:15, NIV)

“…evil deeds …doing wrong.” (Isaiah 1:16, NIV)

v.17 Justice is not sought, oppressed not defended, fatherless ignored, widows neglected

v.21 murderers dwell in Jerusalem, once a city of righteous

v.29 pagan gods worshipped

The Lord looks down on his once loved city, his treasured people, his own possession, his Kingdom of priests (see Exodus 19:6). He sees their worship, the reality of their lives. And he can’t stand it:

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” (Isaiah 1:13, NASB95)

Notice that last phrase: “I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.” This is the point of this entire passage: On the one hand they were presenting what looked to be glorious worship. But at the same time God’s people were

  • ignoring the vulnerable
  • oppressing the weak
  • siding with the violent
  • neglecting God’s commands to live in right-ness as his treasured covenant people

And God’s word was clear: I cannot endure the fact that you allow iniquity to coexist with the worship

How ignoring injustice affects God

What the Lord says here is actually some of the strongest language we ever hear from his lips. And in a similar vein to last week, the level of divine emotion is off the charts:

  • I have had enough, I have no pleasure (v.11)
  • Stop this, It is detestable to me, I cannot bear it (v.13)
  • I hate it with all my being, I am burdened, I am weary (v.14)
  • I hide my eyes when you pray (v.15)
  • I am not listening, I will not listen (v.16)

Let that sink in.

There is what appears to be awesome worship in the house but in the eyes of God it is appalling and offensive and detestable. These people, this worship is nauseating to God. He cannot bear it. It’s an atrocity. An outrage. Have you ever thought such responses could be possible of God?

Think about it. You can have:

  • the best worship band
  • the most powerful, competent, and passionate preacher
  • the most accurate exegesis
  • a theological heritage of the finest pedigree
  • an auditorium seating thousands, filled several times each week
  • giving and tithes to the extent that hundreds of thousands of dollars come in every week

But if that church, those Christians, are neglecting the vulnerable around them, if they are allowing injustice to thrive, all that good looking ministry and worship becomes odious to the Lord. Friends, God hates injustice. And one thing he hates more is when his people wilfully and purposefully ignore injustice around them:

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear iniquity mixed with the assembly. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:13–14)

It is interesting to look at other places where God says he hates things. And really, there are not that many places. Here’s a sample:

“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31, NIV)

– God hates human sacrifice

“Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the Lord your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the Lord your God hates.” (Deuteronomy 16:21–22, NIV)

– God hates the worship of false Gods

“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.” (Psalm 11:5, NIV)

– The Lord hates it when people love violence. The Lord hates what ISIS is doing, right?

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.” (Isaiah 61:8, NIV)

– He hates robbery and wrongdoing

And here in Isaiah 1 he says he hates it when injustice lives in the midst of his people.

We may sometimes think that injustice is the kind of issue that only some churches and some Christians need to deal with. Maybe those who have special insight, or special skills. Or we guess instances of injustice need not be a concern for the whole church. For our church.

But would you say the same about robbery? Or idolatry? Or violence? Or ritual sacrifice of children? God detests all these things. The same word for ‘hate’ is reserved for them all, injustice included.

God hates injustice. He hates it so much that when he looks down on this worship – and remember, it may have looked great to the observer at the time – The Lord didn’t see the response of a beloved Covenant people. It was so repulsive, such an offence to his holy character, he saw something else:

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10, NIV)

When God’s people ignore the cries of the vulnerable, when they neglect the doing of justice, it is as appalling and heinous as pack rape, multiple incest and paedophilia. Because that’s what was going on in Sodom & Gomorrah.

The Challenge

Now, maybe it’s the same with you: the clear implications of this teaching leave me very uncomfortable. I spoke a few week’s ago that for a long time in my ministry, God’s call to justice was not even on my preaching radar. I thought it was enough to have responsible theology, good exegesis, a healthy church, an evangelism program, and do things decently and in order. But this passage, and the many, many other passages in the Old and New Testaments, where the Lord calls his people to be a people of justice and righteousness and compassion simply cannot be ignored.

And – this passage in particular – is a sobering reminder that if God’s people neglect this call, pretty much everything else they do moves from what might appear to be awesome to what is actually appalling. Last week we saw the confronting reality of how denying justice was to deny the covenant.

That’s why it’s time. Time for justice to become part of our DNA, a recognised mark of a healthy church. To be a people of compassion and justice is simply part of what it means to reflect Christ, to build disciples, to develop healthy community, to mission our city. It’s part of God’s desire for his church.

But – you might ask – can these passages about Israel in 700BC be applied to the church in 2015? Can we really just transfer that command and application into a totally different time, place, and culture? We’ll be looking at that more closely next week…

The truth is, we cannot look at our theological pedigree and divorce it from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice. It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.

we cannot expect our theological pedigree to relieve us from our ethical responsibilities. We cannot lean on our confessional heritage in isolation from expressing compassion and seeking justice

We in the reformed evangelical family need to learn this. Perhaps our doing so might even be the beginning of a new reformation, a powerful Word driven, Spirit empowered renewal of the church and of ourselves (more about that in the next weeks).

For now, let me ask you:

Are you hungering for a faith that is alive? For an expression of Christianity that overflows with life, with love, with Gospel reality, with God’s power? A faith and life that God would regard spot on and wonderful? It’s no secret: God has already told us how to find that:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV)

Church, a living faith is grounded in and remains faithful to the Gospel. We must honour our heritage, and guard the good deposit handed down to us by the apostles in the Word. But if we leave it at that, at our beliefs, at faith, and do not allow Christ’s Spirit to reform us, renew us, and shape our lives, we might get some great worship going down, but we’d be in danger of making the same grave mistake, committing the same repulsive sin as God’s people in Isaiah 1.

To me, that would be unthinkable. And to our gracious Lord, unimaginably abhorrent.

Who are we, really? Aren’t Christians people who, through the dying and rising of Jesus, have been reconciled to God? Who once were not his people, but have now through the blood of Christ become the people of God?

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

What glory! We have received untold compassion of Christ, true? He shed his precious blood for us!

“… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

John the Apostle’s words are a glorious punch in the air, right? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …” (1 John 3:1, NIV)

His Spirit has opened our hearts, and our eyes, and our minds. This Jesus lives in all who call on his mercy and look to him in faith. And he calls us to express his mercy, to have it overflow from our lives into the world around us. This Risen Jesus has a plan to address the injustices in our world and around us.

In the coming weeks we’ll be listening to the Word as it leads us from the Cross of Christ to a compassionate response to the injustices around us.

Redemption (Foundations #4)

Read: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

A few years ago I had a bit of a supermarket windfall. I’d walked into the meat section at Woolworths looking for some minced beef. I always look around for good specials while I’m there, so I was checking some prime bone-in rib steak.

They were about 50mm thick. They were MSA graded. Typically $39.00kg. And guess what else? They had been priced as economy grade mince. Like $7.99kg.

What do you think I did?

How happy do you think I was?

How good do you think they tasted?

Some years ago Tony Campolo got us all to imagine that one day all the supermarket price tags had been switched, where the best steaks would be a dollar or two, and the mince would be $50kg. Or the new Landcruiser would cost $900 and the rustbucket Daewoo $85,000.

The point was that in the Kingdom of God, the world’s typical values are reversed, turned on their head. The last will be first, and the first will be last. Power is made perfect in weakness, and so on.

How God rescued his world

This is, in fact, how things are. We learn this from the big picture of what God is doing.

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We have seen how he created, how humanity rebelled and plunged the universe into the fall, how God promised to restore all things and crush the head of evil.

Today we will see how God is bringing this rescue about, how he is bringing redemption.
We will see that this rescue is something like the switching the price tags metaphor because this rescue is altogether different, wonderful and – from a human standpoint – extraordinary and remarkable.

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Think of it this way. We all know who this little boy is (Prince George). At present, he’s much like other one year olds. He’s got a few teeth. He’s starting to walk. And while he’s a member of the royal family, he has no idea how to plant trees. He still poops his pants.

But all things being equal, one day this will change. This little toddler will become King. And what will change?

His clothes will change: he will wear the robes and finery of a King.

His address will change: Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace.

He will wear a crown, studded with priceless jewels.

He will have attendants, and crowds will cheer him on, and as he walks in parade people will oooh and aaah as he passes by. When a man becomes King, this is what happens.

But what really interests us today is: what happens when God becomes King? Any of that?

What do we see in Jesus?

An unmarried mother, rumours of cheating, and mention of divorce. We see a shed, with straw, and a manger. A naked baby. A cow. Some chickens. And the visitors are shepherds, a dodgy underclass of near homeless people with a cheeky taste for mutton.

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Rembrandt: The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646

The moment we see this, we begin to understand that the rescue God is bringing is altogether different to what we might expect.

God’s Plan of Redemption: The Cross

The New Testament Gospels – the biographies of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and rising again – confirm this. The people of Jesus day lived in a Roman province called Judea. Their once great nation had been conquered by a series of world powers. Assyria (722BC). Babylon (586BC). Greece (198 BC). And then Rome (37BC).

The people of Jesus’ day had heard God’s promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, and believed God would send mighty warrior King to boot out the invaders, and return Israel to her former glory.

Then, here comes Jesus. Feeding thousands, healing the sick, opening the ears of the deaf, giving sight to the blind, healing the paralysed, and raising the dead. No small wonder how Jesus’ contemporaries want to make him King.

Evens so, he consistently avoids pressure to become a military or political figure. He consistently challenges the religious leaders of the day. Jesus becomes too popular. The religious leaders get too threatened. So they conspire to put him to death on a cross.

Interestingly, when Jesus was crucified, we read that Pilate, the Roman Governor, attached a notice on Jesus’ cross which read ‘this is the King of the Jews.’

Did you realise Pilate was a prophet?

Did Pilate know that his act of antagonism in appending the notice to the cross, he expressed one of the greatest truths of all time: this is what it looks like when God becomes King.

God’s promise of redemption, God’s rescue of people, their world, their cosmos, would be fulfilled as God himself, the King, expends himself, sacrifices himself, as Jesus, True God and True Man, goes to the cross so his people might truly live and their world might truly be restored.

Here is the truth about God’s redemption: it comes through the crucified and risen Jesus. Through Jesus God is reconciling all things to himself (see Colossians 1:20)

The Context for Redemption

We saw a few weeks ago that human rebellion affected three key areas of existence. This rebellion, this sin, brought division between

People and God

People and one another

People and their environment

What we see today is that the redemption God has worked through Jesus Christ his son actually impacts each of those contexts.

First: Jesus brings redemption from the domination of sin on human disposition. This is clearly outlined by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:1-4

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4, NIV)

Jesus sets us free from the law, the rule, the dominion of sin and death. Jesus breaks the power of rebellion to rule human nature.

God’s redemption deals with our sin, and draws people back into relationship with God

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

Our sin and rebellion is laid on Jesus. His righteousness and faithfulness is given to us. This change is so powerful that it is described as an act of re-creation:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ …” (2 Corinthians 5:17–18, NIV)

Make no mistake: Jesus death on the cross and rising again deals with the rebellious disposition of people!

Second: Jesus’ redemption brings healing and restoration to human relationships:

There is hardly an uglier enmity on the pages of the Bible than the enmity and hatred between Jews and non Jews. Think: Israel and Palestine today and you’re pretty much there.

Israel palestine

But listen to what Paul writes to non Jewish people shortly after Jesus’ rising again:

“Therefore, remember … that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility…” (Ephesians 2:11–18, NIV)

As we see this violence and hatred played out before us in media reports of tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, we must recognise that the greatest need of all is for Jesus’ to rule the hearts and lives of men and women. More than international diplomacy, more than political deals, our world needs the reconciling peace which Jesus brings. Jesus brought unity between Jew and non-Jew in the first century. We need to pray he will do the same again.

Third: Jesus’ redemption opens the way for the restoration of all things.

Creation, groaning under the weight of the fall, cries out for the full redemption to come when Jesus returns to complete his work:

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19–21, NIV)

The redemption God brought through Jesus’ death and resurrection impacts on it all:

People and God

People and other people

People and creation, creation itself

Here’s a question for you: Had you considered that the death of Jesus on the Cross and the power of his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of people, of society, of our world?

Did you realise that God’s plan is so mind bogglingly comprehensive?

So incredibly powerful?

You might say, ‘well, I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen too much change in people or the world. I certainly haven’t seen anything that transformational or redemptive!’ And you may be right. Perhaps you have not seen that.

You may not have seen the sheer number of societal developments spearheaded either by the church or by people who were walking with Jesus.

The development of public schools.

The development of hospitals and compassionate care.

The early days of the union movement.

The end of the slave trade under Wilberforce.

The invention of the Cochlear implant by Graeme Clark

Cancer immunology, advances in mesothelioma, through Professor Bruce Robinson, West Australian of the year in 2014

The challenge to segregation under Dr Martin Luther King.

The challenge to Nazism through Bonhoeffer.

The list is long, though quite possibly you might not be aware of how the Risen Jesus worked through such people. (A good place to see how much impact the kingdom of Jesus has had on western society is the writings of Rodney Stark)

Even if you are not aware of these people and how their lives honoured Jesus, there’s another context in which God’s redemption comes most powerfully to expression. You might not have seen that either, even though you really should have. That particular context is your own life.

If anyone is in Christ, new creation has come! They are new creation! In Jesus, you are new creation! As a follower of Jesus, you are the context in which God’s new creation will come to expression. This is the thing: God’s redemption comes powerfully to expression in the world as he brings change in people’s life, in your life, in mine.

If anyone is in Christ, new creation has come!

It always amazes me that some Christians in particular can be so critical, looking down their noses and bad mouthing others for their faults and failings, using that as reason to disengage or not be involved in what God calls them to do. They miss the point that the first context they should see the transformational power of God rescue is in their own lives!

God wants his new creation to come to expression in their behaviour and attitudes. God’s Spirit intends for you to

Break the pride.

Stop the whinging.

Cut the gossip.

Stop the cheating on your partner.

Stop driving like a hoon.

Keep you anger in check.

Lose the holier than thou attitude.

See, God has little interest in you just changing your ideas, listening to Joyce Meyer or Driscoll or Keller or whomever. You can be as eloquent as you like about the views of such speakers, or the books you read. But it all means zip unless your life starts to come under Jesus’ rule (more to say about that next time).

Let’s just say for today the work of the Spirit in you is to redeem you. To restore Christ’s character and attitudes in you. To overcome rebellion in your thoughts, words and actions. To bring new creation to expression right there in your life! God made him who had no sin, to be sin for you, so that in him you might become the righteousness of God!

God wants this change, this new creation, to move from your mind, to your heart, to your hands and your life.

if everyone who went by the name of Jesus actually started to live like Jesus, would our world be any different?

Did not Jesus say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and … puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24, NIV)

Let me ask you, if everyone who went by the name of Jesus actually started to live like Jesus, would our world be any different?

If you started to live like Jesus, really, would your family be any different?

Your workplace?

Your local community?

It is inconceivable that any of these contexts would stay the same when people commit to living out Jesus’ new creation.

The character of Redemption

I want to push a little harder to get us thinking about the character of Jesus’ rescue and redemption, or – in the language of the Gospels – the character of the Kingdom.

Remember that Jesus was a picture of weakness when he was born. Remember how he refused to pander to the expectations of the people of his time, and how he rejected all pressure to be a political messiah? Remember how he was an object of foolishness when he died on the cross?

Now, if Jesus came in that manner, lived in that manner, died in that manner – don’t you think there are implications for how we should be living?

Don’t you think this is a powerful statement of what Christians should aspire to?

Doesn’t that impact the kind of life you lead?

The kind of future you seek?

The kind of success you aim for?

What sort of ministry we should want to develop?

Does that impact on what sort of church we should be trying to grow?

There is so much pressure on western churches to strive to be large, to focus on building the biggest and most impressive. We see many mega-churches focussing on the trinity of ‘lights, camera and action’ and using these means as their primary drawcard. In the end such emphases become harder and harder to maintain. The reason is that we’re imitating the world, and the world always does ‘the world’ better than the church.

Christ’s call on us is to be distinct, unique, an alternate and contrasting community. To display the impressive reality of the Gospel, even if the message appears to some as foolishness. The power of the risen Christ ruling a community of his people will always have more transformational impact that anything else.

This is what we should be looking for and working toward. Through history, this has tended to mean churches working in smaller, more community oriented units as compared with large mega churches. Historians and church growth experts will show us that these smaller units have greater missional effectiveness in impacting the local community. So maybe it is is true that small is the new big.

These are some of the most strident challenges to the prosperity Gospel: where all God wants to do is give you riches and wealth and success. What a joke! Jesus and the early church had none of that!

It was quite the opposite: where people had excess wealth, they sold some of their stuff and gave the money to anyone in need. There’s redemption and restoration right there friends.

These are some of the most incisive challenges to comfortable churches of convenience.
Where nice people roll up to get a religious ‘sugar fix’ hoping to walk away sated for another week.

This rescue, this redemption God has brought through his son is the most radical, transformational, anti establishment movement on the face of the earth! Through this Jesus centred redemption

God brings change in human disposition and behaviour.

God brings restoration in relationships

God brings hope to a fallen bruised and broken world.

And the primary context for his change to come to glorious expression is in your heart, my heart, in new community right here, right now.