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.

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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.

Promise (Foundations #3) – Group Questions

What has been the most memorable promise someone has ever made to you? How did it change your behaviour or the course of your life?

Do you agree that God’s most basic response to human rebellion is one of grace and promise? How might the Christian Churches bring this to better reflection in their mission and ministry?

God’s promise of restoration is directed to 1) the human heart, as he promises to deal with human sin and rebellion 2) human relationships, as he promises to reconcile people to one another, and 3) all created reality, as he promises the new heavens and the new earth.

* Which of these areas has tended to receive the most focus in Christian teaching? Does this perceived emphasis reflect the fullness of the Bible’s teaching?

* How could Christians and the Christian Church conduct themselves differently so as to address this perceived imbalance?

God’s plan of salvation is as concerned with physical realities as it is with spiritual realities.

* How does this truth challenge or comfort you?

* What challenges does this present to you church, or to how you live as a follower of Jesus?

Who, in your experience, has been the greatest example of how the message of Jesus brings holistic transformation to all of life?

Foundations #2 – Rebellion

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Image: iStockphoto: © stphillips

Reading: Genesis 3

Not the way it should be…

The big day has finally arrived!

No, not your wedding day. Not your 21st. Not the big promotion.

It’s the day you get the huge Samsung curved screen TV.

It takes up half your lounge room. And before you install it, you have to extend the room by several meters, otherwise you’re sitting so close your hair stands on end…

Anyway, it’s all there. You have the chips. The dip. The Shiraz. And you’re hanging out for the final of Masterchef…

You turn it on, the screen springs to life, but all you can get is Extra – A channel dedicated to advertising stuff no one needs. But this is your new 65″ curved screen TV, so you watch a little Brazil Butt Lift, and then try another channel.

Extra.

But now it’s Dr Ho’s Pain Therapy. IN disbelief, you hit the remote again.

Extra.

And your next thought is… This is not the way its supposed to be. There’s something wrong with this thing…

In that moment of frustration, though you might not know it, you express a core truth of humanity and the world we live in: This is not the way it is supposed to be.

There seems to be a universal sense that things should be better than what they are.

That cancer is ugly and wrong.

That people should be honest.

That people should be able to walk down any street on any night and have no fear.

That politicians and orphanage workers can be trusted.

That some church leader is not going to abuse my child.

That people should not have to seek asylum ever.

Why do we have this sense, this deep rooted belief, that things should be better?

In this Foundations series we want to understand basic Christian teaching. The core message of what God is doing in the world. And one of Christianity’s core beliefs is that things should be better than what they are. The Bible tells us where that core belief comes from.

Sin… meaning what?

The problem is summed up in one word: sin.

And our problem is that our culture has no real concept of what that is.
Let’s do something on the fly: Fire up your browser and go to Google.com.au and starting type ‘sinful’

The first entries are generally things like ‘sinful iPhone, sinful colours, sinful chocolate, sinful dessert…’

See what’s going on?

Sin has become fun. Stuff you eat. Great experiences. Things we typically enjoy. Here’s the point: If Google’s definition is what people are thinking about sin, it’s no wonder we’re confused. Who needs to repent of eating a cake? Or chocolate?

In contrast to this, the Bible says our world is broken. And we need to ask, ‘how did this happen?’ If God created the world, “and it was very good”, how come it falls so far short of that today? How is it that human wrongdoing, or the threat of it, mars every workday, every child’s school day, every family holiday? [see Plantinga, p.8]

That’s the question. And we are not going to like the answer because the Bible says we human are to blame.

Read Gen 3:1-7

Adam and Eve had been told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But instead of obedience, they chose disobedience. Instead of trusting God, they chose independence. Instead of submission, they chose rebellion. Their action became humanity’s spiritual coup d’état. A seizure of power from the world’s rightful and loving ruler.

That first act of rebellion has affected all humanity. Relationships between people and people are a mess. Relationships between people and nature; people and God; people and themselves; nature and God – all polluted. The whole universe manifests the ugly evidence that things are not they way they should be.

Rom 8:19-22

How pervasive, insistent and ugly is this human rebellion against God. It stains every act. It pollutes every disposition. It brings brokenness into every life context. It affects all of us, right to the core.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

The lousy smell of rebellion makes its way into every part of life. Like those embarrassing times when you walk into an important meeting with some post canine material on your shoe. You can smell it. Others can smell it. And you’re thinking, ‘phwoah, what’s that funky smell… that’s not they way it’s supposed to be…’ And you realise, way too late, that it’s been your problem all along.

Is there anywhere in that room where the smell does not make its heinous presence known? So also, there is no part of life that is unaffected by human rebellion and indifference against God. This is what we refer to when we talk about total depravity.
We are not as bad as we can get. But the smell of the fall impacts every part of human personhood.

The analogy actually falls down because actually everyone has that mess to deal with, and not just on their shoe – but deep within.

Seen those images of Isis militants executing people in cold blood?

Heard the reports of institutional abuse from the current Royal Commission in Australia?

Noticed that in your relationships there is not only wonderful capacity for love and joy, but also dreadful ability for pain, hurt and rejection?

this sin, this smell of the fall, it is not just ‘out there’. It is right here in this gathering. It is in our hearts. It is part of us

We cannot always measure culpability for it, but this rebellion possesses appalling force. Simply by our habitual practice, we let loose a great, rolling momentum of moral and spiritual evil across generations. By doing such things, we involve ourselves deeply in what theologians call corruption. [Plantinga, p.27]

See, this sin, this smell of the fall, it is not just ‘out there’. It is right here in this gathering. It is in our hearts. It is part of us.

And God hates it.

Not simply because it violates his law, but more substantively because it violates his shalom. Because it breaks the peace he first poured into his creation.
It interferes with the way things are supposed to be. [see Plantinga, p.27]

Now we have all seen and heard the voice of militant atheism raging against Christianity and faith in God. These voices trouble us, and threaten us. We will sometimes find ourselves cowering in their icy blast.

But think about it: What can atheists say about our human condition? What hope do they offer? Every person who does not believe in the living Lord, what hope do you have?
What challenge, ultimately, do you offer to the ugliness, the evil, the injustice we see in our world? What have you got to say?

You have no solution. You present no hope for your world. You offer no prospect that things will ever be any different.

When the next abuser is unmasked; when the next grotesque injustice is perpetrated;
when the next family breaks down; the next marriage vow broken; the next time children weep themselves to sleep; all you can say is ‘this is the way things are and it will never be any different.’

What a hopeless way to live.

What a pathetic view of life.

Solution

So here is the question we all need to answer, right here, right now:

Do we just accept that this is the way things are?

Do you want to go on living with the belief that things will never change?

Do you want to deny that cry from deep within that there has to be another way, a better way, a way of hope?

This is why you need to trust God.

If we go back to that initial act of rebellion, right back in the garden, we see that the moment humans rejected God, the moment they turned their back on him, the moment judgement descended, this same God – his own heart grieving – promised life and hope.

Humanity is hiding, living in guilt.

And God is seeking, speaking grace (Gen 3:9).

To the serpent, the evil one’s agent of the fall, this God says

“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)

He turns the children of the women, ultimately children of faith, into polar opposites of evil. He creates an antithesis, an ingrained opposition, an enmity between those who seek to live for God and those who would persist live without him.

This God of hope promises that one day, One would come who would crush the head of evil for all time. One who would bring an end to the pain, the tears, the grief, the crying and mourning and injustice and deceit.

God’s plan is that his people, those who despite their wrongdoing and rebellion, would still trust him, that through these people he would show what life was meant to be like. He promised that ultimately, from these very people, One would be born who would ultimately crush this evil power, and start to bring things back to the way they should be.

We read the OT and we see how God chose a people as his very own. How he lived with them. They were his people, his priests, his holy nation. He would be their God. And We see them stumble and fall and fail, and lose faith.

But God stays remains faithful to his promises. His faithfulness knows no limit.

And all through the years He sent prophets who

“dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease, and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with open wonder. All humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from valleys and seas, from women in streets and from men in ships.”

[Plantinga p.9-10]

The NT tells us that Jesus is the one to bring this new creation. He is our promised rescuer – more about that next week.

Be sure of this: through this Jesus God is answering the rebellion of humanity that has wrecked his world.

Writing about Jesus, Paul says

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20, NIV)

This is the peace we all long for.

It comes through Jesus, who lived and died and rose again. His birth, life, death, and rising are historically verifiable events. The resurrection of Jesus vindicates His claim to be creation’s rescuer, your Saviour, your very present hope.

through this Jesus God is answering the rebellion of humanity that has wrecked his world

This Jesus – in a way that we can scarcely comprehend – is awakening that sense in you that ‘things are not the way they should be’.

He’s telling you that your world is broken. That you are broken. That we are all broken.

His death and rising again show that he has the power to put us back together.

To deal with our rebellion.

Our fallen acts.

Our fallen disposition.

Our corruption.

And he is calling you to trust Him.

To come on board with his all powerful effort to make things right.

So that instead of being stuck in rebellion, we might be free, our world made right, and one day, at last, everything will be the way it should be.

[I acknowledge with thanks the clarity Cornelis Plantinga has brought to this discussion with his work ‘Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be – A Breviary of Sin‘ This book breathes the hope of Christ into any discussion of our deepest and ugliest realities]