Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gospel


John 3:1-21 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?"
Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

Everybody loves a great story. There are classics in literature that many people recognize as great writing. Sometimes it is because of the characters, people we get, we relate too, we are right there with them in the setting. Sometimes it is the action. The author has written a dense novel so there are no slow moments. Ever read a book and that you take it with you wherever you go because you can’t put it down. One danger of writing is having a saggy middle. A good start, and a bang up end; but the author has only one idea. To make a novel means they have to stretch that idea out over chapters; when they should have just written it as a short story. The characters have to be doing something more than just making toast. There are a lot of elements to stories that authors have to contend with, if they truly want to write a great book. One such story is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, known as Palm Sunday. It is filled with characters and action; children and animals and greenery. Quite the thing! Most of us know the details and we also know it is part of a much bigger and grander and longer story that reaches back before time began.

There’s God – a big Creator, who makes man in His image. Unfortunately that image gets marred and so the relationship is broken between the Creator and His creation. That brokenness was a result of sin – anything that we have done that goes against the character of God. God has a plan, though, to restore that brokenness, for He created man to have a wonderful relationship with Himself. First, He raised a people from one man and woman. He made an agreement with them that though their offspring He would raise a people He would call His own, and out of those people, He would bless the whole world. He did wonderful things for these people, but they struggled to be true to Him. His plan led to His Son becoming one of them; and His name was Jesus. Jesus came so that through His death and resurrection we all could have that broken relationship with God, our Creator, restored. God did the work, all we have to do is accept that and follow Jesus. That is our choice: do we want to ask God to be our Leader and Forgiver?

That is the Gospel. That is the story of salvation in a nutshell, that is found in this book, which is the story of God’s redeeming love for us. There are four sermons in Acts, 2 by Peter and 2 by Paul. They are found in Acts 2, 3, 13, and 17. They contain this God story. They all use Scripture from the Old Testament and talk of God at work in the ancient times. They talk about how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus. When it comes to Jesus, they reference His miracles, His death on a cross, and His resurrection. They application they have is a call to repentance, to turning away from sin.
I think too often we start with that last point, the fact that we are sinners. We need to balance that fact with the story of God’s grace, of God working down through the ages to provide a way for us to reconnect with Him. The Gospel is Good News. The Gospel is Grace. I want to suggest 4 things that explain this Grace. Then I want to refer to Jesus conversation with Nicodemus which we read earlier. Lastly, I want to leave some thoughts about what this means for you and I.

1) The Gospel begins with the story of creation. It talks of a God so immense He created all that we see, but most importantly He created you and me. He created you and me to have a relationship with Him. This is good news. Jesus said that He came so that we could have abundant life. This is a picture of a shepherd looking after his sheep. You are special - not just because I say so, not just because you may think so, but because the God who created all the wonders of this world and universe took the time to create you and He says so; and He knows you even now - whether you are close to Him or far away; whether you call Him friend or unknowable.

2) The Gospel becomes inaccessible with of the story of sin. Something happened a long time ago that broke that relationship. As a result, you are not strong enough to get to God. You cannot be good enough to get to God. You are not smart enough to get to God. There is nothing you can do to get to God in or of yourself. The reason is because you are marred. Because of sin, you are far away from God. Anything against the character of God is sin.

3) The Gospel becomes viable with the story of Jesus. Because you and I couldn’t do anything to fix what was broken between us and God, God took the initiative. He covered all the bases, paid all the debt owing, provided all the necessary things for our relationship with Him to be restored. He did it all. Through Jesus’ life, death on a cross, and resurrection we now have the opportunity to reconnect with our Creator. He has done it all - all the work is done.

4) The Gospel is your life. There is a decision you have to make. Though the Gospel is now viable and accessible, it isn’t yours until you make a decision. The decision is whether you are going to follow Jesus or not. When you follow someone you learn from them and become like them. It starts with a decision to accept the truth - the truth that you need to change. That change involves asking forgiveness for your sins, and then walking through life dropping the bad and taking on the good. To put it simply, it is loving God with all you got, and your neighbour as if he were you.

There are a lot of details that could be added, but those come with time, as we get to know God better. Paul said it is all about being “in Christ” or having “Jesus in us”. It is simple to say, but it will change your life to live those words.

I want to mention 3 things about this passage from John 3. First, this is part of an ongoing conversation. Jesus started off by saying, “You gotta change - You gotta be born again.” Though the terminology didn’t make sense to Nicodemus, he knew it was about faith and our relationship with God.
Secondly, the key verses are 16-18: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Jesus says here if you do nothing, you are under judgement. God is reaching out to you. If you ignore that, you have made your choice. Notice though, and thirdly, Jesus’ mission. Man is already judged - we don’t need to do that. Jesus came to save, to redeem, to restore. Our mission is the same. We are not called to judge, but to pursue Christ-likeness. This leads me to three closing thoughts about what Grace looks like:

1) Grace gives us the Freedom to ask questions because it is a dialogue. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do I shy away from the hard stuff because I don’t know if God can handle it? What kind of God do I believe in if I don’t think He can handle the hard stuff? If I truly believe my faith is about a relationship with the Creator, I better be dialoguing with Him.
2) Grace gives us the freedom to grow because it is a journey. None of us have arrived, and we won’t until we see Jesus face to face. We are not here to judge, but to extend grace. We had a great discussion about legalism and the law at our small group on Thursday. My task is to extend grace to those people around me, not judgment. God is the one responsible for that, but while we have breath in our bodies grace is where we live.
3) Grace gives us the freedom to be ourselves because God loves us. Yes, following Jesus means our lives will change. We are bent to holiness if indeed we are pursuing Jesus. His Spirit is at work in us even if our bodies are dead because of sin. But Jesus died while we were yet sinners! Are you struggling with something? Ask me to pray for you, ask us all to pray for you. We all have struggles of one kind or another. We all are striving to live in obedience to the Spirit, and experience tells us that it usually doesn’t happen overnight. We are all on this same pilgrimage, this road leading to Christ-likeness. Lest us walk with each other.

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