The Outrageous Gospel
Isaiah 40:3-5; John 14: 1-7
Pastor Tom Millner
September 5, 2010
When the disciple Thomas made his statement to Jesus about not knowing where He was going, so how were they to know the way, he was seeking something quite different from the response he got. You see, Thomas was filled with pre-conceived ideas about the future. Even though Jesus had told them of the upcoming events, had predicted His betrayal, washed their feet, and told of Peter's denial, none of the disciples understood the depth of what was about to unfold. When Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life – No one comes to the Father except through me;" He unleashed a declaration that has rocked the world! What an outrageous thing to say!
In today's post-modern world and in the light of moral relativism, Jesus' declaration is scandalous. Our community is fraught with different and supposedly valid ways to God. After all, don't all roads lead to God? To say there is one way and one way only seems narrow and rigid – it seems outrageous! It's particularly unpalatable to those who have been so hurt and rejected by those followers of "The Way" who demand we change the very foundation of our experience of who we are, to be someone we aren't just to be able to be minimally acceptable to "The Way." It seems reasonable, therefore, that if we can't change the fundamental being that we are and experience, then there must be another way. So we seek to fill the hole in us that yearns to be filled from above, with all the thrills we can muster, or the quest for spiritual enlightenment, grand wisdom, or anything else that temporarily seems to satiate our need. We humans want to make things fit with our own logic. Anything outside of that logic seems outrageous. But the Gospel is full of outrageous statements. Who, in their right mind would love an enemy? Enemies are to be destroyed, conquered, and subdued! We build armies and arsenals to combat our enemies; we don't build shelters and havens for them to thrive and flourish! The Bible is full of outrageous claims!
Who in their right mind would have ever thought that an 80 year old woman would give birth to a child who would sire a nation that would be a lightening rod of controversy for thousands of years? Yet Sarah did it, as God had promised. Who would have believed that as an enslaved nation marching toward the depths of a sea, followed by the mightiest army in the world, would have the sea open up before them as a path to freedom? Yet God parted the waters as He had promised He would do. It's impossible, so we hear that a virgin girl could give birth to someone. It's preposterous to entertain that a human could be as much God as if not human at all and as much human as if not God at all. These are outrageous events recorded in this book we call the Bible. Some say it's a nice story book, a book of inspiration. It refers to itself as the WORD of God – logos – that wisdom and knowledge that defies the reason of mankind and embraces the notion that there is Divine intelligence superior to our own. In man's reasoning we've heard that God is dead: Even this week we've heard that physics has finally proven the non-existence of God. We must notify all historians and those who have lived before through the countless miracles and wonders of the world that their accounts and experiences are neither real nor valid! The claims related to the non-existence of God are nothing new either. After all, the whole notion of God is outrageous until we recognize the improbability of life in His absence! Indeed, Jesus asserted in John 10:10 that "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full." Does this mean that "the way" offers something greater than first appearance?
Pantheism would have us believe that all gods are one. Christianity asserts that there is one God above all. Religion is the practice of steps to reach God. Christianity is the outrageous belief that God reaches to us, has cleared the path to Himself by giving His very own perfection that makes the step to Him unencumbered. Religion leads us to believe that we must seek a more perfect way to God. Christianity asserts that the perfect way has already been established; it's the person Jesus! The assertion of the Gospel is that the way, the truth and the life has already been established; that Jesus, being God, did not take His rightful place, but rather humbled Himself to take on the nature of mankind, so that being a perfect example of what mankind was created to be, He would be the way back to perfect unity with God. Religion would have us seek the way to God on our own. Christianity says the way has already been made – it is Jesus Christ. Jesus died once for all whether we believe it or not. Our beliefs or lack thereof do not change the fact or nature of God. What keeps us from accepting God's offering of Himself for us?
- We fail to understand grace. God's love is manifest to us in two major ways; mercy and grace. You've heard me say before that mercy is not getting what we really deserve and grace is getting what we really don't deserve. What we really deserve is the consequences of our failed attempts to be our own gods, but what we get is undeserved acceptance and a place of honor with the Creator of the universe. Fundamentalism would lead us to believe that all the do's and don'ts of scripture must be engaged to embrace the fullness of God's love. The scripture asserts that grace and mercy are free to all who would access, and that none who come to receive are truly worthy. Nevertheless, His love and His shed blood are sufficient to cover all of us! Scripture calls to "whosoever" to believe that He came to give life abundantly.
- We fear loss of control! "I am my own special creation;" "I did it my way!" What did we just say that mercy is? Mercy is not getting what we truly deserve. When we have control, we have to accept the consequences of being in control. We don't like doing that – we want control and all the positive outcomes that we fantasize should be the result. Experience says it's a mixed bag that we encounter. When Jesus said He had come that we may have life and have it to the full, He meant it! Each one of us, even the most humble among us, plays a role in this world. We present to the world our best face and sometimes our worst face when we're threatened with not being seen as the good face we present. To some degree, each of us is an actor on the stage of life. We undertake the role of the character we wish to portray – or be seen as. It's been said that life is a stage, we are the actors, and Jesus is the play. If Jesus is the play, then the character we portray is His. By doing so, we discover the richness of who we really are because of Him. We are no longer limited to the sameness of our repeated attempts to rise above, but rather lifted high through His grace and mercy to fulfill the true nature of our divine destiny. Our belief that we are in any way in control is an illusion!
- We fear rejection. Peer pressure is a tremendous force in our lives. Very early in life we discover the pain of appearing not to fit in or of seeing others scorned for their lack of being like the rest. The local rags are full of pictures and other depictions of what the "in crowd" is all about. Even Christian organizations use peer pressure to get people to come in tow with the group. There's a fine line between fitting in and what the Bible describes as idolatry. We have to decide whether grace and mercy, which we all ultimately desire, is worth more to us than the latest fashionable proverb, intellectual concept or gratuitous gathering place. When we choose the side of grace and mercy, we are freed from the chains of "must be" and enter the realm of "free to be." His way is truly the fulfilling way; the completed way; the freedom way!
There were three hikers on their journey to the called heaven. Each was carrying a pack of life possessions on their back. The first one reached the sign that pointed to the gate. A guardsman was standing nearby watching as the first hiker approached. Not seeing a door or gate, the sojourner inquired as to the gate's location. The guard pointed to a small opening near the ground and said; "that is the passage to the other side." The hiker looked dismayed and said "but to go through there I must unload all my possessions and leave them here where thieves and robbers can steal them. Isn't there another way?" The guard answered; "this is the only entrance to the Kingdom. The hiker went away sadly as he could not bring himself to leave his possessions. The second hiker arrived shortly thereafter and was given the same information as the first. He took his back pack off and discarded those things he determined he could do without, strapped back on the pack, dove to the ground and desperately scratched and pulled, seeking to get to the other side. The bulk of the remaining stuff he had deemed necessary for the journey to the Kingdom was too great to allow him through the tiny opening. He pushed his way back from the opening, collected his discarded items and left disheartened. The third traveler arrived and was told the same thing as the other two. He questioned the guard about specifics he had gained on his journey. The guard reiterated that the opening was the only passageway to the other side. With some sadness the hiker discarded his lifetime of possessions; his title, his esteem, his reputation, his perceived identity, his wealth, and his cherished relationships, and he got down on the ground and began to pull himself through the opening. He began to see the light of the other side, gave one last kick and pulled himself out of the opening and into the bright light of the other side. He looked down and there before him was a brand new backpack, grander than the one he left behind. It was then that he realized that what he had given up was nothing compared to what he had gained.
Matthew 19: captures Jesus teaching His disciples about the nature of His kingdom. He says; "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples reasoned and asked "who then can be saved?" Jesus, after looking at them said; "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
The gospel is outrageous in its claim that God gives freely a new life, wholeness and eternal family ties with Him for each of us. It's outrageous that we do not have to suffer the eternal consequences of our self-absorption, but rather be granted a crown of reward that we truly don't deserve. It's outrageous that we don't have to become something or someone other than who we were created to be before we can be acceptable to the perfect God of the universe. It's outrageous that when we seek to live out the character of life's play, we play the part of loving our enemies. What an outrageous gospel! What an outrageous God! Let's live outrageously!!!