Sunday, 20 April 2014

GOD LOVES US BECAUSE WE'RE LOVELY IS NOT THE GOSPEL

This is an edited version of the sermon at the Service of the Litany on Good Friday in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge:

We will not understand the true meaning and significance of Good Friday without the Bible. And that is not just because we have the story, the narrative of Jesus’ death on the cross, in the four New Testament Gospels, which are in the Bible. That is certainly true and very important. But we won’t understand Good Friday with the Gospels in isolation.

We need the Old Testament Scriptures and indeed the rest of the New Testament if we are to grasp what Good Friday means for us. Indeed, we should have noticed as we listened to the account of Jesus’ crucifixion in chapter 19 of John’s Gospel that the Apostle John says three times that something happened to Jesus in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

The Scripture John refers to is the Old Testament Scripture. Jesus’ robe was not torn by the Roman soldiers in order to fulfil Psalm 22, a psalm about the sufferings of the King of Israel. Jesus’ bones were not broken in order to fulfil Exodus 12v46, which was originally a command to the people of Israel not to break the bones of the Passover lamb. And Jesus’ side was pierced, John tells us, in order to fulfil Zechariah 12v10, which was originally about the suffering of God’s chosen Shepherd or leader of his people. All these prophecies are coming true in Jesus, the God-anointed King of Israel, the Christ, the chosen leader of God’s people, and the Lamb of God sacrificed to save God’s people from his judgement.

God is ordering the events of the crucifixion, things happening, things not happening in order to fulfil the Scripture, in order to make Old Testament predictions come true in Jesus.

God is unfolding his plan of salvation and he is doing it biblically. That is really important for us to grasp. God is going with the grain of the Bible, Holy Scripture that he inspired to be written by his Holy Spirit. He is in charge of Scripture, so he is not under Scripture but he is choosing to follow the story-line if I may put it that way of Scripture in his ordering of Jesus’ death on the cross.

That is why we won’t understand the significance and meaning of the death of our Lord Jesus unless we understand it biblically, unless we come under the authority of the Bible.  Through the death of Jesus Christ God was fulfilling his biblical promises to save his people, the Church, from the judgement that we deserve because of our sins.

When I was a curate, a man in the congregation wrote a letter of complaint about one of my sermons in which I had tried to explain biblically what sin is. The illustration I used may not have been very good or clear but the point I believe was clear – our human sin is against God. When we sin, we are defying God. We are offending against God. We are going against the rightful authority of the Lord God Almighty who made us and who has the right to rule us. Sin is against God. That point was clear.

I found myself, in combination with some other things that had been going on as well, confronted with a choice about the future direction of my ministry as a pastor. Was I going to proclaim the true biblical gospel which is about God providing us with salvation from his own righteous judgement on our human sin through faith in his divine Son, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, or was I going to preach some other kind of message that would avoid offending people and so keep me from copping flak? By God’s grace  - and he gets the credit for this because his strength was indispensable in my weakness  - I made a deliberate choice to stick with the biblical gospel and I pray that by God’s grace I will until I drop or in cricketing terms until the finger goes up.

What might an alternative, less offensive or indeed non-offensive message of the cross sound like? Well, it might sound a bit like this: God loves us because we’ve lovely. In fact he thinks we’re so lovely he was prepared to send Jesus into the world to stretch out his hands on the cross to embrace us.

God loves us because we’re lovely and the cross is really all about how lovely God thinks we are.

It’s a viable alternative certainly. It’s being preached and is apparently winning converts. And it’s quite easy to see why it is a popular message in our society today because it tells self-obsessed, self-serving consumers like us in the affluent West just what we want to hear. It’s a message in tune with our times and smooth on our ears.

But it’s not the biblical gospel, it’s not the true good news of salvation from the living God. That message and the preachers who peddle it are not under the authority of the Bible in the way that the real saving gospel message is. The biblical gospel is that God saves unlovely people through the sacrificial death of his Son for their hell-deserving sins.

And in fact the alternative message makes no sense. Why on earth did God bother to send Jesus to die if we’re so lovely already? The cross is incoherent if there is no sin to save us from.

The Apostle John in his biblical Gospel, rightly preserved in the New Testament, shows the Lord God Almighty going with the grain of the biblical story-line in the crucifixion of his Son the Lord Jesus. We must never presume to think that we know better than God. If God says his Word is true, then we must come under its authority. The Scripture was fulfilled in the death of Jesus and we will not understand Good Friday unless we understand it biblically and are prepared to come under the authority of God’s Word written. The Scripture was fulfilled in the loving sacrifice of our Lord Jesus for our sin.

Taking illegal drugs is no less evil than sexual harrassment appeared on ConservativeHome.

2 comments:

  1. It is however the gospel according to the leaders of your denomination - of what they think it is a denomination being the question - Metaphysical Marxism being the answer.

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  2. Julian, your proclamation of the wonderful truths of the Gospel is as encouraging as your defence of the CofE is bizarre. More of the first, less of the second please.

    ReplyDelete