Monday, February 11, 2013

I was sent... to preach... the good news...

Sermon preached for Epiphany IV on Sunday, February 3, 2013.

    What good is religion when you cannot get God to do what you want?  Like it or not, that is the question of the ages.  We think the whole purpose of faith is to influence God for our advantage.  Such is the lie of the sinful heart, still trying to manipulate God even though the first attempt ended in the curse of death and banishment from Eden.  If we are to understand faith, it will come from the Word of God.  Jesus tells us what is His purpose, His mission, and His destiny.  We listen to Him.
    So, for what has Jesus come?  We have no trouble listing all the things we thing Jesus needs to fix.  Too often, however, the works of Jesus get in the way of His central purpose – not because the works are bad but because we focus upon them as ends in and of them selves.  Jesus does the signs of the Kingdom (healings, miraculous feeding, casting out demons, raising the dead, etc.) for the purpose of bring the good news of the Kingdom – the good news which are not these little things but the cross, His death, and His resurrection.
    Jesus says "I was sent."  In a world which values spontaneity, Jesus speaks of the plan of salvation laid up before the foundation fo the world.  He was sent with a purpose, on a mission.  From the beginning God took the burden of our sin and death as His own.  In Genesis 3 He promises the day of salvation and it is for this day and for this work that Jesus is come.  He is sent, another way of defining anointed.  He comes with the full godhead hidden in flesh and blood and with the full force of the Trinity to rescue and redeem a world captive to sin and its death.
    "I must preach," says Jesus.  In this way we discover how the Kingdom of God comes.  It comes as Paul says, through hearing the Word of the Lord.  Just as the world came to be through the Word spoken, so does God work to redeem His fallen world through the voice of the Word, the Word made flesh.  The Word proclaimed is the means of grace, as well as the Word visible in water, bread and wine.  He proclaims what it is that He is come to do.  He preaches so that the fruits of His holy life, His life giving death, and His victorious resurrection may be imparted to us, His people, and to those not yet of His kingdom.  The Word of the Lord is the focus of Jesus' work and the Word manifests that saving work to us.
    Jesus was sent, He was sent to preach, and what He preaches is the "Good News!"  This is what gets us into trouble.  It is THE good news and not simply a good word.  The voice of the Church must speak the Word of the cross and empty tomb or it cannot and will not speak for God.  The preaching of the Church is the specific good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.  Sadly, itching ears and curious voices are preaching other gospels but there is no good news there unless it be the Word of the cross and the empty tomb.  Good news is not generic.  It is cross eyed.
    The plague of doubt and dissatisfaction that has come upon the Church and Christians is born of false gospels and empty preaching that substitutes the word of man for the Word of the Lord.  One writer put it this way.  The Church has become a thermometer measuring the temperature of the world around her instead of the thermostat that sets the temperature of the kingdom of God.  Our pulpits and catechism classes have become sponges to soak up the world.  It has to end.  Like Jesus said of Himself, the Church has one Word to preach and that is the Gospel of Jesus death and resurrection.  Nothing else saves.
    We think of God primarily as reactive.  We tell Him what we want or need and He reacts.  We deliver to Him our prayers and He acts.  But God is not reactive.  The message of the Kingdom is that before the world's foundation God knew and acted.  Though the work of salvation is revealed in time and over time, it was proactive and not reactive.
    Jesus has not come to react to all our complaints with little fixes to make them better.  He has come to deliver the Kingdom of God to us, to act proactively, fulfilling the plan of God laid before the foundation of the world, to answer the curse of sin and to deliver us from the darkness and captivity of death. 
    Years ago in college I read J. B. Phillips Your God Is Too Small.  What a great title.  We too often make God small, as small as the little things that form the focus of most of our attention and complaints.  But God is big enough to take on the full force of our lost condition even if that costs His Son the suffering and death of the cross.  He is not the little God who bandaids us through one fix to another.  He has come to bear the full burden of our death and to impart to us the full measure of His life.  It is this that the Spirit teaches us to see and to know by faith.
    During Epiphany our Lord reveals Himself as the Christ of God, who from the beginning was appointed for the work of establishing the Kingdom of God by His death and resurrection, and whose Word delivers that Kingdom to us, that by hearing we might believe, and that by believing we might have His life in us... for this day and for all eternity.  Amen.

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