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"The only thing that love cannot do is seek it's own self-interest." Speaking shortly after the opening of the movie "The Passion of the Christ", Todd explains that Christ came to the Earth in love, not in majesty, power or impressive appearance, but in love, in relentless, reckless, seemingly irresponsible pursuing His children. What or whom are you trusting for the forgiveness of your sins?
Why The Bible Can Be Trusted
Why There is Hope
Why The Church
Why Change is Possible and Necessary
Why All the Passion
Why There is the Law
Why the Jews
Why We Are Here
Why There is Evil
Why the Story You Live in Matters
He is risen! Isn't it great? We are so glad, if you are a guest, that you are here and you are just going to join us as we celebrate what it is that we believe. Just in case you didn't know what we meant when we said, "Hearts unfold like flowers before him," we thought we'd help you with a visual. Please be seated.
We are here to celebrate this morning. All around the world, for those of us who believe there's something worth celebrating, this is the day that really makes celebration worthwhile. Christmas is only great because it leads to this weekend. What we celebrate in December is only great because of what we celebrate now, and we are glad you are here to celebrate it with us. Will you pray with me?
Father, thank you so much for the fact that we have a faith that makes us sing and that you delight in the joy and the laughter and the satisfaction and the contentment of your people. Lord, I'm also very, very grateful that you don't ask us to pretend. You know there are many hurts and burdens and scars on all of our lives.
There are folks who are experiencing temporal sickness that is going to lead to a finite end to this life as we know it, and you are desperate for us to understand that you've come into this world that leads to death because of its turning away from you and to turn it, to bring it back to a place where it can experience what you created it and us who are to reign over it to experience, which is life. That's the story.
When we see what you have done, that you have taken the death of the winter's sin that we have brought in and brought forth the spring and the blossom of life, it will make us sing. It brings joy to our hearts, and our hearts do unfold before you. It's our great desire, as a result of the truth of this day, that we are transformed by it.
Your hope is not just that we, Lord, would get the doctrinal dogma of Jesus Christ born of a virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried, and raised on the third day. Lord, I know your heart is that we would fall in love with a God who is sovereign over creation who cares about us individually and who is aware of our sin. There is not darkness in this room that you don't know about, Lord, and we think we need to hide ourselves from you.
Many think we need to cover up our negative attitudes and our gross actions with pretty clothes, devout acts of giving in philanthropy, and kindness to make up for the ugliness we have that when laid bare before we you are ashamed of, and you're screaming to us, "Forget it! That's not the way to get back to me. It's to acknowledge your need and let me deal with it," as fully, as recklessly, and as irresponsibly as history tells us you did on the cross.
You have shown that moment to be satisfying to you by raising our Lord from the grave to show that the cost of sin, the penalty of sin, has been erased and all who come to you in need of grace and mercy will find it there. That makes us sing. Lord, we thank you that you love us, and the evidence of any great love is that you pursue those who you love even when they're not sure they're loveable. Thank you for pursuing us. I pray through today's songs and message and visuals we see your radical pursuit of us again and it changes us forever.
I can remember speaking in Jamaica. I was down there with some guys who were using sport as a medium to reach the people of that country. I stood there at the halftime of the basketball game we were playing with their international, Olympic-qualifying team, and it was my turn at halftime to communicate to the crowd who was there the story that compelled us to go down there (a bunch of has-beens, many of who never really were, to get trounced by a bunch of young bucks).
Just to give you an idea of Jamaica and their national sports program, you can understand why the Jamaican bobsled team is represented the way it is when you know their national stadium where we played our games that were nationally televised was an outdoor court. In the midst of each of these games at different times when we were playing their team in a three-game series, we had times to speak to them about the hope that really compelled us to go down there to serve and to do clinics throughout the day and minister to people and play ball at night.
I can remember sitting there in this outdoor stadium filled with the smell of marijuana and communicating to them a story, a story that was so fantastic that I caught myself in the middle of telling it that those guys must have thought, "All of these years we've been smoking Jamaican. The good stuff is clearly in the States, because you do hear what that brother is saying?"
That there's a God who created us and we're not here by some accident or some other way, but we're here because there's a God who created us, because he's a good God and a loving God and the one thing that love cannot do is be self-centered. Because God wants to share who he is because he's loving, he invites others in to the fellowship of hearts which eternally represent who he is.
Knowing that as soon as he invites that which is not like him (eternally perfect and glorious) into the fellowship he is, it would bring about pain and suffering, loss, consequence, and would disturb the perfect unity that has eternally existed in the glorious person of God, but he loved us and created us anyway.
In our constant rebellion and turning away from him, which takes on many different faces and many different forms in cycles that repeat infinite number of times, he keeps pursuing us without regard for the cost to himself, and that was culminated when God himself sent the Son to go and communicate his love one last time in the clearest way it has ever been communicated in order to draw those lost, rebellious, wicked, judgment and wrath-invoking, death-deserving people he created in his image who he loved to himself.
God showed that he was satisfied in the offer of sacrifice that Son made by allowing him to pay fully the penalty of death, to fulfill the prophecy of law, to fulfill the picture of law, and to take away the sting of our choices. Now, as he has been risen from the grave and ascended into heaven, he freely offers to us life and restoration.
As I shared that as well as I could in a very concise period of time, I thought to myself, "That is absolutely crazy!" Who really believes that? That there is God. He's up there. He first created the angelic realm who rebelled against him, and in order to reestablish his sovereignty and to declare his goodness, he created a heaven and an earth where he put something there called humanity that was made in his image. He allowed humans to be wooed away, if you will, by that Deceiver who first betrayed him in the heavens.
Even though, in the midst of that betrayal, God continued to seek humans to reestablish a relationship with them in a way that he would share his glory with us in a way he never intended to share his glory even with the angels. There was something unique about his love and longing for us then in the midst of his radical and relentless pursuit of us as a people.
If you're a guest here with us today, we've been working our way through the story that is so fantastic that Hollywood would only put it on a science-fiction channel. In fact, when we see the final love of God ultimately expressed toward us in a way that shadows the brutality of the event, it completely captures the media's attention, and all they do is debate about the senselessness of the violence that was pictured in the moment when God poured out his wrath on his Son.
Let me walk you through it this way. God has revealed himself as three in one. The word Trinity never appears in the Scripture. Most folks don't know that until somebody from the Jehovah's Witness group knocks on their door and points out to them the foolishness of what they believe and points out to them the fact that there is no word Trinity in their Bibles, and most folks who grew up in church or around the Bible go, "Really? That's not there?" They go, "Show it to me," and you can't, because the word Trinity isn't in the Bible.
It is a label we have stuck on a concept that is thoroughly revealed in the Scriptures, that God from the very beginning has existed as one, but that one God in a way that our finite minds cannot understand is three in person. Those three persons eternally dwell in love and in community with one another.
The Father delights in the Son and seeks to exalt the name of the Son and gives the Son the name above all names in order that before the Son and at the name of the Son one day every knee will bow. The Son does nothing except that which is the will of the Father in order that he might express his love to the Father and show the glory of the Father. The Spirit lives and exists to exalt the Son and to exalt the Father and to further their kingdom program on the earth, and they dwell together eternally in the way the Scriptures reveal them, in a perfect harmony of hearts.
The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Son. The Spirit is not the Father. The Son is not the Spirit. The Father is not the Spirit. They are individually unique as persons eternally existent, as the Scripture reveals them, and we call this three in one the Trinity. What God did in the context of loving us, because the only thing love cannot do is seek its own self- interest, is the Scriptures tell us God is love.
Love is not God, but God is love, and God made a choice to open up the fellowship of Trinity, the perfect love of God, and to invite into it his creation (humankind) and to pull us into the fellowship of the Trinity. For the first time now, there is one who is not intrinsically good who is here who is called by faith to experience the goodness of God. God is saying, "I love you, and because I am good, I am not lonely. I am in no need of friendship. I don't need somebody to worship me. I am satisfied completely in who I am."
There was no need for us. We are not essentially needed in God's program except that God is love and he wants to essentially share that which is good because he is a loving God, so he opens up his heart, and he creates humankind to enjoy fellowship with him. Now, God knew the moment he did that we would bring into this relationship a will that was free to reject the love that was there. We would be vulnerable to the idea that fullness of life and fullness of love and fullness of satisfaction, meaning, and purpose was not where God was.
Maybe there was something over here where I could strike out on my own and independently find life, and just like Lucifer agreed with the concept that worked its way into his heart, that he would not find his glory in the satisfaction of the glory of God but he would exalt himself above God and seek to be worshiped and find significance on his own in his own story, that same voice whispered into our ear and led us away so that we no longer believe God is good, and we moved over in order to find life ourselves in another way. We gave our hearts to another.
Now, God would have been completely justified in letting us live alone outside of the context of perfect love, community, family, care, purpose, and life. To let us die and be separated from the author and giver of life not just in terms of breath but also in terms of quality of life, fullness of life, and abundance of joy, he was completely, absolutely, fully, perfectly, and righteously justified in letting us die in our rejection of him, but that's not what love does.
Love pursues, and love knows no fear in its pursuit. Many of us have seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ, as pictured by Mel Gibson. Most of us had a hard time watching the fearlessness of that pursuit. Many people will not see it because they are offended by the brutality of that pursuit, the senselessness of that pursuit, and the obscenity, even, of that pursuit.
The story of God's Word in this book called the Book, meaning it contains the story that answers questions which all of us long to have answered, like, "Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where do I get meaning? Where do I get purpose? Why is there evil? Why is my heart vulnerable? Why is their death? Why is there suffering if God is good? Why is there such a thing as hope? And, is there hope?" All of those questions are answered in one story. It's the story in the Book.
It's God's gracious revelation where he pulls back the veil and says, "You don't need to decide for yourself any longer what truth is and find your own moorings. You do not need to go to philosophers, lovers of wisdom, men who will sit and of their own accord try to attain to things that eyes have not seen and ears have not heard, things which have not entered into the hearts of men, but I love you and I will make manifest to you, known to you, and revealed to you that which you could never otherwise know.
Here's your story. It will hearken as familiar to you because I have imbedded it in your hearts. Your reason and your intellect know that the glory of this creation did not come out of chance and reckless circumstance, but there is beauty and there is design because there is an intelligent Designer behind it.
You'll know there is a God who is good and moral because in your heart, no matter where you're from in every land, I have imbedded in you a morality, a conscience that is consistent throughout all of humankind. There is no race of people anywhere that believes it is okay to hit somebody upside of the head with a rock and take their chicken or steal their pig or rape their woman."
Because all of us have imbedded in our hearts a sense of righteousness in the form of conscience which God says is evidence that we were all made in his image. On top of that (creation and conscience), God gave us something that would allow us to know who he was, and we have been telling the story.
It is a story that is so fantastic it makes people who were high think you're higher. It is a story that is so fantastic that Hollywood would not dare to present it to you as true. It is a story that is so fantastic that, if you understood the story of it, it would capture your hearts like nothing else has ever captured your hearts.
God, the author of the story, has written himself into the story as the divine hero, as the perfect suitor, as the relentless romancer, as the divine rescuer, as the sovereign power who will get his bride, and don't you hope that you're loved that way? No matter who you have given your heart to and no matter how many times you have opened up yourself in immorality…
To use a term that is offensive but is one the Scriptures use, like a donkey that is in heat you made yourself available to any lover, aggressively seeking anything that you think would bring you satisfaction to the longings of your passions, God still goes there for us. He has pursued us with an everlasting love.
There's a movie that came out this last Friday. It is called The Alamo. It was originally to be directed by a guy named Ron Howard. Ron Howard had some arguments with the studio that was initially going to produce it, so he walked off of the set, and they went to a Baylor grad who is now the man who directed that film. For you Baylor Bear grads, there's something positive for a change for you!
That Baylor grad was sharing the story of what he learned from Ron Howard, as he sat with him and said, "Ron, catch me up to where you are, and what can I do to make this story come to life?" Ron Howard said something to him as a filmmaker or as a storyteller. This is what he said to Hancock. He said, "There's the historical truth, and then there is the emotional truth. You want to get as close to the historical truth as you can, but nobody will care about the story if you miss the emotional truth."
What Ron Howard was saying was, "The reason we in Hollywood always change the story a little bit is because there is no story that sometimes in its core or in its natural sense will fully capture the hearts and imaginations of people that will make them long to see the story unless you tweak it and take it to a grander level."
He's right about this. What he's saying is people don't just care about facts; people want their hearts to be captured. One of the reasons there is such a lukewarm attitude in the people of the Way, followers of Christ, people who take the label of Christian, folks who walk into churches around the world today is because, though many of them would assent on some census form, "I am, in fact, a believer in God and in Jesus Christ and you can label me Protestant or Christian," too many of them just check the box as an intellectual agreement to certain presented facts.
God says, "Don't just get the historical facts. The historical facts are essentially important, but you need to know the person behind those facts, the recklessness of the pursuit of that person for you, and get the emotional truth. Give me your heart." God says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life."
What you give yourself to determines what will spring forth in your life, and God says there is only one who is good, one who will give you the satisfaction for your longings, and one who will fulfill your desires. It isn't your work. It's isn't your fleshly passions. It isn't the world's praise. It is in fellowship with the God who is glorious and good.
Let me just walk you through a history of what God has done very quickly that will catch you up a little bit with what we've done. It starts with the fact that God created the angelic realm. There was one angel we know from the Scripture who challenged God's role and rule. After that, God created the human realm.
The Enemy challenged God's word. He challenged God's justice. He challenged God's goodness. "Don't you believe God is true when he says something! Don't you believe God will have consequence in your life if you reject him! Don't believe if you stay there with him you will be eternally satisfied in his little Trinity!" The lie was believed, and the world was corrupted.
After that, God restored the human world by grace and gave humans a conscience to remind them of right. They ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What we did not know in eating of that tree… Before that, did man know the difference between good and evil? The Scripture says, "No."
Man knew God was good and was called by faith to trust in him. God always gives us a chance to show us our love for him, and he put something in our lives or in our presence that will give us a test, a test that shows our love for him. In the garden, it was a tree. This tree was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
God says, "You don't need to eat of that tree. Trust me that I am good. Show me that you love me. I have put you in a perfect place in a perfect creation. You need gravity to exist. There is gravity. You need air to breathe. There is air. You need food to eat. There is food. You need water to drink. There is water. You need companionship. I have given you companionship. You need purpose and meaning. I have given you purpose and meaning. Delight yourself in me. You are in Paradise. Be satisfied."
Yet, in the midst of that, we believed the lie that God's word wasn't true, his justice wasn't that severe, and his character wasn't that good, and we betrayed him, and we moved away. Then, in knowing the difference between good and evil and not trusting God and not loving him, having the ability now to choose, not just by listening to God's Word but by listening to what we have now ascertained as God unveiled choice to us, we are not intrinsically good as God was, so we don't often choose that which is good for us.
We make choices that are often self-destructive that bring warring and hurt into the world and into our world. Humans ignored God's inner voice. We followed evil even though we knew what was good, and we brought further judgment into the world, but God pursued still. He destroyed the world in the midst of the rebellion that was there, saving one.
He bestows authority to that one and his family (Noah) in the form of government to punish man as he rebels. Now, bringing alongside conscience government. Yet, humans corrupt government. We ignore our consciences, and we follow evil again by attempting to establish our own greatness and our own glory outside of God.
God said to Noah when he got off of the ark, "You fill the earth and subdue it." It's the same command he gave to Adam and Eve. What does man do? They don't fill the earth. They go to one city in one place with one voice. They build to themselves a tower of greatness to establish their greatness in the earth.
What does God do? He recklessly pursues yet again. If you read the story, it says that God then elected to reveal his greatness. He elected to reveal his glory through one man, not working with the nations anymore who would become increasingly rebellious to him, but he would seek one. He would make one man one great nation which would have a unique relationship with God, resulting in that nation's blessing and causing the rest of the world to take notice of the blessing that would come with those people.
That one man's descendants followed evil, and they became a corrupt people who were then driven into bondage and slavery, but God didn't leave them there because he is a reckless pursuer. Then, God restored the nation out of slavery. He gave them an external known law to complement their conscience and to direct them toward the life he would bless.
Despite their tremendous deliverance and great prosperity in a way that is so spectacular that Hollywood wouldn't dare to tell the story, that a man with a stick could lead a bunch of slaves from the greatest power on the face of the earth only to have the affections of that nation turn against those people again as they're trapped against an ocean they could not cross only to have the people cry out to God to have God part an ocean! Are you kidding me?
They walked across, and as their enemy pursued them, God in his greatness brought judgment on them and delivered them to a place of prosperity, but what happens? The nation is corrupted again and again and again, as it follows after evil that is in their hearts and in their world and made manifest through the angel of rebellion who continues to seek them as a lion his prey.
Then, God finally in the pinnacle of history determined to finally send his Son. He had sent his servants in the form of prophets time after time to the people, but they had killed his prophets and ignored him. As our backs were turned individually and corporately as a people away from God, God said, "Let's not lose them. We have made an oath that we would love them, and we will pursue them no matter the cost to us."
The Son said, "I will go," and the Son said, "I will give," and the Son said, "I will identify with them and live as a man, humble myself as we have asked them to humble themselves, and reveal the truth of who I am." This is where the story gets pretty spectacular if it wasn't already, because the Son leaves the fellowship of the Trinity. He's still living in relationship with them through the Spirit for a time, but the Son comes over here.
Let me just ask you right here. If you were going to leave that to go after that, what would you look like when you came? I would look pretty spectacular. If I was going to go be a suitor and woo them, I would make it very obvious that I am the lover they've been looking for, but that's not the case.
Some of you came in here this morning, and when I first walked up on stage, you went, "Did he get up late? I know his wife is out of town, but surely he can tell there's a hole there. That offends me. If you ever put on your best, it is when you are talking about and representing God. On the day you talk about and represent God, you put on your Easter best," because that's what we do if we're representing God.
When God came from here to there, he did not have on a bonnet. He did not have on a tux. We have very little in Scripture that tells us what he looked like when he came, but I want to tell you something. It offended people. Do you know who was most offended this morning when they first saw me? It's the people who have grown up in church their whole lives.
The people who know the most about what we're supposed to do when we represent God go, "What's he doing? Why is trying to relate and be all cool and wear holes in his jeans?" God doesn't telegraph greatness the way we do. God doesn't look at the external the way we do. God looks at the heart, and God sent something that absolutely shocked the people he sent him to.
The perfect, eternal Creator God, the divine, perfect romancer, came, and we don't have much in the form of history that tells us what this Jesus looked like. It's interesting that the very first time he is spoken of in a human sense is in 1514. Someone forged a document under the name of Publius Lentulus who was the Roman governor who succeeded Pontius Pilate. In 1514, somebody put this on the street. Listen to this.
It said, "He is a tall man, well-shaped, and of amiable and reverent aspect. His hair is full of color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls. Parted on the crown of his head running as a stream to the front after the fashion of the Nazirites, his forehead high, large and imposing. His cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red. His nose and his mouth formed with exquisite symmetry. His beard of a color suitable to his hair reaching below his chin, parted in the middle like a fork. His eyes bright, blue, clear, and serene."
That's the way he was described by supposedly the one who succeeded Pontius Pilate in rule. It was shown to be an absolute forgery and not authentic, and if you would have read carefully the very next sentence out of this little document that they found, it said, "No man has ever seen him laugh."
It's amazing how much of that idea of what the physicality of what God looked like when he came has made its way and still influences, though we know it was a mockery, and men suppose what he should look like (tall, beautiful, well-groomed, with soft curls and bright eyes and rosy cheeks who never laughed because God is serious).
You know what's really interesting. I have a hard time believing that's what Jesus was anything like. If you read the Gospels for a moment… Yancey, a guy who wrote a book called The Jesus I Never Knew, made this great observation. He said that you can't imagine a guy who was known as a gluttonous man and as a wine bibber being a guy who never laughed. You can't imagine a man who was criticized along with his disciples for their lack of spiritual discipline as being a guy who never laughed.
When they were criticized for being people who didn't fast, Jesus says, "Why would they fast when the bridegroom is still with them?" Yancey writes, "Of all the images that this sober one…" There's a reason we think of the soberness of Christ. I'll show you in a minute. Of all of the reasons and of all the way and analogies that God could have given about why he told his disciples not to fast, he says that he could have chosen anything. Yet, Jesus settled that in that he would be pictured as a groom whose radiance cheers up the entire wedding party by saying, "Why does the wedding feast not feast when the bridegroom is with him? There will be a day when the bridegroom is gone, but he's here right now, so we celebrate."
He was anything but a man who did not laugh, but what do we know? That's a forged document. What do we know about this Jesus? What did he look like? We go to some 700 or 800 years before he actually walked on the earth, and this is the only revelation we have about who this Jesus was. This is how he was described in Isaiah, chapter 53. It actually says,
"He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him."
A little bit later it says there was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance and nothing stately to attract us. In other words, men turned away from him and didn't see him as something that was really that glorious and beautiful. Yancey did an interesting thing. He asked a group of people what they thought Jesus would look like and to describe who he basically was.
Virtually everybody he interviewed said he was tall, which is very unlikely for a first-century Jew. Most said he was handsome, and no one said he was overweight. He showed a film made by the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) of a story of Christ that featured a pudgy actor who played the role of Jesus, and most people who watched it found it offensive because we prefer a tall, handsome, and above all, slender Jesus.
We want a stud. We want Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, George Clooney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger all rolled into one. We want a stud to come. That's who we would have sent, and God sent one who wasn't that glorious and beautiful on the outside. Yet, we find this man in all of history impacted the world like none ever did.
You can judge the size of a ship by the wake it leaves behind, and this man left a wake. When he was there, he was the most sought-after attractive person who ever lived. He didn't speak very much, but when he spoke, folks clamored around him so much that he was often forced to get off the land everyone else was on to get out onto a boat in the ocean that they might respond to him.
He came, and he pursued, and we find out this one came to pursue the love of this one he chose to love, and he did it in a way that offends us. In fact, there is an analogy he used in the Old Testament when he asked one of his servants, a prophet, to marry a woman who was a known adulterer, a prostitute.
"You go marry that prostitute. You make a covenant oath with her. She's going to betray you. She's going to hurt you. She's going to give herself to another and another and another, and she's going to be left in the city. She's not even going to be worth the value of a gored ox, but you go and redeem her and call her back to yourself. When she leaves you again, you seek her one more time." God gives a visual that is extremely offensive. He keeps moving though we keep moving away, because love always pursues.
Time magazine just brought forth a big question. It simply asked the question, "Why did Jesus have to die?" By the way, you look up there and what do you see? You see a Jesus who looks like a 1514 description of him with hair parted in the middle and a beard parted in the middle with a high forehead and no wrinkles on his cheek. I don't know if he's handsome, but we see this image of Christ continually portrayed.
Why did Jesus have to die? Why all of the passion? Why all of this pursuit? Have you ever asked yourself that? This story is so fantastic that, if you know the historical reality of the story, the emotional reality will grab you. God wants your heart. He is seeking your heart. You think Nathaniel seeks Cora. You think William Wallace goes after his love. You think Jack goes after his love. You think Forrest went back for his lieutenant. You should see the way this God pursues his love. It is irresponsible. It is offensive. We can hardly look at it.
Why did Jesus have to die? I'm going to tell you why today, and it should stir you to a response. Jesus had to die not just because he loved us but because he's holy and because he's just. Paul wrote about this in Romans, chapter 3. Starting in verse 21, this is what he said. He said that at the particular time this Jesus came, all of history pivots on this Jesus. Apart from the law where God had revealed what righteousness looked like through his standard revealed in the Word, the righteousness of God has now been manifested.
That word manifest is synonymous with the word in the Greek that is used for apocalypse. It's synonymous with the word apokalupsis which is a word that means revealing. God is revealing his righteousness now in a different way. Let me say it to you this way. The Scripture says Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. In this Jesus, all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.
The Scripture says he is the exact representation of the nature of God. The Scripture says that even though he existed in the form of God he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself and took on the likeness of a man, and being found in appearance as a man, it says, he humbled himself and became obedient even to the point of death.
Jesus came as a lover who wasn't impressive in his appearance. He didn't look grand, as we think you should look when you present God. He just was full of love and relentless pursuit. So relentless was his pursuit that when he got to the moment when he gave his life away, the Scripture says that he despised the cross.
What does that mean? When we hear that we despise something it means we want nothing to do with it. I want to move away from it. It doesn't matter to me at all. I want to get there and move on from it. I couldn't care less about it. That's exactly what it means when it says that Jesus despised the cross.
Because he was so in love with you, because he was so committed to reach you, he said, "It's going to be a cross, something so awful that the pain and suffering associated with it," and it caused us to invent another word. Do you know that? Excruciating. Ex is the Latin from crucifix. The Latin from cross. From the cross. It is excruciating suffering like no other form of death mankind has ever invented.
He said, "I don't frankly care, because love knows no fear, and you think I've pursued people radically up to this moment. I'm not sending my servants anymore. We are sending the Son, and he is going to go, and he is going to seek, and when he is confronted with the cross, as the world and the crowd says, 'Come this way,' he's going to say, 'Give me the cross! I couldn't care less about the cross. I hope this offends you.'"
He said, "Do you know what I think about the cross?" He spit on the cross. "To heck with the cross." It's like Joe Frazier in the fifteenth round in his fight with Muhammad Ali. His eyes had been beaten shut, but Joe Frazier wanted the heavyweight title. His corner said, "We're throwing in the towel," and Joe Frazier said, "You cut my eye so I can see at least the form of the man I want to fight, because I will not lose. I despise the pain. Give me the blade. Cut my eye. I want the crown."
Excruciating in its pain, irresponsible in its love, this is a whore. This is an adulterer. Again and again and again we move back. We say we'll come. Then, we move away again. God says, "I will pursue you with a love that is offensive," so much so that we rate it R. God made the righteousness of God manifest. He made it known. If you want to know what righteousness looks like and if you want to know what God looks like, you don't have to discover it. "I am going to reveal it. Voila! Here it is. This is who I am."
He was witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets. There's a reason when Jesus was showing his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration that Moses and Elijah were there (the two that represent the Law and the Prophets). Because everything about the Law pointed to the goodness of who God was, and everything about the Prophets pointed to the one who would one day come and who would bear the sins and the iniquities of the people. He who knew no sin would become sin on their behalf that they might become the righteousness of God through this one, as they trusted in him.
What God showed is that there is one way to come back in to this fellowship of love that has eternally existed. It's by faith. It's by faith in this one who God has made manifest. God has telegraphed the answer. He did it through the law. The penalty of law is death. He paid it. The purpose of law is to show God's righteousness. He displayed it.
The picture of law is that we don't do anything. We sit still while the High Priest goes and takes an innocent Lamb, cuts its throat, offers it to God, and God in his grace and mercy gives us what we could not earn, and he fulfilled it. The righteousness of God was given to us that through faith in him… Not just through faith in general. We are not…you know this…saved by faith. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
There are people of faith all around this world, but your faith is only as good as that which you have faith in. What are you trusting in this morning to give your heart to, to find forgiveness from the God you are in account to? Is it that you may not have been as bad as you may have been up until now? Is it that you might give enough that he would be impressed that you're a part of his family? Or is it that you know you are an adulterer?
I disciplined myself to use that soft a word. Like me. I give my heart again and again and again to something else than God, and he keeps pursuing me with an everlasting pursuit in a way that I marvel at. The Scripture says that there is no distinction among any of us. In other words, anybody who wants to come back into relationship with God can come, for all of us have a need.
All have sinned. The Scripture doesn't say in verse 23 that all are sinning. It just says that all have sinned. We've all gone this way. We all fall short of the glory of God. What that means is that all of us (every single one of us) have lost the accommodation God would give. One of the words that glory can be synonymous with is boasting (the greatness and fullness of). What the Scripture is saying is there is no man anymore who God says, "That's my boy! That's my gal! Look at them! I am completely satisfied."
There is one in history who God has shouted from the heavens and said, "Behold! My Son in whom I am well pleased." Listen to him, a second time he says. "In him I am pleased." There is one who fulfilled what God said man should be. He wasn't impressive in the way he looked physically, but he was impressive in the way he gave his heart to his Father.
So much so that when he was called to do something that made no sense for him and so much so that when he got to a place that he had to incur the wrath of the justice of God and God allowed the sins of the world to be put on him in the radical pursuit of the lost one, for the first time in eternity's history as the Son died on the cross, the Scripture says the Father was pleased to pour out his wrath on him.
When he had poured out his wrath, he turned his back on the one who had eternally dwelt with him in oneness. This one cried out, "My God, my God, where are you? I have never known life apart from you! Even as I walked as a man by faith on this earth, your Spirit was with me abiding with me. We had a relationship, but now in this moment on the cross, as I am in excruciating pain, as I don't know what's going to happen other than my confidence that you are good, where are you? Because you're not here with me."
The Scriptures tell us why. Because God was doing something that could be done no other way, that he might be able to declare us just as a gift by grace through the redemption which can be found in Jesus Christ. It continues in this section of Scripture and talks about how God satisfied. Propitiated is the word in verse 25, meaning all of God's wrath was satisfied in that moment, because a perfect, eternal God who was offended in his eternality had a perfect and eternal creature suffer and die.
It satisfied God, and he paid death's penalty, and because death's penalty was paid and because God was satisfied, he raised him from the grave, and he allowed him again into fellowship with us. Now, they sit again, having made the way and once again to the adulterer say, "Would you come back to me and give your heart to me?"
This is the way Jesus told the story in Matthew 21. There was a rich man. He had a vineyard, and he gave the vineyard to some other people. He put a tower in it, and he put a fence around it, and he made it so they could have great success in it, but those vine growers, when it came time to have the crops, wanted to keep the crops for themselves.
As an owner would, he sent his slaves to the vine growers to receive his produce. The vine growers took his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent another group of slaves larger than the first, and they did the same thing to them. Afterward, he sent his son to them saying, "Surely they will respect my son." This irresponsible, reckless pursuit…
What do you do the first time you send a slave and they kill him? You go with an army, but not God. He sends another slave and another slave with another voice and a more compelling reason to repent saying, "If you don't reckon with that God, he will come and destroy you. Surely they will respond to my son," but the Son came, and they nailed him to a cross.
Jesus says, "What do you think that landlord will do when he himself goes to those people who consistently reject his offer of love?" Their response was, "He will bring those wretched wretches to a wretched end." God says, "So it will be, but before I come, I'm going to show you one more time how much I love you, because I am going to send my Son." Jesus says, "I am here, and I will die for you so that the wrath and justice and holiness of God can be satisfied."
Romans tells us Jesus had to die not just because God loved us but because God wasn't going to allow us into his presence with the wink of an eye or a nod of his head. He had to be holy, and the only thing God cannot do is compromise his character. In order that he might still be just and the justifier of those who love him, he sent his Son.
Folks, this is the story. If you are moved by the way Jack pursues Rose or by the way William pursues his beautiful lover or by the way Forrest goes for Lieutenant Dan or if you are moved by Nathaniel's reckless pursuit of Cora, it's because it hearkens to the way you are pursued in a way that Hollywood wouldn't even dare imagine and in a way that when Hollywood shows it people criticize it because it's too reckless. "It's not real. It couldn't have happened," but it did, and if you ignore that love, there is a consequence which is unspeakable.
God says, "If you don't want the fellowship of my love and if you don't want the relationship with me, one day, if you don't want my will, which is to share with you my glory, I will give to you one day what you choose. If not my will (our love relationship) then your will. I will allow you to be in a place where there will never again be anything that will remotely remind you of the goodness I am."
Folks, that's the story, but this whole time God is begging you to come. I don't care what you have done. You're no Gomer. I don't care what you've done. I don't care how many crosses you've nailed him to in your filth and rebellion choosing your own way and in rationalizing your choice and your lifestyle and convincing yourself that you deserve it and convincing yourself it wasn't that wrong and that you could have been worse.
You don't need to be as good as me. You don't need to be as good as Mother Teresa. You don't need to be as good as Billy Graham. You don't need to be just a little better than Manson. You need to meet the standard of God, which is perfection and holiness, and you can't meet it. Therefore, you need a way. The law is a tutor to teach us that we need mercy. Jesus came and said, "I am the way that you can find it."
The Scripture says all of this is given and the ideas are there to bring consequences. Paul presents this and says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…" **He says in Romans 8:1,"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."** This is what he says is the "therefore" of the resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians 15, he says, "This Jesus died for you and took away death's sting and took away death's victory." He goes on to say that because death is swallowed up in victory, something should come from that. It continues in this section as we move forward that we should give thanks to God who has given us victory through Jesus Christ our Lord and then we should, therefore, my beloved brethren, remain steadfast in our new one relationship. We should remain immovable, "…always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
Because, for a while, he lets the world continue in horror. He leaves us here to be people who sing of his love for us that others still may come into a relationship with him, and I'm singing today, and if you don't know that song, I'm begging you to consider that this is what we sing about. God has made a way, and it is not the way of man. It is the righteousness of God revealed through Jesus Christ and his reckless love and pursuit for us.
He shows his goodness, and he shows his justice, and he shows his love, and to reject that will be the one decision you make that will eternally impact your soul, but if you understand it and by grace receive it, it should change everything about your life. Your heart should be so fully given to this one who loves you that you would be endless in your devotion to him, not so that you might be loved but because you have been loved so fully. Do you see the story? I wish I could describe to you the love of God.
A little bit ago, a newspaper asked a bunch of teachers to send in bad analogies that students had written. Let me tell you my frustration as a communicator. It's my job to tell you the story that you are moved to respond to it. It's my privilege to bring you that good news, but listen. I feel like whatever I do… I tell you the historical narrative and I'm begging you to get the emotional truth.
These analogies these teachers sent in… Listen to some of them. Here's one. "He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the danger of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it."
Here's another one. "The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't." How about this one? "Her vocabulary was as bad as, like…whatever." How about this? "He was as tall as a 6'3" tree." "John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met." "The red brick wall was the color of a Brick Red Crayola crayon."
Let me tell you why I read those. They are humorous in their absolute failure to communicate to you what they are trying to communicate. I feel that frustration. I don't know how to describe to you that love. I don't know how to describe to you that pursuit. I pull every resource I have from Hollywood and every creativity you have in song, and I still feel like I'm saying, "It's like…" and I can't. There's nothing like it. I wish I could describe it to you. There is one who can do better than me. Let him try.
Dr. S.M. Lockridge: The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews. He's the King of Israel. He's the King of righteousness. He's the King of the ages. He's the King of heaven. He's the King of glory. He's the King of Kings, and he's the Lord of Lords. That's my King. I wonder. Do you know him? My King is a sovereign King.
No means of measure can define his limitless love. He's enduringly strong. He's entirely sincere. He's eternally steadfast. He's immortally graceful. He's imperially powerful. He's impartially merciful. Do you know him? He's the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world.
He's God's Son. He's a sinner's Savior. He's the centerpiece of civilization. He's unparalleled. He's unprecedented. He is the loftiest idea in literature. He's the highest personality in philosophy. He's the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He's the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior. I wonder if you know him today.
He supplies strength for the weak. He's available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes, and he saves. He strengthens and sustains. He's God, and he died. He heals the sick. He cleansed the lepers. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captive. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent, and he beautifies the meek. I wonder if you know him.
He's the key to knowledge. He's the wellspring of wisdom. He's the way of deliverance. He's a pathway of peace. He's the roadway of righteousness. He's the highway of holiness. He's the gateway of glory. Do you know him? Well, his life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His Word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous, and his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
I wish I could describe him to you. Yes, he's indescribable. He is incomprehensible. He is invincible. He is irresistible. You can't get him out of your mind. You can't get him off of your hand. You can't outlive him, and you can't live without him. Well, the Pharisees couldn't stand him, but they found out they couldn't stop him. Pilate couldn't find any fault in him. Herod couldn't kill him. Death couldn't handle him, and the grave couldn't hold him. That's my King! That's my King!
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Amen! He reigns, and that's why we sing. I wish I could describe him to you. He's marvelous and victorious, and death has lost its sting if you have accepted the righteousness of God made known to you. You don't earn it. It is God unveiling it and saying, "Here it is. It is the shed blood of my Son for you."
It is irresponsible and reckless and scandalous in its consistent pursuit. It is the crescendo of history. God telegraphed it. There is one tomb that is empty, and you have to deal with it, because Jesus' life is not just the pivot point of history; it is the pivot point of your life and your eternity, and you either accept his will and his way or he will give you all of yours, and it has nothing to do with him, and it is horrible, so we sing it again today as people who love him and as his beloved, betrothed to him by faith.
I declare to you that he is good, and I say to you, "Come." He wants to share his love, his righteousness, his truth, and his forgiveness with you. Will you come? Today is the day of your salvation. When Paul proclaimed this, the people said, "What then must we do if we have never experienced the love of God?" and he said, "Change your way of thinking of what makes you acceptable in his sight. You accept the evidence of your conscience and the evidence of creation and the evidence of Israel and the evidence of the empty tomb. You accept the evidence of God which is undeniable in history, and you follow him."
If you would like to do that, we will labor with you here today, or you can simply take this little section inside your Watermark News. There is this little box you can check right there that says, "I want to know more about how to have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ." You just check that box. You tell us how to get ahold of you, and we will patiently and in a loving way, not manipulating you to a response, but engage you in a conversation of our testimony of the faithfulness of God.
We want you to know that it is Jesus Christ through whom you must trust that you will be saved. Will you come to him and believe in his blood shed on your behalf? Because he loves you and he is an awesome God who seeks, who satisfies, and who fulfills. You are still in the battle if you come, but your hope is sure because death has been swallowed up and victory is ours. Will you let us encourage you?
For those of you who know Jesus Christ, will you remain steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in your toil in the Lord, knowing it is not in vain? Will you join us with a heart that is fully given to him that will struggle against the siren call of the world that we might proclaim his goodness to those who watch?
Will you join me in that happy surrender glorifying our God by fixing our eyes on him enjoying him now until we enjoy it in full? That's where the story picks up next week. We invite you to come now, and as you go, have a great week of worship delighting in the provision of the Father. He is risen!
We all love a great story...one filled with rescue, romance, and unrelenting love...one filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Stories like this resonate with something deep inside all of us. Why? Because there is a greater story that we are all a part of. A story so embedded in our beings that we find even a shadow of it irresistible. It is a story that makes the most audacious claims in history, and a story which uniquely and powerfully provides hope, meaning and answers to all of life's great questions.