1. Where do you find the essentials of the gospel. The early church called it the kerygma or the core of the good news. People often say “if you had only one minute to state your deepest belief about life, what would you say or what would you want most to say to pass on to your family””. That is the kerygma. It is the fundamentals of what Paul and others preached. Doctrines and creeds came later but first there was the essence or the foundation upon which everything else was built.
It’s important to get our kerygma right from the very start. Some have made political beliefs and ideologies their kerygma and then added Christ to them. Some have made their economic beliefs their kerygma and added Christ to them. That won’t work. There is only one foundation and that is the Gospel. Everything else is secondary.
I think that kerygma may be found here in these verses – and while it is not everything – it is enough to understand the good news of Christ.
Let’s look at it in a sequence a little different from the way Paul wrote it.
2. In verse 18 the Gospel begins with God and His love. He takes the initiative to search for what is lost and out of place. We’ve talked about it before but what does the word lost mean? What must be true before something can be lost? It must belong somewhere or to someone. If I lose my keys we can only call them lost because they are not in their right place. In the same way, Jesus talks about the lost coin, the lost boy and the lost sheep. They first belong to someone and only then can we say they are lost. It is the same here. We have wandered off and become lost, out of place, hiding from our rightful owner.
I’ve been thinking about searching and the various searches we do in our lives. So far, I have listed six.
1. Early in life we are searching for direction. Where to go to school. Where to get a first job that might lead to a career.
2. We search for love. For some that means marriage. For some it means finding love in wrong places. For others, it means finding love in friendship or long lasting relationships.
3. We search for competence. It’s not enough to have a job. We want to find something we do well and that brings us satisfaction and respect from others. It is what Paul calls “the work of our hands” and it may be knowledge work or manual labor but it is more than being paid to occupy our time. It is the joy of finding something that energizes us.
4. We search for purpose. After a time, it is not enough to merely be competent or even to be well-compensated. We want to find a reason for our work that is more than our work. What are we contributing to the world around us? What does the way we spend our lives have purpose?
5. This is what Viktor Frankl wrote about in “Man’s Search For Meaning.” It is more than finding purpose for our work and activity. It is finding meaning in life. It is reading the book of Ecclesiastes and finding yourself saying, “Yes, I have thought the same thing.” It is the search for understanding and wisdom.
6. I discovered the sixth last week on Facebook. A friend’s mother turned 98 and is looking for a reason to stay alive. Her health is reasonably good. She is not suffering in any way and her children love her. However, life is not what it used to be and she is now asking the question, “What keeps me here?”
In every other religion mankind searches for God. This passages we’ve mentioned this morning show how God searches for us because we are lost. We could not be lost unless we first belong. We could not be lost unless we have somehow misplaced ourselves. We have not been thrown away. We are lost and the first great Truth of the Gospel is that God is searching for us to put us back in our rightful place with Him.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” God is searching out of love – not to do us harm when we are found.
3. Next is His intent in verse 19. What does He want to do once He finds someone who is lost?
Reconcile them to Himself. He wants to reestablish the relationship that was broken. It is not the same as putting things back the way they were. It is far better than that. Not convict or condemn or demand payment in exchange for reconciliation. There is no lecture to hear before we are reconciled. There is no series of punishments or penance to perform.
Take away their sin – past, present and future. To permanently mend the separation from Him. Our sins are not counted against us. While there will always be the effects of past sin for which we are responsible – our relationship with God is perfect.
4. Then, His method in verse 21.
God made Him who had no sin to be Sin. Every imaginable form of sin was put on the cross. It was almost the reverse of Noah’s ark. All forms of creatures were gathered together and saved. On the cross all sins were gathered together and punished. One perfect sacrifice atoned for everything and became the means of reconciliation with God. All of God’s judgement for sin was taken care of in Christ. There is no more payment on our part.
This is not a new ethic or better way of living. It is not a new teacher or set of rules to follow. It is not a new understanding of the world and our place in it. It is not the result of our successful search.
Romans 5:12-19 in The Message:
“You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.
Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?
Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.”
5. The result of God’s work in Christ is in verse 17.
We are a new creation. We are not improved. We are not restored to our best.
We were dead in sin – not merely unconscious or struggling in our search for the light. Dead. Lifeless. No pulse. No Spirit activity at all.
But we are now alive in Christ. But alive in a way that is more than being resuscitated and then resuming our former life. We have a new life. A re-created life. It is a life that Paul hints at when he says that some day what is mortal will be “swallowed up by life.”
Isaiah 25 puts it in the context of a great banquet.
In Jerusalem, a the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The LORD has spoken!
It’s the last course of the banquet.
6. What is the core purpose of this new life? We see it in verse 15.
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
In military terms we are no longer civilians. We are people under orders. We are reserves who can be called up at any time.
In Romans 6:10 Paul writes: “The death He died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” And that is the life we share with Christ. The life lived now for God.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul writes, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”
That doesn’t mean everyone must go into “full-time” ministry to please God. However, it does mean that we have consciously given up our rights to ourselves and God can “call us up” whenever He pleases. He can interrupt our lives.
7. Finally, in verse 20 we understand that God has an assignment for our lives.
God is making his appeal to others through us. His appeal for reconciliation – not condemnation – comes through us. People are not targets or prospects. We are not selling them something or marketing to them.
We are merely representing God’s interests in our different worlds. I like the way Paul puts it and we talked about this last week. “What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” In the next verse, he talks about the difference between appearances and the heart. Our responsibility is to live with consistency between who we are on the outside and in the heart. For Jews, the heart was not just the emotions but the whole person. It is everything about us. There needs to be an alignment in our lives. It’s not enough to be “good at heart”. There is more to it. Now there needs to be an increasing integrity in our lives that gives credibility to our representing God in His desire to reconcile the world to Himself.
Isn’t it surprising how easily the world is fooled by inconsistent people? “Asked whether North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is trustworthy, a surprising 78 percent of South Koreans responded positively.” This is the man who executed his uncle and his entire family. As well, he had his half-brother assassinated. He has enslaved and brutally treated millions of his own people. Yet, now almost 20% of South Koreans say he is very trustworthy. We have learned to live with and even admire people who have no moral alignment.
But, this is not the end, is it? A day is coming when all of this cloud of gloom and veil of sorrow will be swallowed up and we will be truly alive for the very first time. We go back to what Paul desires and if we knew what he knew we would as well. Back to the guarantee of what is to come.
“The Last Battle” by C.S. Lewis
“The light ahead was growing stronger. Lucy saw that a great series of many-colored cliffs led up in front of them like a giant’s staircase. And then she forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty.
“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
This is our hope. This is the Great Story. This is the Gospel.