Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Witnesses of the Kingdom and the Power

Preached Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scripture readings: Luke 4:14-30; Luke 24:36-49

The day Jesus rose from the dead began a day of complete confusion for his disciples and friends. Jesus’ body was gone. This much they knew. They didn’t know what it meant.

Had the body been stolen? But who would do that, and why? Who had anything to gain from it? Would the authorities do it in order to blame it on them, and then the authorities would produce the body to shame them, and make them a laughing stock?

Of course Jesus had said he would rise from the dead, but surely he didn’t mean that literally. (Luke 18:33) When they lost Jesus, they lost not only a teacher, a friend, a leader; they lost their hope.

They hoped that Jesus would be the Messiah, the King, and lead them at the head of an army to defeat the Romans and drive their enemies out of the land. They hoped that Jesus would lead them forth to conquer the earth and hold the world-empire for the glory of God.

They loved God and they loved Jesus, who stood, in their hearts, very much for God and for the kingdom of God. Now this was lost and their hope had died.

When Jesus died on the cross, they died too; and that upper room, in which they had eaten with Jesus, had become their tomb. Only it was a living tomb of a disappointed faith, and a failed hope, and a grieving love, and (on that first day of the week) a complete confusion.

They had had their doubts all along about Jesus’ strategy to bring the kingdom. They had never really bought into it. They just liked Jesus. He was scary sometimes, but he made them happy. And he made them feel important, too; very important. They especially liked that.

The Bible is a gift by which God speaks to us. It tells us about God. It tells us about ourselves. And here we find a little picture of God’s people, the church. It shows us how they were afraid of believing and living in faith. It shows us that they liked Jesus, but they didn’t like it when he went too far, or asked them to go that far with him. They felt far better huddling in the room of a building where they had had good times, and where they felt sheltered from the risks and the judgments of a community that surrounded them, and judged them, and wanted them not to exist.

And there we are. It turns out to be a picture of us, or at least a picture of what we are always on the edge of becoming, because we like to be prudent and safe, because the world outside is a messy place (really only as messy as we are, if we could see ourselves as a faithful God sees us).

And we are not sure that we buy into Jesus’ priorities and strategies. We like Jesus a lot. He makes us happy. But he can be sort of scary. He has crazy ideas about love (his love for us and the love he tries to get out of us) that are just too risky.

Instead of leading an army, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, and for our sins. Instead of ruling a world government from Jerusalem, Jesus rose from the dead to give life to the world, and to us.

This seems an odd way to build a kingdom. What kind of kingdom could he have been thinking of?

That is the first half of his strategy that didn’t make any sense. The second half of his strategy is this. It required him to show us that he is alive and victorious. But it also required him to make sure we saw that his victory was built upon his death on the cross and upon the wounds he will always bear. Once we see the glory of those scars that he got because he loved us (a strange kind of glory). Once know from personal experience that Jesus’ kingdom works through his death and his empty tomb, he puts us in charge of gathering the world to this strange kingdom. Then he disappears.

Well he doesn’t exactly disappear, but he sure doesn’t leave footprints or fingerprints. The only prints left on the scene now are our own. But he shows himself the same way to each one of us. He has to. So we know. And then he gives this job to us and disappears. What kind of strategy is that?

The love of a God who became human in order to die for the sins of the world, and in order to rise from the dead, is supposed to bring the kingdom of God by changing hearts, and minds, and lives. The whole world is supposed to recognize that it needs this kind of love. It is supposed to realize that armies, and laws, and education, and technology (though they have their place) will never change what really needs changing: hearts, and minds, and lives.

The message that God takes upon himself the sin, and the evil, and the suffering and death of this world on himself, through his own death, as a substitute for the world (as a substitute for us) shows us a God who loves us more than we love ourselves. It shows us a God who loves the world and loves life more than we do, and has the power to set us free to live well and not be afraid.

The new life of the kingdom of this God revolves completely around repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In the kingdom of God there is the power to really change. This is where repentance leads us. In the kingdom of God there is the power to be truly free. This is where the forgiveness of sins leads us.

Jesus not only makes this possible; he makes it a promise. Jesus makes you the evidence-givers of change and freedom. He makes you and me his witnesses. The purpose of witnesses is to give testimony, but the best kind of testimony is evidence.

So your purpose and mine, as Jesus’ people, is surely to give evidence of the dying and rising of Jesus. And even more than that; we are to give evidence of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

So when do you intend to start? When are you going to change? When are you going to forgive? I know, this means me too! It raises a lot of questions.

Repentance is a kind of change. Forgiveness is a kind of freedom. It is a kind of liberation and healing of the heart. Repentance and forgiveness are both ways of making a new world and setting things right.

Sometimes we make repentance and forgiveness into purely spiritual things. Jesus describes his mission in a way that includes everything in life, everything in the world, and not just what we consider to be spiritual. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and acceptance.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus created the kind of change and freedom that deal with every kind of problem. He didn’t only deal with spiritual blindness. He gave real blind people sight. Jesus didn’t only deal with the spiritually poor. He fed the hungry. The repentance and forgiveness that Jesus authorizes is not just spiritual help for people, but passionate help for all the kinds of problems that people have.

There are prisoners of the mind, and prisoners of abuse, and prisoners of addiction, and prisoners of depression, and fear, and anger, and lust, and pride. And there are prisoners in prison. Jesus’ mission applies to them all. If we are in any of these prisons we need the good news of Jesus to become real for us. And we need help in whatever prison we find ourselves. We need the help of Jesus, and we need the help of his witnesses. And then Jesus gives us the job of being witnesses.

The idea of witness has another side to it. A witness is a kind of extension of an event. A witness is a kind of extension of another person. What Jesus does for us is not supposed to stop with us. Jesus wants to play through us. He wants to extend himself through us.

So he extends himself to each one of us in our hearts. He extends himself through the way we relate to the other members of his family, the church. He extends himself by stretching us as his church into the world. His work becomes our work. We become an extension of Christ to the world, as individuals and as the church of Christ.

What are we to do?

There is a basic issue of faith in the Christian life. We are nothing if we don’t believe that (one way or another) the Lord is the creator of the heavens and the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1) Faith means living like people who believe the world belongs to God.

In the same way we are nothing if we don’t believe that the Lord is the creator of a new world of grace through the cross and the resurrection. We live like people who believe that the old world has passed away and that a new world has come, and is coming.

New rules apply. The rules which the citizens of the old world believed were important, and smart, and successful, no longer apply in the new creation. Faith requires us to live believing that what Jesus stands for are the things that matter. That is part of the repentance we need to show as evidence, as witnesses.

Jesus said that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached in his name; that is, in the Christ’s name, the Messiah’s name, the King’s name. The idea of doing something “in his name” is easy to understand, as easy as it was when we played cops and robbers long ago. When we were the cops who yelled, “Stop, in the name of the law” it meant that we had authority to say “stop”. Our order carried weight; the weight of authority.

As the people of Jesus you carry weight with me, you have authority in my life. I may not do what you want, or what you say; but I care about what you want and I care about what you say, because I love you and I know you are children of God. You are loved by Jesus.

We do not always do what Jesus wants or says but, if we love him, he carries an immeasurable weight with us. The authority of Jesus sending us on his mission as his witnesses weighs upon us, even if we do not listen or respond.

If we go with the weight it will free us and move us. If we don’t go with the weight it will squeeze us and press us.

I am not proud of being a pastor. I am not proud of my service to him. But Jesus’ calling carries weight with me. When I tried, a long time ago, to ignore his calling, it made me very unhappy. You can’t love God, and not do what you know he wants, and expect to be happy. And a lot of Christians, if they were honest with themselves, would realize that their spiritual dryness had something to do with not doing a particular thing they know very well the Lord wants them to do. There is something that they are avoiding and they pay for it.

But you have to understand that I am not talking about the guilt that comes from neglecting a duty. I am talking about the weakness that comes from ignoring a grace. The next single thing that God calls you to do always has grace in it. It is always a new discovery of God’s power and love.

You have a mission to the world in the King’s name. It may be the world at your doorstep. It may be the world around the world. The mission of Jesus does not stop with you.

Then you must know that you have the Father’s promise, the power from on high. (Luke 24:49) For one thing, the word promise means that you are people of promise. You need to know that, as the old saying goes, “God don’t make no junk.” Dependence on God is not powerlessness. Confidence in God is not a lack of confidence. When I see a child fumbling around with a ball, or plinking tuneless notes on a piano, I don’t see imperfection and failure, I see promise, and that is how God sees you, as people of promise.

The Lord promises you his Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit you will have the gifts and you will bear the fruit you need to be the glorious children of God, and the witnesses of the cross and the empty tomb.

When Jesus talks about the “power from on high” “power”, here, translates the basic Greek word “dunamis” from which we get our word “dynamite”. We are people of promise because God has given us dynamite.

Both Christians and non-Christians are hurt when we play with, and tamper with, this dynamite of the Holy Spirit. Watch out for those who play, and tamper. They insert their own egos into their show of the Spirit. They imitate Christians in the Spirit without knowing either the Spirit or themselves.

But know that there is something you cannot see or hear that is at work. The life of the Spirit is not just talk. God is God, and God is supernatural in his power. But the supernatural work of God goes on in disguise. The work of God goes disguised as you and me, and as the Body of Christ.

You may fret and grumble, but there is a power that is able to work beyond your ability, and beyond your best plans. People may come to see something in you that you do not see in yourself. People will come to see in your words and your actions something that points beyond yourself.

The Holy Spirit is the most secret and invisible aspect of God; the most humble aspect of carelessly humble God, who is not afraid to sweat, and bleed, and die. This Holy Spirit is a gift of the Father and the Son. The power from on high has been given the freedom to work in every follower of Jesus, because Jesus’ death and resurrection has made you a new person, and therefore you are fit, in the Father’s sight, for the fullness of his power.

The Holy Spirit was present in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the Holy Spirit is present in God’s recreation of your new life. The Holy Spirit is present in the new creation that is taking place in others when you bear witness to Jesus in your words and actions. Trust the promise of the Father.

Jesus’ kingdom is a strange kingdom. It rules by means of death and resurrection. It rules by means of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. So Jesus knows we need a strong dose of meeting him as he is; as our sacrifice for sin and our risen Savior.

Then we will know the change of repentance and the freedom of forgiveness, and we will have something worth giving to the whole world. We will be his true witnesses.

No comments:

Post a Comment