Jesus Manifesto - 4th Installment

Last week I preached on the Gospel.

We learned that the Gospel--the "good news"--is bigger and far more expansive and inclusive than we ever imagined.  We also learned that for many people--especially Christians--it's hard to live into the hope of that good news.  We tend to want to stay in our safe little world where nothing has to change--including us.

This week we are taking this a bit father.  Once we finally "get" that the Good News of Jesus Christ is something that is bigger, better and far more transformational than we ever imagined, we should move to embrace it and live into the hope of a Resurrection LIFE.  

But what does that look like?  The New Testament writers tended to think it looked like "justification."
What does it mean to us that because we embrace the Good News that God has justified us?  And what is our response to this?

I think it comes down to two things.  You have to know Jesus, and then you have to show Jesus. 

First things first:  What do you think of when you hear the very Christian-y sounding word, "justification?"

I think of Madonna.

More specifically, I think of Madonna's song ( despite the pretty raunchy and controversial video that accompanied it) "Justify My Love."  Before you begin to judge me and question my illustrative skills, hear me out.  Here's a sample of the lyrics:

I'm open and ready/For you to justify my love/To justify my love/Wanting, to justify/Waiting, to justify my love/Praying, to justify/To justify my love/
I'm open, to justify my love...

If you can keep your mind out of the gutter long enough... think about these lyrics in the context of the way our culture teaches us to understand justification.  The singer is putting herself out there to the one she loves.  Her words are a challenge---"Prove that my love isn't misguided.  Validate my love for you.  Show me something I can believe in."

So what does "justification" really mean?  Does it mean "to prove?"  To validate?

Or---like a lot of Christians believe---does it mean something deeper, something to do with Jesus and being "saved" or declared "not guilty?"

What if it was none of those things?  In the Bible whenever we see the words "righteousness" and "justification" together, they basically mean the same thing.  And earlier in this sermon series we learned that righteousness meant "restorative justice."  Basically, God is setting things "to rights" as the British theologian NT Wright would say, and those who embrace the Gospel get to be a part of it.

So where does the Church and Christians within the Church fit in to all of this?  Well, as we've stated before, Jesus has ceased to really be at the center of our faith, our churches and even our lives.  And this has created a problem.

Remember the movie Apollo 13?  It was a true story of a lunar landing that never happened.  In 1970 the Apollo 13 spacecraft was launched to send three astronauts to the moon.  Disaster struck, however, when an explosion occurred on the Command Module severely damaging the oxygen system.  The crew had to use duct tape and a whole lot of creative engineering to fix the problem and get back home. 

I have to ask myself.  What if they're hadn't been any duct tape?  What if there was a lack of commitment and creativity from the crew and the crew on the ground?  It would have been certain death for the men on that ship. 

As Christians we have been given the greatest message in the world, but in our pursuit of religion over relationship, and by the way that we have decided the Good News is good enough for me, but not good enough to make me do anything risk. We have lost our center and the Church is adrift.

So how does this relate to "justification?"  Remember what our good friend C.S. Lewis said, if you don't have the "first things" right, you won't get the "second things" right.  In other words, if you're important beliefs aren't based on anything true, then chances are what follows is going to suck.

Here's why this is important to my church.  Our vision that we have embraced is "To Reflect & Reveal The Unselfish Love of Christ."  Man that sounds good.  I looks even better on the letterhead, let me tell you.  Hey... at least we have one.  Can't say that about a lot of churches, right?

But what does it mean?  Honestly, I don't think we've fully grasped how awesome it is.

Here it is:  First you know Jesus and then you show Jesus.  In fact, once you really know Jesus, you can't help but show Jesus. 

Read Romans 3:21-26

There are some key phrases in this passage that often get overlooked.  Paul says that everyone is justified by God's grace "through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  He also goes on to say that God's way of saving the world (the Good News) has  "to be received by faith." 

This is the language of the slave market in the ancient Greek world.  A slave is bought and is then set free.  What would you say to a slave that was set free and then turned around and used his newfound freedom to go to work in the slave trade? 

A jerk?  An idiot?  Someone not worthy of the gift they were given?

When I was a baby, I had glaucoma.  In 1969 there were only two doctors doing the kind of operation that it would take to save my eyesight.  A few years earlier, and I would have doomed to blindness.  As it stood, the doctor who operated on my only was able to save one eye.  The other was too far gone.

I would like to meet the man who saved my sight. I want to tell him thank you.  I hope that he would be pleased at how that little baby he operated on 42 years ago has turned out.  I would tell him that although I haven't always done so, I want to spend the rest of my life looking at beautiful things, and to always try to see the world as God sees it.  I feel like I owe him that. 

Most of us are like the man in this story:
A pastor in a small village heard a knock on the parish house door late one evening on a cold and wintry night.  He discovered one of his richest and most influential parishoners.  The man launched into a story immediately.  "Pastor, there is a family down the street that is about to get evicted.  They have four children and the parents have been out of work for a very long time.  They have little to eat and no where to go.  I was wondering if the church would be able to do something."  "Of course," the minister said, "We'll do all we can."  The pastor immediately began putting on his coat to go out to meet the unfortunate family.  "How did you come to find out about this?" he asked his rich parishoner.  "Oh, well I am their landlord." 

It's all about knowing and showing.  It is the direct result of justification---the "restorative justice" of God.  And it does the world no good if Christians behave as CINO's (Christians In Name Only). 

And you might be saying, "But we understand Scripture! We know good doctrine!  We're Presbyterians!  or Methodists or Baptists or Whatever."  Here's something to consider:  "Good doctrine is of no value if it is tucked away in a dusty library." Knowing the facts is not the same as knowing Jesus

There's a sense of urgency to our calling.  Think about this...

Tens of thousands of people in our community live without hope and without any knowledge of how Jesus could change that.
Hundreds of thousands of people in our country are below the poverty line and are hungry
Millions of people in our world will die this year because of a lack of clean water or because of disease.

This doesn't just bother me, it's starting to get to me in ways I never thought possible.  These are the kinds of things that should fill us with what Bill Hybels calls "holy discontent."  I'm tired of being on the sidelines.  And I'm tired of the Church participating in lack of hope in the world by doing nothing. 

When you know.  You show. 


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