A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., September 9, 2012.
O, God, our Father, we bow on this Lord’s day in awareness that you are our life. In these moments, we are struck again by our heart’s knowledge that, with you, all things are possible and, without you, life is empty. O, God, is this your own voice calling to us? Is this the message that you would tell us today: To live apart from you is emptiness, to ignore your law is to dwell in danger, and to play casually with your love is so foolish? We come you today, not because we must, but because we know. We are drawn to love you because we sense the love that you demonstrate toward us even now, and through Christ, bids us to come to you and our hearts answer your call. We, your wayward children, would cease our wanderings to be at home, standing underneath your sheltering wings. We, your disobedient children, would put away all the things that lead us away from you in order to know your blessing. We ask that you would heal these hearts of ours and help us to rid our lives of envy, malice, bitterness, and all grudges. Cleanse our hearts and renew both life and love within us. We pray that you would keep calling us, keep drawing us back to your side for there we know we find life—life free, life abundant, and life everlasting. Let us taste this life today. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
The crucifixion of Jesus set men thinking more than anything else that has ever happened in the life of the human race. And the most remarkable fact in the whole history of religious thought is this: that when the early Christians looked back and pondered on the dreadful thing that had happened, it made them think of the redeeming love of God.
—D. M. Baillie in God Was in Christ
There is a verse near the end of the Gospel of John that is not often quoted. John is trying to summarize everything that has taken place and everything that has been written down, and he says, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John is speaking about the three years of Jesus’ physical ministry, walking in the flesh in early Palestine. If we were to expand that to include all the work of the eternal and everlasting God from the creation of the heavens and the earth through the call of Abraham, the giving of the law to Moses, the inspiration of the prophets, even to the things that the Holy Spirit has done in our lives in the past week, and to write all that down and to capsulize everything there is to say about God, all the disk drives in all the computers in all the world could not contain all of that.
It seems quite an impossible task today to preach on the subject: God. I only have 15 minutes to try to say something that is helpful and meaningful. Last week, I started a series on Great Themes of the Bible. It started with Sabbath because Labor Day often makes us think about rest, but some place here at the beginning we have to talk about God.
We could use all the boring and long words that sound impressive until you have to try to explain them: omniscient and omnipresent. We could try to correct Freud who said that God is a projection of our fathers on the universe. What would we say in just 15 minutes about God?
I am reminded of a story that is often told as a joke. A little girl is drawing and her mother asks her: “What are you drawing?”
The little girl says, “I am drawing a picture of God.”
The mother says, “But, honey, nobody knows what God looks like.”
And the little girl replies, “Well, they will when I am finished.”
That passage of scripture reminds me of the passage from John 1:15-18. No one has seen God, but the Son has made him known to us. One of the great convictions about being a Christian is that Jesus Christ shows us what God is like in his life, actions, and teachings. All Jesus does and intends to do is to show us what God is like. If we look at Jesus of Nazareth, we see the Christ of God and we have a picture of what God would look like.
What do we say Jesus is like? If we try to strip it down to the core and get the essentials and summarize it, what would we say Jesus is like? What does Jesus teach, demonstrate, and reveal about God? We know that Jesus is loving, forgiving, and seeking. If we read all four of the Gospels from front to back, we find that people were constantly flocking to him. Jesus would teach and the people would press upon him and go where he was. After Jesus finished preaching the first time on the Sabbath in Capernaum, the crowds were flocked around Peter’s house so tightly the people could not get through the streets of Capernaum. They were all pressing in and gathering.
There are many stories in the Gospels where Jesus went out into the countryside for some reason and people followed him. There were no facilities. There were no places to buy food. There was no way to care for all the people, and still they would follow him out to a place where there was enough room for thousands of them to gather so they could listen to his message about loving, forgiving, and God seeking them.
They crashed parties to try to be near him. There was a woman who came into the party trying to wipe his feet with her hair, and Simon the Pharisee said, “If you knew what kind of woman this was, you would not have anything to do with her.”
People walked for miles to hear a message of hope in order that Jesus might pray for or say something for a family member or trusted friend. There is the story of four friends who carried their friend for miles to be near the One from whom grace overflowed. To be in his presence was to know that God was looking for us, that God was loving us, and that God was forgiving us. His critics said it was derision but the people who longed to hear it said it with such deep thanksgiving, Jesus is a friend of sinners. If that is what we say about Jesus, then that is what we know about God. We know that Jesus was also opposed to anything and anyone that would demean or destroy life. He was Jesus gentle and mind, meek and lowly. He was the Jesus children felt they could come to but he was also Jesus who called Herod a fox. He was Jesus who fashioned a whip in the temple to drive out people who would get in the way of honest worship of God. He was the one who would harshly say, “Woe to you” to any hypocrite who would stand in the way of people who were trying to come to God. If you would put an unfair burden on someone for their circumstances in life or try to forever hold against them something they might have done once, Jesus was against you. Jesus was against anything that demeaned and destroyed life and that is what God is like. He is God of the universe and the maker of heaven and earth.
The way Jesus describes himself and the way Paul later comes back and mentions as well is that he came as a servant. The creator of the universe poured into flesh and blood came as a servant. What does that mean?
D. T. Niles who was a great Christian from the Indian sub-continent in the middle 20th Century said, “He came to do the dirty work and the heavy lifting that we cannot do for ourselves.” In that way, Jesus is our servant. Just as a servant might come behind us, pick up, and carry our luggage, Jesus came and carried our sin. Something that is too much for us to carry and something we are unable to even budge by ourselves, Jesus in the form of a servant straps it to his back and it looks like a cross. Jesus, our servant, carries that for us.
Someone once asked a wise religious teacher why do more people not find God? His response was, “Because they do not look low enough.” Jesus came in the form of a servant. He came lowly. He came so that no one might think they could not have a part. He came to do the heavy lifting and dirty work of our sin that we cannot do ourselves. This is what God is like.
Of course, we cannot even talk about Jesus unless we mention the cross. To me, one of the most revealing things that I have ever come to understand about Jesus is a statement by another preacher who said, “On the cross, Jesus is not God in disguise.” On the cross, Jesus was not covered up with disguise, mask, costume, etc. so that people could not recognize who he was. This is indeed the fullest and most complete picture of what God is like and people just don’t expect it. We expect something else from God, but if you want to know what God is like, we really do not understand anything until we look at Jesus on the cross. On the cross, it is the fullest expression of God’s willingness to go to any end to do anything, to suffer any rejection, to endure any humiliation in order to say to us, “I love you” and there is nothing that can stand in between us if we will come in faith.
We always want to say that our God is the best God, the biggest God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God—all the big words. We always want to make it sound like our God is the most important and most powerful when really the simplest thing to say is, “Our God is the most willing to do whatever is necessary to love us back to him.” That is who God is. We can try to explain all the infinite expanding universe and the left-over residue of the Big Bang, all the things that God has been involved in and the ways God has parted the Red Sea and the other miracles that are ascribed to God in scripture, but the simplest, the most pointed, and the most direct way to understand God is to look at Jesus. No one has seen God except for the Son, and he has—the word means explained—he has explained him to us. He did it in all his teachings. He did it every day that he ministered and he did on the cross. He explained to us that this is God who loves us so. This is God who would welcome each one of us home. What sin could stand between us and what sin would we cling to in order to stay separated from him?
All we really need to do is think of the picture of Jesus: Jesus who welcomed children, Jesus who spread out his arms and blessed people, Jesus from whom grace exuded in such a way that people crashed parties and followed him out into the countryside, Jesus who died on a cross and rose again to bring us home to God. This is all the picture of God that we need.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.