Nothing educates quite like a journey to a third world country. To be in situations where we truly see how totally dependent on the Lord we are opens the eyes in a way that nothing else can. To say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” takes on a whole new meaning when you have no idea where your next meal will come from. Bathing out of buckets or in rivers makes an American shower an indescribable luxury and there is no way to explain how comfortable these pews are this morning. Life there is harder than it is here, but we do share one common experience.
The devil is on the prowl seeking someone to consume (1 Peter 5:8). He is perpetually lurking outside the door waiting to attack. It does not matter if it is an ornate mansion door or a simple opening in a jungle hut, he is there. He hides, disguising himself in clever ways. If we drop our guard for even a minute, he will take advantage of us. If we think that easy living means that we are immune, we are mistaken. He deceives through luxury more often that he does through depravity. A full stomach may be more susceptible than an empty one.
The evidence is everywhere. We see his handiwork from the primitive villages to the nicest homes. He disrupts relationships; husbands and wives, parents and children, friends, neighbors, the church. The primary proof of his presence is a world torn apart. Sin does that, and it is everywhere. He would like to rip us out of the hands of God, but He cannot (John 10:28-29). So, he does the next best thing. He persuades us to loosen our grip on the Lord. He succeeds at a frightening rate.
The churches in South America bear the scars of sin and Satan. The situations varied, but the root cause was the same. The symptoms were different but the disease was identical. Churches in disarray. Families in peril. Christian soldiers who have laid aside the armor of God to clothe themselves in the ways of the world. Sin infiltrates and deforms, and it does so from the third world to the most advanced nation on earth.
North American congregations have the same wounds. They are just more subtle. We are so prosperous that we can anesthetize ourselves to the pain with creature comforts. Surround sound fills our ears, and flat screen televisions occupy our minds. Our days are full, and our hearts are empty. We run the wheels off of our cars in pursuit of meaning which only comes through Jesus Christ. The problems of every nation are not the product of poverty or adversity. They are the fruit of sin, and only the blood of the Savior can pay that debt.
Sin disrupted everything. The foreign force invaded the pristine creation and drove wedges in every relationship. Adam and Eve hid from God. Finger pointing began and brought shame with it. Divine fellowship was broken, and violence quickly followed. Evil soon became the dominant mindset, and a benevolent Creator prepared to wipe out His handiwork. The downward spiral was breathtaking.
Sin has done horrible things to this world. Those who were created in the image of God have been transformed into grotesque monsters. It has created an endless stream of nightmarish villains. It has spawned mass murderers and serial killers. Peace and tranquility has morphed into fear and brutality. Music glamorizes it, and television glorifies it while it wrecks families and destroys eternities. In the world of darkness, there is but one glimmer of hope.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)!” John’s proclamation flipped the switch. The Light is on. The One who was simultaneously God and man came on a mission of mercy. Civilization was sick, and He was the cure. It would take the most profound sacrifice in history to straighten out the mess that mankind had created in tandem with the devil. Behold, the Lamb!
He would suffer and bleed and die because of this problem. It testifies to the gravity of sin and the love of God. He endured indescribable agony as the forces of evil flexed all of the muscle that they had. Sin upon sin was heaped on His shoulders. The undiluted fury of evil lashed His back. Godless hands gripped hammers and pounded nails that ripped His holy flesh. Blood dripped. Satan laughed. The Son died. Behold, the Lamb!
If ever we underestimated the horror of sin, that sight should correct it. He did that to take away the sin of the world. He did not just offer a temporary fix. He took it away, and He paid dearly to do so. That is why He came. We reject the sinful. He died for them. We shun the weak and wicked. He came looking for them. We avoid the sin-sick. He sought them. They need Him, but it is not simply an us and them situation. We, too, are among the sinful, weak and wicked. Behold, the Lamb! He came to take our sins away, and we need that in the worst way.
History’s greatest thinkers have run into an incomprehensible wall when they confront the one who is known as Jesus. The pendulum of popular thought has swung from one extreme to the other when He is the subject. How could anyone imagine that mere mortals could grasp the infinite? His complexities demand multiple images to even begin to explain Him, and understanding Him is an entirely different matter. That is a lifelong pursuit.
The first chapter of John’s gospel presents at least ten descriptive phrases to introduce Jesus. This complicated individual already existed when the world began. He was a hands-on participant in the creation. His contemporaries took a good long look at the One Who made it all and saw glory. They were eye witnesses of grace and truth in a human body. He was no illusion. They put their hands on Him (1 John 1:1). People actually touched the Creator. Who could possibly understand that?
And who could ever conceive of the Creator becoming a person? The Word became flesh! He descended from the heavenly throne to a lowly manger and kept descending until His lifeless body hung on a cross. He subjected Himself to all that the world which He made had to offer. Hands with the power to heal had hangnails. He suffered through all of the indignations that humans could fling at Him, and then He died. He knows both life and death.
No one else has ever been equally deity and humanity. He alone has experienced both. In Him we catch a glimpse of what God is all about. At the same time we see the perfect human life. His brief stay on earth offers an education on what it means to really live. We read no words about his home or possessions. What we do see is one who drew His sustenance from accomplishing His Father’s will (John 4:34). That should teach us something.
We have a dramatic problem that could only be solved with an equally radical solution. Jesus is it. The one who was both God and man is the only one who could reconcile the two. No one else could bring the two together after our sin had ripped us apart. He came from heaven and stepped into the human dilemma to bring about resolution. That is how much we mean to our Father. Only one question remains: How much does He mean to us?
Faith takes us on a journey unlike any that we might imagine. Fishermen become apostles. Adversaries are transformed into evangelists. Tax collectors pen holy words. Sinners are forgiven. An amazing life begins to unfold the moment that we believe, and it never stops. The ultimate destination is eternity with the Lord, but that is later. Right now we have maturing to do.
Spiritual maturity is the goal that has been set before us. Our aim is to become like Christ in every phase of our lives (Ephesians 4:15), and anything less is unacceptable. It is an arduous journey. Each heart must subject itself to the careful scrutiny of Scripture as it probes the deepest recesses of our minds. Relationships are adjusted as the commands are applied. The words of God investigate our every motive. The only alternative is permanent adolescence. Some accept that. The faithful do not.
“Speaking the truth…” Maturity demands that we take a stand. Compromise dilutes and distorts that which is pure, and purity is what we need to grow up. It may be unpleasant, but it is essential. The Lord set the church on a firm foundation of truth, and it is our assignment to be the pillar and support of that very same truth (1 Timothy 3:15). There is not another option. If we depart from truth, what is left?
“In love…” This is the second part of the maturity equation. We miss the mark when we leave out one or the other. Certainly it takes truth, but let us not overlook the love component. Saying the right thing is important. Saying it in the right way with the proper motivation is equally vital. We are all fragile and words, even true ones, can be devastating when they are spoken in an unloving way. They build up or tear down, help or harm depending on their delivery. Use them carefully. Once they are spoken they can never be retrieved.
To be like Jesus is a never ending quest. We study, watch and learn or remain stuck in spiritual infancy. As the church lurches through a difficult time in which most congregations are in decline, we face unprecedented challenges from the American culture. Prayer is being outlawed. Expressions of faith are being forbidden. True Christians are being ridiculed and ostracized. It is easier to blend in. We must resist the tide and grow up. Truth and love are the only ways to get there, and we need them both.
John drives the nail of faith almost a hundred times in his gospel. He collected, edited and wrote a series of signs to cultivate it (John 20:30-31). Jesus performed the miraculous to instill belief. That is the key to really living. Most people live and die a faithless life. God does not want that for us. It leads to a meaningless existence followed by a hopeless death.
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is a life altering fact. When we truly grasp it, along with its corresponding significance, we are never the same again. He entered into the flesh and blood reality of humanity (John 1:14). He created it and then joined it. Redemption is an expensive matter. It cost the Son His physical life to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). When that becomes real to us it pierces deep into our hearts and changes us.
He who was with God in the beginning and was God from eternity (John 1:1) became a person. He has been hungry. He lived with to-the-bone fatigue. He can identify with rejection. Excruciating pain is permanently part of His experience. Nail scarred hands plead our case before His Father. He carries to the eternal throne all of the knowledge of how powerful temptation is (Hebrews 4:14-15). He is fully acquainted with all of our struggles. What a descent He endured to lift us out of the pit of sin. Faith knows that and responds.
Full surrender to His authority and power is the only hope that we have of living to our full potential. It elevates us out of the temporary into the eternal. He has all authority (Matthew 28:18). It matters not where we go or who we know, He is supreme. True conviction of who He is will lead us to accept fully what He says, which in turn brings about a most amazing transformation. Estranged sinners have the option of becoming children of God (John 1:12). Faith unlocks the door to a totally new existence.
We have a book filled with information that is designed to cultivate faith, without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is the guiding principle for all of life (2 Corinthians 5:7) and focuses our attention on unseen realities (Hebrews 11:1). When we allow it to direct us, our paths become noticeably different. People of faith do not think and act like everyone else. It is a remarkable life. Jesus described it as abundant, and it is ours for the taking, if we will believe.