Monday, March 23, 2009

The Simple Gospel.

Fourth Sunday in Lent
John 3:14-21
Bror Erickson

[14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
[17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. [19] And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. [21] But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God. John 3:14-21 (ESV)

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Dumbfounded. I am dumbfounded by the Gospel, its simplicity. Whoever believes in him may have eternal life. He is lifted up, and we who see Him lifted up like that bronze serpent in the desert, see Him, believe Him, are given eternal life. We are cured of the snake bite of sin that brings death.
And why? Because God loved the world. That’s why. Because He loves the world so much that He has given His only begotten Son.
I don’t know what has happened to that word begotten. Why was it dropped? It is in the Greek. I’ve been on this hobby horse a few times now. But seriously I would like to find the guy who dropped it in the translation, and slap him around a bit. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. That means the Father has begotten no one else. None of you were begotten of the Father. Not as the so-called spirit babies, or in the flesh. He has one begotten Son. Do you know what begotten means? To beget is the Father’s task in procreation. Man begets man, ducks beget ducks, God begets God. God gave us His only begotten Son, who was is and always will be true God. God has other children. He has you and me. We were not begotten, but created.
[7] everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made." Isaiah 43:7 (ESV)

And there is a difference. Later we were adopted into his family as his true children through faith in his only begotten son Jesus Christ. It was for that purpose God gave his only begotten Son, that you might be adopted into His family, your sins forgiven, that you would inherit eternal life. So that you who believe in Him, though you were dead in your trespasses, condemned to hell for all eternity, would not perish in your sins, but have eternal life. Have it! You have it.
I’m sorry, but how simple is this? Forgiveness, faith, eternal life. You want a summary of the Christian faith here it is right from the gospel lesson we had this morning. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And all because God loved you. All because God loves this world full of sinners. Sinners who could not help themselves, because they were dead. Dead in their trespasses. Sinners drunk on Night Train, and sinners drunk on self-righteous hypocrisy. So damn drunk on their own works that they reject the cross as to easy. Well they can go to hell with their works then. I don’t condemn them they stand condemned all ready. Condemned by the Word of God they rejected as too easy. Condemned by the worthless works they want to hold up to the God and say, “now see wasn’t this better God. You didn’t have to die for us. How stupid was that? Really God, we would rather buy our way into heaven.” You know at least Night Train wears off in the morning, and gives you a hang over to tell you how stupid you are. I don’t know what to do with this self righteousness. I hate it. It stinks to high heaven. It stinks like a three day old fart produced from eating a rancid cheeseburger. And it doesn't wash off with a shower. No only the waters of Baptism can clean you of self-righteousness.
“But forgiveness is too easy?” “Too easy,” they say. “Too easy. Come on God give us something to do for our salvation.” God can’t give you anything to do for your salvation, because without salvation you are dead, and dead people are incapable of work. He gives you life, or you can die and go to hell. Those are your options. You don’t go around inviting corpses to a chain gang do you? Dead in your trespasses. But because the death of Christ, you have been given life. Given life, just as you were given faith.
Yes I think we need to talk about that a bit. What is faith. It is beyond you. That is what it is. It is impossible for you to believe. Too easy? Hah! Even faith has to be a gift from God, because bare naked faith in God, a shear nothing but fear, love and trust in God is too hard for you and me. We can’t do it. We can’t trust God. It is not in our nature. It is in our sinful nature to distrust God, or thumb our nose at Him. To turn from the cross and go about our merry way trying to work our way into heaven. And as long as you are doing that you aren’t doing anything good. That is our nature, to sin, even when we think we are doing good. Love God? Love God who sits in judgment over us? Not likely to happen. No we don’t want to trust that His death, and resurrection were enough to save us from hell. Its too easy to look at the cross for salvation, that is what we think.
We would rather trust in ourselves, in our own ability to be better than the guy sitting next to us so we can maybe get into heaven on the bell curve God doesn’t use. “Sin? What’s that, but a minor little obstacle. We can overcome that. I mean come on now, just quit smoking already would you?” It’s dumbfounding to me. Absolutely dumbfounding. People want to think sin is that trivial something you can give up like a Friday night beer. And God should accept our apologies. I mean why does He have to be such a meany head about them anyway. So what if I lusted after my neighbors wife. So what if I would rather trust in my works than His death. It’s no big deal. I’ll do better next time. I did my best God, yeah but your best didn’t score the touchdown now did it. No you won’t. I don’t care if you do manage not to get drunk this Friday night. Big whoop. I don’t care if you do manage not to seduce your neighbors spouse. I’m not giving you a cookie.
What I will give you is the gospel. I’ll tell you that if you want to be saved there is only one hope, Jesus Christ, lifted up on the cross, as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the desert. Our one hope is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the World, Jesus Christ died for your sins. They are forgiven. And those who believe are given eternal life.
I just want to comment on this a bit. Jesus Christ died for you. I don’t ask people to believe. I hope they do. But I don’t ask them to. Why? Because it is true whether you believe or not. Your faith does nothing to the validity of this claim. Nothing. Your faith, that wonderful beautiful gift of God, that is beyond your capability, grabs hold of this truth. Whether you believe that Christ died for your sins is really beside the point. Whether you believe that Christ’s death gives eternal life, is inconsequential. Truth is truth whether you believe it or not. And the fact that Christ died for you is as true as the fact that the sky is blue.
Now the Peace of God that Surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Nancy said...

I'm still not understanding the Lutheran doctrine on the effectualness of the atonement...Are you stating that the fact is that Christ died for us whether we believe it or not...and then it would be effectual at baptism or when you receive the sacraments? It seems strange that as Christians we use different words to in many cases cover the same occurrence and we just need to understand what is meant. I've been reading the posts at Steve Martin's blog and I think I understand and then someone uses strange words and I'm not sure again. Lutherans, for the most part aren't universalist are they? I've read Luther's Small Catechism and thought I understood.

Bror Erickson said...

No we aren't Universalists, neither are we fideists. There is an objective fact. Christ died for the sins of the entire world. He died for your sins whether or not you believe he did. The fact is he did. We don't make that true by believing it. But when we believe we grab hold and cling to that fact and are saved. Faith doesn't make it true, faith makes it efficacious for us. Without faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice there is no salvation (for the one who doesn't believe anyway). But not believing it doesn't make it any less true.

Nancy said...

Thank you, with some of the comments I had read, the wording was confusing. Thanks for the clarification...I agree, nothing we do will ever change the FACTS...God has graced us with the faith to take hold of the promises and His promises and faithfulness are eternal!