through campus and you'll struggle to make eye contact as individuals walk past, immersed in themselves and shrouded in the sounds of their iPods. The world has become a global village, socially networked and yet we're more disconnected than ever. I want to suggest that this is in fact our number one problem. Not AIDS, not global warming, not the credit crunch.
Our deepest problem is found in the human heart. We find man curved in on himself. Unable and unwilling to come out of ourselves. Ego-centric. Living in self. Living for self. Falling over ourselves as we preen infront of the mirror with endless flattery. Martin Luther said that is the very definition of sin –man curved in on himself
I was talking with a Buddhist on Sunday afternoon and this was his definition of virtue – to search within for self-deity. And he thought Christianity was the same as what he believed. He could not have been further from the truth. Being curved inward is the essence of sin, today and even in the first family.
Cain, in Genesis 4, manifests the same problem – see v12. We're told that he was evil and that he hated his brother whom God counted righteous. He was, v12, evil and he hated that which was deemed to be good. Self-religion is always this way, it loves the wrong things and hates the good, the best of which is God's saving grace. Grace that awes us, is vile to the sinner. Cain's heart was curved in upon itself. Curved away from God and curved away from human relationships. The world has not changed.
This introspection is not just a problem of our society. We have breathed in these toxic fumes and even with new hearts in Christ, the old curved in habits die hard. We are so often the same. It's good to be self-aware, particularly when one has a Biblical suspicion of motives and attitudes. But too often we go so far over that line that we can't even see the line anymore. We travel toward's an idolatrous self-focus, where the idol is me. We see it when our love for God becomes the central focus of our Christianity instead of His love. Our own piety fills our horizons just as much as self-help books fill the shelves of our Christian bookshops.
The gospel of Jesus speaks into this as something altogether alien and incongruous. But unless we drink deeply of the gospel we'll simply blend into the world we're seeking to reach. What does the gospel say? We're going to focus in on v23, and read it in it's context. You'll see it's a gospel command. Commands an make us focus on ourselves, but as we'll see that's the complete opposite of what we're to do. This is a life-giving word that come to us from God. We'll focus on the first part and see that the second kind of drop out quite obviously from it.
1. Believe in God's son Jesus (3v23)
2. And love one another (3v23)
1. Believe in God's son Jesus
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit stakes his claim on the world. He commands belief in the Son Jesus, v23. Step away from the mirror. Stop staring at yourself and look instead towards Jesus. This gospel has the power to effect our transformation, and we need it for we are badly deformed. Curved in on ourselves, instead of out toward Jesus.
a) Believe in...
The first part of the message is a call to believe. To trust. And people say – if only I could. I was talking to someone at the weekend who said – I really want to believe. But what he seemed to mean was I'm just not able to throw my mind away like you can.
We all believe in something. We all have 'functional gods'. Something is your Lord, Saviour and Treasure – whoever you are. The question to ask is – can your god save you? The question to ask is – is your god really no god at all?
The issue is never faith. Jesus counters that when he says that faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain. The issue is the object of faith. Everyone trusts something, and if not Jesus – then self. The language John uses here of belief is the same that he writes of Jesus in John chapter 3. There Jesus likens his being lifted up to die to an incident with God's people in the wilderness, in the book of Numbers. God's people grumbled and so God sent a plague of snakes to kill them. And then he graciously provided a way of salvation for them. A bronze snake, lifted up on a pole. If they would look to the snake and trust in it they would be saved from death, or they could trust in their own immune system and die from the poison.
Curve in on yourself and die. Curve out towards God's saviour and live. So here also. Not intellectual assent but trust that includes thinking, affections, decision and direction of life. This one dollar bill says – In God we trust. What of you?
b) Believe in ...God's son Jesus.
Christian faith is trust in something specific. Someone specific. In the name of the Son Jesus
Christ. In his name – in everything that he is and stands for and has done.
Believe in - 3v23. Jesus, God's Son. He who really came and lived on earth in history. He who came into the world, lived, ate, breathed. He who encountered the real situations of life. God is not distant from the struggles and sufferings and needs of life. Not any old Jesus. Not the Jesus you want to believe in, nor the one I want to. The Jesus, revealed by God in scripture.
Believe in - 1v7. Jesus, God's Son Jesus who lived to die to cleanse us from our sins. Jesus whose death washes away our sin. Jesus in whose death there is enough grace for all our sins.
And we need to be honest that we live in the shallows of the reality of our sin. The darkness of the human heart is deeper than any of us dare admit. Greatest of horrors. And yet there is more grace.
Believe in - 2v2. Jesus, God's Son who lived to die as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. To be the propitiation for our sins. You might hear a term like 'atoning sacrifice' or 'propitiation' and switch off. Don't. We need to learn these theological terms. Big words help you love God more. They'll open new vistas on what he has done that will stir our hearts to deeper worship and enjoyment of him. They will pour petrol on the dying embers of our love for him, and will increase our joy.
Jesus our Propitiation - means someone that makes someone favourable. “Propitious”. In this case the object of propitiation is God. The point is God becoming favourable to us. If you have an NIV you'll notice the footnote says that Jesus' death turns aside wrath. God's wrath was towards us but he takes it upon himself at the cross so that we might enjoy the favour of God. And the result is that God is infinitely and forever favourable to us in Jesus!
Believe in - 3v16. Jesus, God's Son who laid his life down for us. Jesus who took our place. Who died FOR us. Blood was shed to bar hell and open heaven. Blood was shed to put death to death and awaken life. Blood was shed, him dying for the sin in us and the wrath we deserve, so that we might have the righteousness he has, and the favour he deserves. His blood instead of ours. Him for us.
And believe in - 4v10 Jesus who's propitiatory death is the very definition of God's love. You simply cannot define love without having the cross of Christ there. Cross-less-love makes as much sense as an exam without a student. None. I recently got hold of an outstanding new worship CD called Come Weary Saints. One of the songs is a rework of an old hymn, 'O the deep, deep love of Jesus'. It's been given a new tune and chorus. But, also the lyricist Bob Kauflin has reworked one of the verses because this song about the deep deep love of Jesus made no explicit reference to the cross. It's not that every song must do that, but how can we sing of God's love apart from the death of Jesus?
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Spread His praise from shore to shore
How He came to pay our ransom
Through the saving cross He bore
How He watches o’er His loved ones
Those He died to make His own
How for them He’s interceding
Pleading now before the throne
The gospel of Jesus who died for us says look away from yourself and live. Don't go looking for life within yourself, look outside yourself. It's not Christianity if you try and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. It's not Christianity if you think that a little more education, money, self-esteem will make you ok. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who forever lived in perfect love for one another curved outward toward us in lavish love by sending the Son Jesus to live, die and rise for us.
In the gospel we see the brilliance of sin-cleansed, wrath-averted, defence-provided. And it's all of him. All by God. He is the centre. He is the focus. He is the treasure. It's not more self-esteem that we need. The problem is that we over-esteem ourselves and under-esteem the one who ought to be esteemed more than all else, namely the Lord Jesus. Put your trust in him. Put your belief in him. By his grace set your mind and set your heart upon him.
Martin Luther wrote:
"This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ's, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ's but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them. Learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, 'Thou, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.'"
This is not something for you to do. It is about trusting in what God has done in Jesus, for his glory, from which we benefit infinitely. The whole point here is not to look into ourselves for belief but away from ourselves to see 'there is my salvation' in Jesus. Jesus our Saviour, Lord and Treasure.
And consequently, point 2, briefly...