[Due to human error the sermon from this previous Sunday was not recorded. At the end of worship I said I would post the sermon in written form here. I said this with the vague sense that someone needed to hear or read these words, either for the very first or a second time. I pray that this vague sense was the Holy Spirit and not my own vain pride; and I pray that all who find their way here will then find God in the words below.]
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:1-18)
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Jesus, or, at the very least, be in the process of forming one. Jesus’ brothers don’t believe in him, the people at the festival whisper about him, and those at the temple wonder at him. We might be tempted to feel a bit of concern for Jesus, and for His reputation. Then, Jesus responds to those in the temple who wonder at where He got “such learning”, since no one had taught him – that is, since he was not the disciple of any rabbi as far as they were aware. In essence what they are marvelling at is that all of Jesus’ amazing teachings and brilliant words are his own… they marvel at him the way we might marvel at a self-taught prodigy.
Jesus responds, saying,
My words and my teachings are not my own. If they were, you would have every reason to doubt or distrust them. But I do not speak my own words; I speak the words of another.
One who speaks their own words seeks their own glory, and thus, there is falsehood in what they say. But one who speaks the words of the prince or lord who sent them is one who seeks glory for his lord. Therefore, his words can be trusted.
When the week began, I thought I would be preaching to you this morning a sermon in which I encourage you, encourage us, to, like Jesus, make yourselves, make ourselves, about God’s glory, not our own; that is, I thought I would be encouraging us to concern ourselves with garnering praise for God instead of ourselves. And you’ll still hear a little of that at the very end. But this sermon is really about what lies beneath all of that: the unique relationship of the Son and the Father in the gospel of John. More specifically, the unique ordering of the relationship between the Son and the Father.
Somebody in every relationship has to make the first move. If you’re married or have ever been married, if you’ve ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend, if you’ve ever had a friend you talked with or texted or snapchated with, a friend you hung out with, did things with other than simply share a cubicle wall or run into on the golf course or at the library, then you’ve experienced what I am talking about. One of you –you or the other person – at some point took the initiative. One of you proposed something, which amounted to the proposal of a relationship. One of you pursued the other.
Would you go to Prom with me? Would you have dinner or drinks with me? Wanna go see a movie? Wanna see what I can do with my eyeball. [just kidding, that’s not one.] Let’s meet up for coffee and raisins. Would you like to come to church with me?
Someone has to be the first to make such proposals. Someone has to take that initiative.
In the history of all that is, all that has been, and all that ever will be between God and mankind, the initiative has always belonged to God. Not the other way around.
God is always, has always been and will forever remain, the initiator of relationship with us. But not only is God the one to always initiate, God is also always the one to re-initiate, re-establish, or repair the relationship along the way. So not only is God always the one to ask us out, God is also always the one to initiate the repair attempts when relations between us break down.
In a sense what this means is that there is a particular order to life. It means eternal, abundant life, which God has called us to live, which God has given to us to live, is life lived only as it follows a particular order.
I was reading a book this week by Eberhard Busch called Drawn to Freedom: Christian Faith Today in Conversation with the Heidelberg Catechism. [snoring] I know. Believe it or not, of the books I read, that is actually one of the more exciting titles. But I came across this one sentence that is so great that I can’t not share it with you. Now, it’s not a slogan or a tweet. You wouldn’t put it out front on the church sign or on a t-shirt. Its a sentence which if you really want to wrap your head around you probably need to have it written and read over it a few times. But I’m not afraid of thinking, and neither should you be, so here it is.
The two-sided relationship between God and ourselves, which is the aim of God’s action in Jesus Christ, is and remains one-sidedly grounded in the grace of God.
That sentence, if you’ll hold onto it, I guarantee you, it will one day rock your world.
The two-sided relationship between God and ourselves, which is the aim of God’s action in Jesus Christ, is and remains one-sidedly grounded in the grace of God.
Rearranging it a little,
The aim of God’s action in Jesus Christ is the two-sided relationship between God and ourselves, which is and always remains one-sidedly grounded in the grace of God.
A two-sided relationship one-sidedly grounded in the grace of God, the God who is forever and eternally gracious to you and I.
In other words, relationship with God begins with, and never stops beginning with, God. Always. There is an order. God goes first. Then, we ourselves. God initiates. We respond. God gives. We receive.
That is gospel.
God decides to be for us, long before we ever decide to be for God.
God’s deciding comes first. God’s willing comes first. And what God wills in willing first is, first, that He will be our God, and then, thereby, that we will be His people.
God’s willing comes first, and what He wills is, first, to be our God, to Himself belong to us, to define Himself in relation to us, to hitch himself to the wagon of humanity; and then, for us to be His people, for us to belong to Him, for us to be defined in relation to Him, for us to hitch ourselves to the wagon of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In His single, undivided will, there are two movements, and the whole gospel lies within them; and in their ordering.
The first thing we can know of God is that above all and before all, God has defined God’s own self as our God. God chooses to be ours and thereby chooses us to be His.
Our belonging to God means, necessarily, we do not belong to ourselves., which is where the Heidelberg catechism comes in with its question #1, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”, and then the answer, “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ”. The true God of the gospel chooses to be our God, and chooses us to belong to God. This means, necessarily, we do not belong to ourselves.
God says Yes to being our God and to His belonging to us. But in that Yes there is both a Yes and a No. It is a true, unconditional Yes; however, in it there is a true, unconditional No spoken to all who believe they are their own, all who believe they belong to themselves, all who hold proudly to, “Its my life to do with as I please.”
Until they meet God, they think the measure of all things is “what do I get out of it” because they put themselves at the center of all things. God speaks an unconditional, unequivocal, clear as day No to this by speaking a Yes to Himself as their God and they as His people.
God says Yes to His being yours, and thereby Yes to you being His, which, in effect, is a No to you being your own – a No to you belonging to yourself, a No to the falsehood that your life is your own. But in saying this No, in denying you your right to your life remaining your own possession, God actually gives you life for the very first time.
Jesus says: “Those who would save their lives will lose them; but those who lose their lives for my sake will keep them” (Mark 8:35). This is my salvation and yours, my comfort and yours, that we do not belong to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ… that we are those who belong to Jesus Christ.
And when this happens, the question, “What do we get out of it?” is transformed into, “What does he get out of it, if we are his?” What advantage does He receive declaring Himself ours and we His? Is He better off? Is He wealthier? Is He in a more advantageous position? Truth is he doesn’t receive, he gives. What he gets is costs upon costs.
Who are we for him? We are lost ones, like that lost son of Luke 15 who is so prodigal, so extravagant, so wasteful with his inheritances, debased and ruined like that son, who “squandered” his gifts in dissolute, wild living. That is us.
He could have said, “No! I do not want to be yours!” and no one would’ve been able to blame him. He would have certainly been well within his rights. But now this is our salvation, this is our “comfort,” that he does not deal with us this way. “He does not deal with us according to our sins” (Ps. 103:10). He deals with us like that father with his lost son. The Father who – and here comes what I’ve taken to calling Eleke’s truth – does not demand improvement or worthiness, nor insist upon seeing what he deems a proper level of guilt or shame before He accepts his son back. Instead, he acts like this: “But while the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
If this is our God, and no other, a God who is so decidedly for us, a God who has elected to never be God without us, who has defined Himself as our God, and thereby defined us as His people, then we are, as such, never without God. Because and only because God decides not to leave us alone, and because God persists in not leaving us alone.
The two-sided relation between God and ourselves, which is the aim of God’s action in Jesus Christ, is and remains one-sidedly grounded in the grace of God.
Our life – true, abundant life – exists in this relation, which is a relation with an order.
The answer to Question #1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”, as we’ve already mentioned, begins, “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ.” It ends: “Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he… makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Kind of like the Son lives for the Father, doing His will, and seeking His glory.
Let’s think of it like this.
Jesus Christ is Lord and Ruler of all. And we are those who have come under his rule, and who know it. Our coming under the rule of Christ, however, does not mean for us moving from one dictator or oppressor to another, but moving from an oppressing lordship to a freeing one. That He is Lord, and that He is our Lord, means that we are free. It means that freedom is finally ours. But our freedom is not the unfreedom we might dream it to be; our freedom in Him, which is the only true freedom, is the freedom specifically of those who listen to him, who hear his voice and follow it… hear his call and obey it.
And thats what his lordship aims at: our obedience.
He is our Lord, and when he establishes His Lordship in our lives, when we come to an active knowledge of His Lordship, which means an active knowledge of our belonging to Him, and when we give our assent to this… well, one might say, we finally come home. And in coming home, we are set free.
No longer living under the false delusion and fantasy that our lives are our own, but now, finally under God’s good rule, we come to exist in the relationship for which we were created. We come home. And, in coming home, we are finally free because we can now be who we were made, not to mention who we were redeemed, and in that sense re-made, to be.
And when this happens, we are removed from the center of our lives and replaced by another – by God – which means our lives undergo a drastic re-ordering.
When we remained falsely enthroned in the throneroom of our hearts, at the center of our own lives, then our lives, our choices, the things we did, how we did them, it all came out of what was best for us. In short, we were driven by our own willfullness, and thus by our own will. But now, with God at the center of our lives our willfullness is replaced with obedience, and our will comes into line with his.
Like we said, His Lordship aims at our obedience.
And our obedience, my friends, aims at his glory. And all this comes from the reordering of our lives under His Lordship.
No longer on the throne, no longer at the center, we no longer live our lives in search of self-glory. We still work for applause just like before. We still labor for admiration and praise. The difference is that now it is not applause, admiration and praise for us, but for Him and for His glory. For, just as we find our home in God, so too does all applause, all admiration, and all praise. For, everything good, everything worth effusing, everything worth gushing over and rhapsodizing about has its beginning and its end in God. It all belongs to God.
Thus, a rightly ordered life, as Jesus demonstrates so well for us, seeks not only the Father’s will, but also His glory.
Our lives under his lordship, which are thus rightly ordered, serve to herald His glory, not our own. We work and we speak, first for His glory… we worry, we concern ourselves, first with his reputation.
Again, just as with His will being ours, our will being subjected to His, and our willfullness being transformed into obedience, so here, as well, in the seeking of his glory, there is freedom.
In the seeking of his glory first, the concerning ourselves with his reputation first, we are free. The enslavement of our will to His, the prioritizing of His glory above all, is not a hindrance to truly coming alive, but the result of it. Our belonging to Him, our will being His, and our concern being His glory, are not things which we must first overcome in order to be free (& alive), but the very things in which (& of which) our freedom (& our life) consists.
Think about it. Think about all the time you and I spend enslaved to the serving of our own glory, enslaved to the bettering and defending of our reputation, worried about what others think of us, concerned about whether we are receiving the recognition we deserve. There’s no freedom in that! That’s not freedom, and you know it! That’s bondage!
Freedom, true freedom, comes when we are invited to make our lives – all that we say and do – no longer about ourselves, no longer about our own glory, but about that of another, the one we call Lord, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever and ever.