MCML - God Loves Me
In 1948 Claude Shannon, a mathematician working for Bell Labs, published a paper entitled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” which dealt with the process and transmission of information. The nickel summary of his research is how do we use digital codes to send messages faster, cheaper, and with flawless accuracy. His research is what makes it possible for you to have a cell phone, email, satellite TV, and even alexia who can turn your lights on and off by your voice command. Mr. Shannon ushered our culture into the information age, and now we have humanities collective knowledge available to us anywhere we have a cell signal.
We live in a remarkable time in history, the availability of all of this information has changed the way that we live, communicate, and relate to one another. You no longer have to go to the library, look through a card catalogue, find the book on the shelves and do the research to find out the life cycle of a duckbilled platypus. Now all you have to do is pull out your phone, or ask Alexia. And while this is an exciting time, there are consequences as well. Now there is no excuse for making a mistake or being wrong. How did you get lost, don’t you have google maps on your phone? How come you missed the meeting, didn’t your watch give a notification? How did you not know the score of the game, don’t you have twitter?
One of the most difficult things a person can do is admit that they were wrong. But that’s what we have been talking about over the past 4 weeks, we are trying to face the fact that we may have been wrong. Just like our city has veered off course, it is possible that the church has veered off course as well. It’s not that we were being spiteful or misinformed. We just got away from what Paul calls the sound doctrine of love. Over the past two weeks we considered that God is love, and that because He is love, He was willing to give Himself for us, the objects of His love.
Our text for today is Paul’s version of John 3:16. Paul is not only calling us back to sound doctrine, he is trying to get us to do the courageous thing of being honest about who we truly are. In the text that was read for us today, Paul says, Christ died for us while we were still sinners.
We don’t like the word sin, or sinner. And while most of us would admit that we sin, the truth is that we are “good people”. We are quick to admit that we are not perfect, we have a couple of faults, maybe we eat a little to much but we are not a glutton. We probably tell a little more that other folks would, but we are not a gossip. I am a good person, it’s not like I am a murderer or terrorist or child molester.
Lots of churches are filled with good sinners who faithfully attend church, tithe every week, teach Bible classes, serve on committees, and have been a mainstay in the church for generations. These are good people. And good people all have the same struggle, They never feel really saved, because they never really felt lost.
Paul is addressing the fact that we are not good folks who have made a small misstep here or there. Paul is being honest with us about who we truly are. When Paul calls us sinners, he is saying that we deserve death. That we have been selfish, we have been hurtful, that we have been hateful. Paul is saying that there is not a single person in this building or watching online that deserves salvation. But we are so busy playing the better than game, comparing ourselves to other folks, that we have an inflated view of our own worth and righteousness.
Let me show you what I mean, turn with me to Luke 7:36-47. (read text)
Simon was a good sinner. He was Pharisee so he was obviously a very religious man. He took great pride in his religious observance. He kept the commandments of Moses. He kept his distance from sinners, common people, pagans, and definitely women. So you can imagine his horror when this woman slipped into his home. She not only wandered into his home, she went straight to Jesus and knelt at His feet. You can sense the self-righteousness as Simon, the good person, thinks; This man can’t be a true prophet. If He were really a prophet, He would know what kind of sinful woman is touching Him.
Simon was lost, Simon had separated himself from God with his selfishness. He would admit that he was not perfect, I mean he had a few faults, but God was lucky to have someone like Simon on His team. God really got a good deal when He got Simon. Simon was playing the better than game, but he was playing against the wrong person. You see I don’t have to be better than you, and you don’t have to be better than me to get to heaven. If you want to get to heaven on your own, you are held to a different standard. You have to be better than God.
So Jesus invites Simon, and us, to reconsider our spiritual standing by telling everyone in the room a story. Two men were in debt, one owed his paycheck for working five hundred days, the other fifty days. Neither of them were in a position to settle their debt. So, the lender canceled both debts. Now here is the question, which one of these two debtors are going to feel more grateful?
Simon said, I guess…I suppose, well the answer is very clear but if you really want me to answer then I’ll play along. The one who had the larger debt. Jesus said, Correct. But apparently Simon didn’t get the point of the story. So Jesus has to explain it: She has been forgiven of all her many sins. This is why she has shown me such extravagant love. But those who assume they have very little to be forgiven will love me very little.
Jesus is not saying that Simon didn’t have a laundry list of things to be forgiven for; actually his list was quite long. He didn’t show Jesus common hospitality, he was rude, and arrogant. But because Simeon never felt really lost, there was no way that he would ever feel really saved.
Maybe you are like me, you grew up in a Christian home and never got into much trouble growing up. You gave your parents their fair share of grey hairs, but all in all you were a good kid. You truly think you are a good person, and you still struggle with whether you are really saved, because you never really felt lost. But go back to our text and listen to how Paul describes good sinners like you and me.
In verse 6 Paul says that we were weak, powerless, or utterly helpless. We don’t like that thought, but Paul is telling us we don’t have any strength or power on our own to improve our condition. The word Paul uses here, was generally applied to sick and feeble folks who were dealing with some kind of disease. Paul is saying that we are spiritually sick and left to ourselves, there is nothing we can do to please God.
Then Paul says we are wicked or ungodly. So take all of those positive attributes of God and realize that we are the exact opposite. God is perfect and we are imperfect. God is love and we are selfish. God is forgiving and we hold grudges. Not only are we the opposite of God, we had no desire to change in the first place. We were not only helpless, we were obnoxious. We violated God’s standards and deliberately desecrated His creation. We refuse to honor God, we live our lives as if God does not exist, and we worship ourselves.
In verse 8 Paul says we are sinners. Usually preachers get to this point and make the comment the word for sin means “to miss the mark” and was used of an archer who takes aim at a bull’s-eye but ends up totally missing the target. It’s true we are sinners we missed the mark, but Paul doesn't just call us sinners he says we are God’s enemies (10). Our sin has severed our relationship with God.
Look at those three words: Weak, Wicked, Sinner and then look at your neighbor. Now realize that Paul isn’t talking about your neighbor, Paul is not saying that you need to be less wicked than the person sitting on the pew next to you, Paul is saying these words describe you. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. But we never feel really saved because we never really felt lost.
This morning we sang the beautiful hymn Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed. You might not have noticed that someone changed the words in the first stanza. Originally the first line asked the question, “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Someone changed it to such a one as I. Maybe they didn’t like calling themselves a worm, but Issac Watts used the same words of Daivd, the man after God’s own heart, who described himself in Psalm 22 “But I am a worm and not a man…” I’m not sure when the change was made, but I’m pretty sure it was made because we don’t think of ourselves as helpless, hopeless, undeserving, and wormy.
But Paul is honest about our terrible condition, we are weak, wicked, and sinful. But Paul also lets us know that God loves us not because we are lovable. God loves us because He is love. It is His nature to love sinners. And He demonstrated His love by Jesus’ death.
Look back at the two questions Paul asks in verses 7-8.
First, Who would you die for? Verse 7: Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Have you ever thought about who you would be willing die for? I would give my life for Trista, Trafton, and Rylan; everyone’s probably willing to die for a few people. Sometimes, people will die for good people, but the Bible says it’s rare.
On Tuesday, I heard the news that there was a shooting at a school in Kentucky. So I shot out a text to a couple of my friends that live in Kentucky to see if they lived near the school. One of my friends texted back that the shooting happened in their community and that their child was in the school when it happened. I would find out later that 2 students were killed and 18 were injured by one of their classmates. Is there anybody in this room willing to go to Kentucky and face that 15 year old boy and say I love you. I love you so much that I am willing to die in your place. I will accept your death sentence. Now, you are free to go. Could you imagine the mother or the father of one of the young people who was murdered going into his jail cell and saying, I forgive you. I set you free. I’ll take your punishment. That’s the question Paul is asking, are you willing to die for someone who was weak, or wicked, or your enemy? Would you die for them?
Secondly, Who would die for you? This is a totally different question. Do you have confidence that someone would step in and take a bullet for you? If the choice was that you were going to die or they were going to die, how many would take your place? I don’t know your answer to the first question. Only you know that. But I know the answer to the second question; Jesus has already died for you. God did not just die for sensible sinners, He died for foolish ones as well.
Paul reminds us that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still (weak, wicked, and sinful), Christ died for us. But Jesus didn’t just die, Jesus died by torture on a cross. He took the full wrath of God on our behalf. He was in physical and spiritual torment. For the first time in eternity, God was separated from God. Jesus did all of this for you and me. He didn’t wait for us to get it all together, He didn’t wait until we could figure out how to behave better than our neighbor. When we were in the middle of our rebellion Christ died for us. God took the first step. He didn’t wait for us to turn to Him because He knew we never would.
Paul is taking us back to the cross. We were truly lost, but there is hope. Paul is reminding us of how deep God’s love is for you individually and for us as a community. God’s love is so overwhelming that He willingly stepped into our chaos and brought us peace. God is love that is His nature, it is who He is and He gladly welcomes us into His love.
The reason that this has to be a part of our love creed, the reason that we need to embrace the fact that God loved us when we were unloveable, is because unless we understand that we were truly lost we will not accept others who are also lost. Because we never felt lost, we feel like we deserve our salvation. This leads to a belief that others need to earn their salvation as well.
There was a time when I believed that God and I tended to dislike the same types of people. If someone made me happy, did what I thought they should do, treated me with respect, then they were a great candidate for the grace of God. But if someone sinned in a different way than I sinned, if someone was mean and ugly to people I loved, if someone held a view that was contrary to what I believed was right, then they had a lot of work to do before God could save them.
As a result, I tried to limit the grace of God. I experienced the grace of God not because I was a good person, but because I was weak, wicked, and sinful. But then I began to live under this idea that I had the right, or the obligation, to decide who deserved to be a child of God and welcomed in the family and who didn’t deserve to be a child of God. I am not alone. Everyone of us who believe that we somehow deserved the grace and mercy of God believe that other folks need to earn God’s mercy and grace as well.
We will never put a sign out on the front of the building saying you are welcome here if you are married, have a family, a good job, agree with us politically, and are the right color. But what do we say to people when they enter into the building. Do we feel the need to check them out and see if they measure up before we allow them to be a candidate for the grace of God. Church, that’s heresy.
When we believe that folks have to assimilate to our way of thinking, our way of life, before we will accept them, we have taken God off His throne. And Jesus has some pretty harsh words for folks who want to be the gate keeper and decide who is allowed in and who has to be kept out. In Matthew 23 Jesus says that the Pharisees lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. (13) In the rest of the chapter Jesus says folks who want to keep people out are blind fools (17) cups that are washed on the outside but dirty on the inside (25) white washed tombs filled with dead mens bones (27) and a pit of vipers that won’t escape hell (33). If you are going accept the grace of God then you must understand that His grace is available to anyone who would come.
Years ago, the incredible Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked “What is the greatest thought that has ever gone through your mind?” Barth thought about the question for a while and then replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. Jesus showed His love by dying on the cross for weird people, divorced people, addicts, homeless, mean people, foreign people, and even you.
This morning Paul is reminding us of our truth, no matter how good you think you are when you are compared to Christ you are weak, wicked, and sinful. If you want to understand the true joy of salvation, you first have to understand the real pain of your sinful condition. It’s only when we understand how lost we are that we can truly understand how great a gift we receive in God’s grace.