We’re in a series called ‘Chase the Light’ where we’re looking at the gospel through the lens of the incarnation. The incarnation is a big bible word that means God coming to earth in the flesh in Jesus.
God didn’t send his good news message on a pamphlet or a computer screen – he came and delivered the message in person, the person of Jesus Christ.
God cares enough to relate to us face-to-face through Jesus, and heart-to-heart through the spirit.
And so while it’s true that the gospel centers around and culminates at the cross, Jesus’s whole life was the gospel, and that STARTS at the incarnation.
So if we were to say what the gospel IS, we could sum it up in one word: Jesus. Jesus is both the source and goal of the Christian life.
But if we wanted to expand on that a little, we could say something like:
THE GOSPEL is the Good news of Jesus who has come to:
- Show us God’s love
- Save us from Sin
- Bring us Peace
- Unite us with God
So this week we’re going to talk about Jesus who has come to save us from sin.
Story – Tombstone in Atlanta.
Years ago I went to Atlanta to spend some time with Jeanne Mayo. She’s a legendary youth leader and she does this program where she has people spend time with her at her house and she mentors us in youth ministry.
Oh, and another thing she does is takes us on these field trips. So we’d all hop in the bus, she had her very own short bus. It was too cool and she’d take us to these different spots.
Well one day she was talking about the legacy you’ll leave behind, so she took us to a cemetery to read the tombstones and write about what we want to leave behind.
And I remember seeing a tombstone that had this on it:
Died because Adam sinned.
Lives because Christ died.”
It’s that beautiful?
On the surface, it’s a pretty and encouraging statement about eternal life. But what you may not realize is that there’s some MAJOR theological concepts here.
This is really the problem and solution that the Christian faith offers.
And it’s all centered around sin and salvation.
So that’s what I’m wanting to focus on today. Again all through the lens of the incarnation.
Biblical Concepts – “Deeper”
For me as a pastor, and I know I’m speaking for all the pastoral team here at the church, I’m so happy when I’m able to be entertaining, and I’m so happy when I’m able to be funny. But more important than any of those things is we believe God has given us the responsibility of teaching you.
And so with that, will sometimes come some biblical concepts that are a little ‘deeper’ than you might be used to. And that’s not so you’ll be so impressed by our huge frontal lobes, no we want you to be who know the truth. And we believe the truth will set us free.
So we’re gonna dive deep for a few minutes and then we’re going to come up to the surface and make it practical to our everyday lives.
Intro to questions
We’re going to frame our thinking around 5 questions.
- What is sin? So if we’re “saved from sin”, well what IS sin?
- What is salvation? What does it mean to be saved from sin?
- How are we saved from sin? What’s the process?
- Why is the incarnation important? How does the incarnation tie into this salvation picture?
- What are the implications for us today? How does this make a difference in our lives right now?
1. What is “sin”?
Dad – Elk Hunting Practicing in Back Yard
My dad growing up, was a deer and elk hunter. Bow hunting. He used to say and I still agree with him, that it’s more fair to the deer. A gun is cheating. If you’re gonna go all cave man out there, then you gotta use cave man tools.
There were no precision scopes that could shoot the wings of a fly at 400 yards. That’s cheating. Why not just drop a bomb out there. Geez.
I’m gonna get email for that.
I’m kidding. I know nothing about hunting. The most hunting I ever did was Dunk Hunt on the Nintendo.
But my dad, he had in the back yard these bales of hay that he would put a target on and practice his archery.
What does this have to do with sin?
Well the word that is most commonly translated into the English word sin, is an archery term.
In the Hebrew “chatá” and the greek equivalent “Hamartia” are both archery terms:
“To miss the bullseye; to be off course; to not live the way we were made to live, whether by commission or omission.”
By something we’re doing or by something we’re not doing.
When most people think of sin, they think of the obvious stuff: Lying, cheating, stealing. Those are certainly missing the mark of how God has called us to live.
But we can also sin by FAILING to do something. Jesus tells us to care for the poor. And so if you DON’T care for the poor, that’s also missing the bullseye of how God has called us to live.
God has called us to live a life of love, and service, and generosity, and forgiveness. And there are times in every Christians life where we get off course, we lose sight of the goal which is Christlikeness.
Whenever we get off course, that’s sin.
And it can be by a little or a lot.
What’s interesting, is that though chatá and hamartia are archery terms, they are also used (and used often) in scripture in the context of relationships.
You know, we don’t usually talk about archery and relationships at the same time.
But in this case, the bullseye relationally in all of our relationships, is Christlikeness, which can be summed up in a word: love. Love is the essence of who God is. The bullseye relationally is Love.
And when we miss the bullseye of love, our relationships suffer. Perhaps you’ve noticed that.
- When you miss the mark of forgiving, your relationships suffer.
- When you miss the mark of generosity, your relationships suffer.
We could say it like this:
Sin separates relationships.
We all know this.
If I was to meet with a couple who was recently divorced, and I was able to somehow really distill down the essence of WHY they got a divorce. Do you know what I’d find? Sin.
“Are you sure David?” No I’m not sure, I’m positive.
Of course it could be obvious sin: Verbal abuse, infidelity. Or it may be a little more subtle: Bitterness, selfishness, pride.
Now let me ask you a question:
Do you sin?
Some more religious types might think: “Nah man, I sinned before I met Christ. That was all “BC”. I grew out of that.’ Well that’s the sin of pride. And you’re in big trouble mister.
We all sin. “Even Pastor Marshall?” – Yes.
You know we live in a culture of such fragile egos. Paper-thin self-esteem where it becomes “How dare you accuse me of sinning!”
That’s one thing that’s beautiful about the gospel: It allows us to face reality. We are ALL far from being exactly on target. We all mess up in lots of different ways, and that’s sin.
It’s the human dilemma. We are fractured species. We have moments of great beauty and strength, and we have moments of great weakness and failure.
Here’s the good news: God loves sinners. God died for sinners. God came to earth for sinners.
- Sin is to miss the mark.
- Sin separates relationships.
It’s something we ALL do.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. (Isaiah 59:1)
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you. (Isaiah 59:2)
So listen, it’s just a fact that sin separates us from God. That’s true. But I need you to understand how that works:
We run from God, God doesn’t run from us.
You can see this is the story of the Bible Time and time again, we turn from God and God pursues us. Think about the first sin in the garden. We eat the apple, become self-conscious and hide. And God pursues us. Cain kills his brother Abel. And God pursues him. Israel turns it’s back on God, and God still pursues us and gives us laws to keep us from killing ourselves and each other. But we say no, we want the golden calf, so God comes and gives us prophets and teachers, and we say no and we keep running and running and running. Until finally he comes in the form of Jesus pursuing us, and we kill him. And then Jesus rises from the dead, and certainly at that point he’s gonna be mad! But no, even then he comes and he pursues us. And so the cross is God saying I love you too much to let sin be the final word in your story.
2. What is salvation?
In the context of sin separating relationships:
Salvation is Reconciliation, being reunited with the one we are estranged from.
Salvation is God calling us home. Like in the story of the prodigal son returning to his father.
3. How does God save us?
Well for this one, English translators didn’t have the right English word to translate to, so they literally made up a word. Just made it up. I didn’t know you could do that.
Oh maybe I did. Somehow we invented the word “Hangry” – Angry because you’re hungry. Hangry.
Here’s the word they made up: Atonement
In fact, they say this may be the only theological word with English origin.
It doesn’t “come from the latin”. It’s an English word that English bible translators made up to translate the english Bible.
How did they come up with this word?
The word comes from and means: “At-one-ment”
It means coming back together as one.
The word that is behind the English word atonement is nearly always the Hebrew word: “Kippur”
So you’ve heard of the jewish holiday “Yom Kippur”. “Yom” means “day” and “kippur” means atonement. So day of atonement.
Kippur (Hebrew) = To cover over, to wipe away, to cleanse, to forgive.
To get rid of whatever is in the way of relationship.
What’s beautiful about the word “kippur” is that it’s originally a farming word, to describe when a farmer put a seed in the ground and covers it over with soil. “To cover over”. So that new life can grow.
“Kippur” means to cover over so that life can grow.
Don’t you love that? That bible writers would use this word when describing what God does to our sin.
To cover over, so that new life can grow.
And there’s lot of discussions on how the atonement works on a technical level.
There’s all these different atonement THEORIES. Which are man-made theories about how the atonement works. They can be a GREAT waste of time. And a GREAT way to ruin a holiday.
My encouragement to you is to not get bogged down in real technical stuff if it has no bearing on your actual life as a Christ follower.
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment – all about the vitamins and proteins – is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of, and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works … I think they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality … You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.
(C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity)
So we know that through the death of Jesus, we are put right with God.
Atonement. At-one-ment. Us and God – Coming together as one.
4. Why is the incarnation important?
Jesus was fully God and fully man. Not half God, half man. Like a centaur or merman or something. No Jesus was fully God and fully man.
And so that first day when Jesus appears on the earth. As a tiny little baby. By housing both God and man in one body, He proved once and for all that man and God can co-exist. We can enjoy at-one-ment. Unity with God. Jesus is proof that God and man can get along.
Just like the trinity has within itself relationality- Jesus, fully God, fully man has within himself reconciliation between God and man.
Jesus has within himself the ultimate picture of God coming to man. And at the same time, the ultimate picture of man surrendering to God. (Diagram)
So if we’re talking about “At-one-ment” there is no better picture of that than the incarnation.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too (Jesus) shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (Hebrews 2:14)
(So the death of Jesus broke the power of death)
and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:15)
(Now because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid anymore.)
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. (Hebrews 2:16)
(So Jesus came to help mankind. So he became what he came to help.)
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest (pay attention to that phrase: high priest) in service to God, and that he might make atonement (there’s our word) for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)
(So Jesus himself covers us, as our high priest.)
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18)
(This is such a cool point. That because Jesus was tempted, he can help those of us who are being tempted. That there’s something about Jesus experiencing first hand what it is to be human that allows him to help us all the more.)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (Hebrews 4:14)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, (notice the word choice – empathize) but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence (that’s key), so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
So Jesus is our high priest. Here’s what a priest does.
A priest stands with the people and comes to God on their behalf. So Jesus comes to earth as a human, so that he can stand before God and represent humans as our high priest. He’s literally on our side.
5. What are the implications for us today?
God gets us.
We read in Hebrews about him empathizing with our weakness.
He doesn’t just sympathize, from a distance (“Awww… That looks really tough. Poor little fella.”) No he EMPATHIZES. Meaning he knows what it’s like. “I get it.”
God graces us.
I don’t know how you’ve messed up, and honestly I don’t care all that much. As I’ve said before, your sin is just not that interesting. What I do know is that forgiveness is always one microsecond away.
In fact, I’m not even sure I want to say it like that, I want to say it like this: “God forgave you 2000 years ago.” So it’s time for you to forgive yourself. Dust yourself off, repent (which means to change direction), receive the grace of God and move forward in your life.
You know one way I could really hurt my relationship with Jordan? If ever time I messed up I said “Man, I don’t want Jordan to know what I did. I’m too ashamed. And I know she’s just gonna yell at me. She’s just gonna throw something at my head.” And my head is giant, so big target.
You do that enough times, and the relationship is severed.
My false beliefs about Jordan could destroy our relationship.
So I love how those verses we read from Hebrews talks about how we can come to God with CONFIDENCE. Knowing that forgiveness is ours.
God calls us to grace each other.
Above all (Peters says: most important. He wrote lots of great stuff in this letter, but most important:), love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
And that’s good. Because we all sin multitudenously.
As Christ followers, we want to grow in our Christ-like-ness. And we’ll make great progress in that. But this side of heaven, we’ll always have a long way to go.
I believe when we sin, it hurts the fathers heart. Now that I’m a dad, I really get that. Because the father wants the best for us.
But we also wound each other with our sin. Don’t we?
We will all be wounded by other people. And we will all do our fair share of wounding.
So we need something to bridge that gap. And this verse shows us what that is: Love.
Paul talks about 2 Corinthians how we as Christs followers have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Isn’t that great?
We are touched by the grace of God, and then we turn around and offer that grace to others.
Challenge: This week, be on the watch for an opportunity to offer the gift of reconciliation to someone who sins against you.
“Boy, I sure hope he’s not talking about…” Well maybe I am. “But they don’t deserve it!” Well Jesus could say the same thing about you. And all of us. But that’s precisely the point. He offers his grace and kindness to us, And he calls to offer that same grace to each other.