Looking Beyond

This is a lightly edited transcript of a sermon preached on February 13, 2022. For the original audio and/or video versions of this sermon, check the links on the Resources page.

Opening Prayer

Please pray with me.

Lord God, as we examine scripture this morning and consider our relationship with you, Lord, I pray that you would open our hearts and our minds to new things — that you would help us to be honestly and sincerely self-reflective in our thoughts, that you would give us ways to see ourselves and challenge ourselves and to be challenged by your Spirit. I pray, Lord, that the things that we find, both this morning and throughout the week — at any time that we approach you, whether in prayer or worship or study — that our eyes and our ears would be opened a little bit more, that our hearts would be pricked a little bit deeper, that we would be drawn a little bit closer to the one true God so that we don’t stagnate in our faith or our beliefs or our understandings. Stretch us beyond; stretch us beyond our borders, Lord, so that we can grow and be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

We love you, and we pray these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Sermon

I’m going to start in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, this morning — 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 and verse 12. It says,

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.”

1 Corinthians 15:12-27a, NIV

I’m not planning to talk this morning about Christ being risen from the dead. If you believe that Christ was raised from the dead, then good. If you don’t believe that Christ is raised from the dead, then Paul says here, essentially, what’s the point. If Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then we, as Christians, have nothing to proclaim. Okay, but that’s not what we’re going to talk about this morning.

What I want to talk about and consider this morning is the question of why. Why did Christ come and die and rise from the dead? Why did God the Father or God raise up Christ from the dead in order to conquer death? Like, why bother with all of that?

And I think the common, sort of rote, answer is because God so loved the world, and if you start to drill into that a little bit, for a lot of Christians, you get to things like, “Well, God wanted to give us a way to be free from sin.” “God wanted to give us a way to be forgiven,” and you start to get into all kinds of atonement theology and substitution theology, and you get all kinds of different things the more you drill into it, but for me, those don’t answer the question, necessarily, of why.

Why bother conquering death in the first place if it wasn’t going to be something for everybody? And what I mean by that is if you go to almost any Christian group, you’ll almost always run into a wall where they say the salvation you find in Christ is only really applicable “if…”

There’s only a certain group of people who are ready for this salvation, and they’ll come to passages like this one, where they argue that this was done so that Christ could be the firstfruits, for since death came through a man, the resurrection from the dead also came through a man, which we read in verse 21. Then, he says, “but each in turn,” in verse 23, “Christ the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him,” (NIV) and the problem, there, is it stops short of a truly free gift of salvation — stops short of many of the things that we find, as we’ll look at here in the New Testament here in a moment, that talk about sort of the scope of what God is doing.

He says, in verse 25, “For him…” Oh, I’m sorry, in verse 24: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power,” and after all his enemies are under his feet (v.25), and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (v.26), and then again, in verse 22, “for as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (NIV)

And when we go back to that kind of rote answer that people give, from John 3:16 — for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life… For some reason, Christianity has moved itself, continually, into a posture of “this is enough” — moved ourselves continually into a posture of saying as long as we’re counted among those who believe, as long as we’re counted among those who belong to him, we’re just going to say that’s enough, and we’re not going to question the scope or the purpose of what God is doing. “God came so that I could be saved, so that you could be saved, and as long as I’m saved, [that’s] the end of it,” but [to really] answer the question of why, I think we have to go beyond our little communities, beyond our understandings of who we are.

And what I mean is this: think back to the old testament and the tower of Babel. Think back to the way that they said, “Let us build for ourselves a tower that reaches up into heaven so we can go to where God is,” and I would argue that the reasoning behind that is not simply power. I don’t think what they were trying to do is say that if we can get to where God is, then we can be like God and have God’s power. I don’t think that’s what was happening, because when I look throughout the rest of scripture and I look at the world today, that’s not the only thing. That’s not the only variable I see, the only factor to consider.

I think the purpose of building a tower to babel is so that they could be where God is. If we, here, could be where God is, that would be enough, and if you look throughout scripture, that’s the goal. Look at the Israelites as they carry the ark of the covenant around with them. Look at the Israelites when they settle in the promised land and they start to build a temple and the temple becomes the center of their entire culture. It becomes a center of their very identity.

“We’re not simply people of God; we are the people of God, among whom is the house of God, within which is the most holy place, the resting place of the ark of the covenant and the staff of Aaron. This is where God dwells, and they fall into the same trap as the people who tried to build the tower of Babel. “We are where God is, and that is enough,” and it’s the same issue that we run into with Peter at the transfiguration when he goes with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John go with Jesus up onto the mountain, and Moses and Elijah are there, and Jesus is transfigured, and Peter’s response is, “Let us build for you three dwellings, and let’s just stay here, because to be here, where God is, is enough.” He makes the same mistake the Israelites made with the temple, and they made the same mistake the people who built the tower of Babel were making. They believed that if they could simply be where God is, that would be enough, and we make the same mistake today in so many Christian communities, and we make the same mistake as human beings outside of Christian communities — to say that if I could only get what was important to me, then it would be enough.

It’s enough for me to say that I’m saved. It’s enough for me to say that I’ve been baptized. It’s enough for me to say that I love my family. It’s enough for me to say that my family is healthy and I have them with me. This is enough, and when I say “enough,” I don’t mean “content.” I’m not saying I’m not greeding after more. What I’m saying is it’s enough in the sense that it absolves me of responsibility for anything else.

When a person looks back and says tell me what your life was about, we say,”My life was about me and my relationship with God, and that was enough. I didn’t feel obligated to do anything beyond that, and as long as I felt secure in my relationship, I wanted nothing more,” and yet Paul argues that the goal of Jesus coming down and dying was so that all would be made alive and John argues that all things came into being through God and that God loved the world, and regardless of the requisite actions, regardless of any prerequisites that need to be examined before a person can or can’t be called “saved,” regardless of any of that, I would argue that God’s reasoning for Christ coming down and dying on a cross was because, for God, it wasn’t enough.

For God’s people to know him was not enough. For God’s people to desire to be with God was not enough. It wasn’t enough because God’s people were just a small part of all of creation, and God desires after his creation. It wasn’t enough for God, and it continues to not be enough for God, that one, small people group believes or doesn’t believe — that one, small people group wants to be with him. It’s not enough for God to love one group of people, because God loves all people, and God loves all of creation, and for Christians to stand back and say that it is enough — that where I am is enough and what I have is enough and what I do is enough, that my status as a person who calls themself a disciple of Christ is enough — for us to step back and adopt that idea of it being enough is to cease participating in the mission of God.

In Matthew, chapter 5, in verse 43, Jesus said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48, NIV

Jesus says it’s not enough. It’s not enough that you love those who love you. It’s not enough that you greet your neighbor because your neighbor loves you. It’s not enough that you greet your own people because they’re “one of you.” It’s not enough that you act and look like everybody else, and I don’t think what Jesus means is you’re not good enough.

I think what Jesus means is if you want to participate in what God is doing, you have to understand that God’s work extends beyond. It extends beyond you and your group. It extends beyond your inner circle. It extends beyond your community. It extends beyond the things that make you comfortable, because God’s work is not merely for those who believe. God’s work is not merely for those who are considered “Christians.” God’s work is for all of humanity and, beyond that, all of creation, and it is the attitude of “enough” that causes us to free ourselves of the obligation to be part of anything other than our own group.

It’s the attitude of enough that creates intense tribalism between peoples. It’s the attitude of enough that creates tribal gospels and tribal Christianity. It’s the attitude of enough that gives us rationalization to stomp all over other people’s lives; we’re not responsible for them. I believe in God, and that’s enough. I got baptized, and that’s enough, and yet, Jesus says it’s not enough.

It’s not enough, because he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, because he causes his rains to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. It’s not enough because God’s work is beyond, and if we truly want to seek after God, we, too, must go beyond.

In Luke chapter 6, in verse 20, he writes,

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

    for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

    for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

    for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

    when they exclude you and insult you

    and reject your name as evil,

        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,

    for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now,

    for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,

    for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Luke 6:20-26, NIV

It is not enough. It’s not enough to sit back and say I have enough money, I have enough food, I have joy around me, I have people who speak well of me. It’s not enough.

We greed after things that don’t matter. We greed after wealth. We greed after food. We greed after joy and fun times. We greed after the respect of others. And yet, when we get those things and feel content and feel like we have enough and that we’re freed of obligations in other areas, Jesus comes in and says the ones who are truly blessed are the ones who don’t have any of the things you have. It’s not enough that you have these things you’ve greeded after; what are you going to do with them?

It’s just like the cross. It’s not enough that God is perfect in love. It’s not enough that God has all of creation in his dominion. It wasn’t enough. The question was always, “Now, what do you do with those things,” and God’s answer was, “Now, I pour myself out. Now, I pour myself out into all of creation so that creation can share in what I have.”

To have the people of israel was never enough, and that was always part of their mistake — that they looked at themselves and thought “this is enough” — not only that they thought that God dwelling with them could be enough but that they thought that they could be enough for God.

And yet, in Acts, when Peter is standing at the day of holocaust, when he’s standing there and he’s looking out at the crowd, here’s what he tells them. In Acts, chapter 2 — in Acts chapter 2 and verse 17, talking about the prophet Joel, he says,

“‘In the last days, God says,

    I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.'”

Acts 2:17a

And your translation might say all people, and i’ll tell you why it says all people. It says all people because somewhere along the lines, we decided we were enough. Somewhere along the lines, we decided we are enough for God, and the rest of creation doesn’t matter, but Joel doesn’t say all people. Peter doesn’t say all people.

He says all flesh, and Paul doesn’t talk about the salvation of humanity. He talks about the reconciliation and redemption of creation, and John doesn’t say all people were made in God and through God. He says all things were made through him, and without him nothing has come into being.

This is an exercise in humility that we don’t stand up and say to ourselves, “I am enough for God, and I am all that matters. You are not enough for God. Does that mean that God doesn’t love you and doesn’t care about you on a personal level?

Of course it doesn’t mean that. Of course, God loves you. Of course, God knows you. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knew you before you knew yourself. He knew you before anyone else even knew you were coming into existence. You are known and loved by God, along with the rest of creation, but to stand up and say that we are enough for God, that the rest of creation doesn’t matter, that other people don’t matter, that God does not care about them, doesn’t love them, isn’t pouring God’s self out for them day after day, moment after moment, is just pure hubris.

God desires after all of creation. All people, all beings, all life, all existence comes into being through God, is held together by God, and is precious to God.

Why come down and conquer death? Because God is seeking after all people and, through all people, the redemption of all creation, and anything short of that is not enough. God is never going to sit back and say, “Good enough,” not concerning God’s mission for creation.

I’m not saying that we need to put all of the pressure on ourselves. I’m not saying we need to take all of the burden of the world on ourselves, because the simple reality is I’m not Jesus. I’m not going to carry the burden of salvation or reconciliation for creation on my shoulders to the cross or anywhere else. What I’m saying is that if we live in communities that say it is enough that God knows us and therefore we absolve ourselves of responsibility for anyone else, we have stagnated.

A community like that is not participating in the work of God. They are not caught up in the work of God. They are not caught up in the work of catching other people up in the work of God. They are not living into the truth and the life and the way, and can they, then, truly look at themselves and say that they participate in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus?

Scripture tells us that if we truly believe, if we truly have faith, manifest that in our works, and what that means is we don’t sit back and believe ourselves to be enough. Everything that we have, every blessing from God, is given so that we can extend the invitation to others, because blessed are the poor, and blessed are the hungry, and blessed are the people who are mourning, and if we find ourselves in a place where we have enough, it is time to turn our gaze outward. It is time to turn our gaze to the people around us, not because they need to be domineered, not because they need to be conquered or enslaved, not because they need to be oppressed and put in line, but because one people was never enough for God. God has his sights set on all of creation.

And so, the invitation I want to extend to you this morning is this: come and be part of God’s work in all of creation. Break away from the lie that you have no obligation to anyone around you. Wipe your eyes of the deception that you are somehow free of obligation to your fellow man and to creation. Because you are saved in Christ, it is the opposite. I invite you to live into a posture that says, “Because I am saved, I am more obligated to creation and to people than I have ever been,” because in that obligation, in that work, we find ourselves caught up in the life and the way of Christ.

Thank you.

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