Preached at Christ Memorial/Reliant Church on August 22nd, 2010.
We are a missional church. That means that we live and work to advance the gospel in the world. The mission of God is to redeem the world in Christ. So we have the gospel, we proclaim the gospel, we live the gospel, we share the gospel, we advance the gospel, we bear witness to the gospel. “OK, preacher,” you say. “You’re always talking about the gospel. Preachers always tell us to share the gospel. But WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?” Before we talk about the gospel, we must know what it is. And if we want to be a missional church, you’ve got to be able to articulate it.
If you go to the Louvre in Paris, you can see the Venus de Milo. This sculpture of Venus was discovered in Greece and dates back thousands of years. She now stands as one of the most famous pieces of art in the most famous museum in the world. And she’s the only armless woman that guys drool over. Her beauty is amplified in it’s many angles. If you stand on one side, you see her gentle face. A few steps over, you notice the smooth flow of her shoulder. From the left side, you notice the subtle tilt of her waste. She is one sculpture, but many angles. One piece of stone, but many facets. One pose, but many dimensions. In the same way there is one gospel, but many many angles. There is one Jesus, but many dimensions to his nature. And if you walk around the gospel, you begin to see all the thrilling angles.
If we want to be a missional church, you’ve got to be able to articulate the gospel. I want you to wake up on Monday morning able to speak the gospel in a concise, clear, and memorable way. And so I offer you three words: manger, cross, crown. The gospel is so comprehensive that its depths have been mined for millennia. And yet it’s so simple that children can speak of it. Let’s work with these words. One gospel, three angles.
Manger: The presence of God with us. (Life of Jesus. Prophet.)
The manger is the incarnation – the God who takes on flesh, even to the point of being born in an animal feed box. The manger means that God is not distant, but near. It means that he comes to be with, so that you are not without him. It means that God dwells in the midst of messy human drama. An example of God’s presence in the New Testament is John chapter one. 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” An example of God’s presence in the Old Testament would be the tabernacle or temple, as established by God for his people and evident throughout Israel’s history. In Exodus 25:8, God says to Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”
The manger angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as the presence of God is thrilling news for those who are distant from God. This is gospel for those who feel lonely, alienated, and hurt. For those who feel inadequate. For those who feel that God could never love them, never come to them. For those who feel like the very lowest social caste. The manger: God’s presence with us.
Cross: The pardon of God for us. (Death of Jesus. Priest.)
The cross is God’s forgiveness for sinful people. For years, God had to appoint priests to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. To pay for things done wrong, God ordained a sacrificial system in which the blood of animals took the place of the blood of the people. But this was an endless cycle of animal sacrifice for the endless sins of human beings. And PETA called it animal abuse. So God sent his Son to serve not only as priest, but also as the sacrifice. The cross means substitution – his life for your life. It means justification – justice is attained by his sacrifice in your place and for your sins. It means forgiveness, that what you deserve for your offenses has been taken on by another. An example of pardon in the Old Testament is the Passover in Exodus, or even earlier in Genesis 22 when God gives Abraham a ram to sacrifice “instead of his son” (13). An example of pardon in the New Testament is Romans 3:23 and following: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.”
The cross angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as pardon is thrilling news for those who are overwhelmed with guilt. This is gospel for those who are tortured with shame. For those who are nagged by conviction. For those who feel dirty over their thoughts, words, or deeds. For those who feel that there is no way that a good God could love a bad person. For those who feel that every bad thing that happens is God punishing for the bad things they’ve done. For them, the cross is God’s pardon.
Crown: The power of God in us. (Resurrection of Jesus. King.)
The crown is the resurrection power of God. The crown means that Jesus did not stay dead. It means that God is in the business of making dead things alive. It means that Jesus now wears a crown and stands as the supreme, manly, kick butt king of the entire universe. It means that history is steadily advancing toward a powerful Last day of resurrection. It means everything will be fully be put right under the merciful rule of the crucified and risen One. The crown means victory. The crown means that God wins out. An example of God’s kingly power in the Old Testament is Psalm 2, where a worldwide king that looks a lot like Jesus is presented. Verse 6, God says, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” An example of God’s power in the New Testament is clearly in the resurrection of Jesus. We see the Risen Jesus in Revelation 1:17, 18. He says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
The crown angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as power is thrilling for those overwhelmed by defeat. This is gospel for those who are weakened by despair. For those who once felt strong and in control, but were humbled to the point of helplessness. For those cut deeply by the sharp blade of death. For those who mourn. For those who are conquered. For those who are abused and beat down. The crown is the power of God in us.
The gospel of Jesus. One gospel, three angles. Manger, cross, and crown. God’s presence, pardon, and power. Manger, cross, and crown. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Manger, cross, and crown. Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. Manger, cross, crown.
The manger angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as the presence of God with us is thrilling news for those who are distant from God. Like a teenager named Wil who always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Most of his peers liked the safety of conformity. He felt led to have a shaggy doo the color of a crow that would dip in front of his face like a mask. Most of his friends had a mom and dad, or at least a step-mom or step dad. His mom died when he was two. Most of his friends lived in the same house their whole lives. He was a military kid who had lived in 9 states, 10 schools, 14 houses. If you took pictures of him, the most common pose was him in the lonely corner of a room, ipod ear buds in place, distantly gazing out the window.
This all changed in his most recent high school when a clean cut classmate wearing a Cardinals shirt and Nike sneakers approached Wil and invited him over to his house after school to play his Nintendo Wii. The next week, Wil was invited over for a dinner of Hamburger Helper, green beans, and chocolate milk. The next week, his new friend asked Wil why he always sat in the back and didn’t talk much. So Wil revealed his story. A month later was Christmas, and Wil got in an argument with his new friend over the plausibility of Santa Claus. This led to the origins of Christmas and the nature of the incarnation. In the midst of a heated debate about Jesus, Wil’s friend stated something, on the verge of yelling: “You don’t have to hide behind your hair, dude, cause God is with you! That’s what baby Jesus is all about!” This opened up a whole new world to Wil, who always felt the outsider. His gospel angle was the manger. “Wil, God didn’t leave you whenever you moved to a new city. And Wil, God didn’t leave you when your mom died. God didn’t leave you when things got messy. He was right there all along.” Manger, the presence of God.
The cross angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as pardon is thrilling news for those who are overwhelmed with guilt. Like Joe who made one major mistake 10 years ago. One little thing that was a big deal. Now, 10 years later he felt like a man cursed. Six months ago he was laid off. Five months ago, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four months ago, they discovered she was pregnant. Three months ago, he had to rob the little savings he had holed up in his 401k. Two months ago, he cursed God. One month ago, he entertained the thought of swallowing a bottle of pills.
Last week Joe was having coffee with an old friend. He didn’t want to. His friend was a good man. He was generous. He was a good listener. He was dependable. He was a church-going Christian. He was everything Joe was not. After 3 minutes, they got past the small talk. After 4 minutes, his friend asked Joe what was up. After 5 minutes, Joe’s eyes were bulging with tears and red from a fight to hold them in. They stepped outside to get away from a room full of customers. And there Joe’s friend shared two words that were gospel to him. “It’s done.” That’s all he said. “It’s done.” He was referring to the mistake that occurred a decade ago. “It’s done” released him from the past so he could bear the present. “It’s done.” In other words, “You’re forgiven. You are not enslaved to this mistake. Stop killing yourself for something that’s already been died for. It’s done.” And Joe cried like a baby. He has since considered this the first day of his new life. Cross, God’s pardon.
The crown angle of the gospel is important for those standing in a particular place. The gospel as power is thrilling for those overwhelmed by defeat. Like Jamie. She felt like a person caught in a photograph. Stuck in one place. Frozen in one scene. Paralyzed in one position. Captured by fear, she felt unable to move. It was not a pretty photograph. In the distant backdrop was childhood abuse. In the upper left-hand corner was an addiction to stupid men. In the foreground was a dead end job, and a sense that her life was meaningless.
The only time Jamie felt she was out of the photograph was when she was with her friend Meg. Meg’s friendship felt like a motion picture. There was something about Meg. A confidence. A strength. A hope. So Jamie finally asked awkwardly, “Why are you so, like, hopeful?” Meg laughed a little. She said, “My mom died two years ago, and I thought it was the end of my life. The day before the funeral, I was going through her stuff and ran across a book mark in her ragged Bible. She had written three words on the bookmark: “Everything is new.” It was marking the page of a verse she had underlined in Revelation. “Behold, I make all things new.” I had never understood Jesus until then. That there is victory in defeat. There is light in darkness. There is hope in death.” Jamie’s mouth stretched into a slight smile. While it was a process, this was the first day that her life broke out of the photograph and into a fullness she cannot describe.
One gospel, three angles. The manger is God’s presence with you. The cross is God’s pardon for you. The crown is God’s power in you. This is our life. Our hope. This is what we proclaim as a missional church. This is the gospel.