Once a year–at the annual Youth Conference at camp in Boondocks, New England–I get to preach. What follows is, roughly (because I wrote it in outline form originally), the sermon I preached this year. Last Sunday, to be precise.
Some of you may not know this, but I struggle with depression. I’m not on medication for it right now, but I have been. If you suffer from it, too, or know someone who does, you probably know that depression isn’t really about anything, but sometimes there are triggers that seem to set it off.
I haven’t had a real bout of depression for a year, but this week I had one. It got worse as the week went on, and by Friday morning, before I had to leave to come here, I have to admit, I didn’t want to. Once again, the depression wasn’t really about anything, but there was a trigger. On Friday my trigger was this realisation that I seem to spend my life pleading with people.
‘Please buy my book.” “Please come to youth group.” “Please, adults at church, volunteer to help with Sunday school.” “Please, everybody, let Jesus be your Saviour.” It’s bad enough to realise you’re constantly pleading. It’s even worse to realise you’re not very good at it. I could never go into sales . . .
After I realised what trigger was bumming me out, though, I sat myself down to think about it, and I realised that there is pleading in the Bible. In the passage that Shaun read for us, we see some of that. Verse 11 says,
Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.
In verse 18-21, the apostle Paul wrote,
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
This weekend we’ve been talking about God’s Word. We talked about how that term can be used to refer to the Bible–God’s book–the Grand Story. We talked about how even though it’s a whole bunch of books written by a whole bunch of people over thousands of years, it also tells one big huge story, that’s still going on, where God is the main character and wants us all to have a part in it.
Also, do you remember how we said the term God’s Word can also refer to Jesus? Both the Bible and Jesus are called the Word of God in . . . the Word of God. It’s not like this beat-up book right here is Jesus, but there’s a connexion between the content of the book and the nature of Jesus that sometimes we forget about.
Think about it like this. All of us want to express ourselves, right? And we all have different ways of doing it: art, music, acting, acting out, sports, dance . . . but also words. It’s kind of frustrating, isn’t it, when you’re trying to say something and people don’t understand it–and it’s frustrating because we want to be known. We express ourselves because we want other people to know us. Do you ever think that maybe God feels frustrated when we don’t listen, or don’t understand? Do you ever think that maybe God made us to express ourselves because He expresses Himself, and He does that because He wants us to know Him?
Last night we were talking about how there’s a rift between us and God, and why. We took things into our own hands–and we still do–and it’s put a barrier between us. God wants to reconcile–and He can’t stop talking about it:
He talks about it by sending His written Word across the centuries. The Bible is lots of different types of writing, but it’s all about the history of the human/divine break-up (and it describes it that way, too, sometimes–like a break-up) and how much He wants us back.
He talks about it by coming to be with us Himself, as Jesus of Nazareth, to show us what the Word looks like lived out, and what a human in perfect relationship with God looks like. He came to take our sin and rebellion on Himself–as if He Himself had rebelled, even though He never did. He died from it, just to clear our names and our word, and to heal the rift between us and Him.
If you were going to sum it up, you could say that God’s word is reconciliation. When we decide to put our lives in the hands of the One who lived perfectly:
- “Rules” are irrelevant. There’s definitely a certain way we should live, but it’s not some checklist of Ugh-I-have-to-do-this and instead Jesus loves us and we love Him back, and that love motivates us (verse 14).
- Our lives don’t belong to us anymore, but we become truer versions of ourselves (verse 15).
- Our view of Jesus changes from the idea that He’s a fictional character or only a “good man” to the assurance that He’s really the Son of God who saves us (verse 16).
- “A new life has begun!” (verse 17).
- We are reconciled to God (verse 18).
- We are given the responsibility and also the privilege to speak God’s word to others (verses 19-20).
- We are ambassadors.
Our theme this weekend is “Let God Speak for Himself.” Do you let God speak for Himself in your life? What is your view of Jesus and the Bible? Do you want to open yourself up to be an ambassador of God’s Word? Jesus is with us, but not physically anymore; He’s still the Word, and we’re not, but now God uses reconciled people to speak for Himself.
Today we’re going to try something that we don’t really do at this church. There are some good reasons why we don’t, but sometimes we need a marker of time in our lives when we really trusted Jesus to take over. Some of us don’t remember making that decision because we feel we’ve always known Him and trusted Him, and we’ve always lived our lives reconciled. But some of us need to know when our new, reconciled lives began. We need to decide, and we need to know that we did.
So, I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes. (I’m going to keep mine open, okay?) Think about what we’ve said. Think about if you want to be reconciled to God. Think about if you want to be an ambassador of His Word. If you want that, put your hand up. We can talk about it together some more. But also tell Him. Give Him your Word.
On Friday, like I said, I was depressed, but after I thought about all this, I was also strangely encouraged. There are forces out there who hate God so much they don’t want anything He loves to be happy. They don’t want God to speak for Himself. If they could discourage me from “pleading” with you about Jesus, it’s a score for them, I guess.
But in the end, this discouragement ended up simply reminding me of two things. First, it’s not about me. It’s about God speaking for Himself. Second, God’s going to speak for Himself no matter what, but it’s a privilege when He does that speaking through us.
God’s Word (Jesus and the Bible) is Reconciliation. “God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!'”
Come back to God. Then let Him speak that Word through you.
Some of the Readership and I pray for you at this blog. If you've got something on your mind--or if maybe you wish you were raising your hand right now--put it here.