Third Sunday after Easter – May 3, 2020
- I want to start us off with a little review. Our first Sunday together, I introduced you to this insight of Henri Nouwen’s out of Luke 6, that I call the “Three circles” or “Three spheres of relational influence”. He get’s it from the account where Jesus spends the night alone in prayer to the Father, then comes down to his disciples, then with his disciples he descends to the bottom of the hill where the masses were, to minister to them through teaching and healing.
- First, is the sphere of Solitude, where you are alone with God and only God. It is there that you talk to God, He with you, where you delight in each other’s presence, where you get guidance from him about important decisions you’re making, challenges you are facing. Most importantly, it is where you connect intimately with God and hear his voice in your heart, calling you his beloved. This was a centerpiece of Jesus’ life: he was constantly pulling away to spend time with the Father. And for us who want to be like Jesus, it will be a centerpiece.
- Second, is the sphere of Community. This is where we gather with others who have spent time with God in solitude and have heard that they, too, are God’s beloved, so when they are therefore able to be truly present to each other to love each other, encourage, challenge and forgive for Jesus’ sake.
- Third, is the sphere of Ministry. This is where the community goes together in some form (in 2s, in 4s, as small groups or large groups) out into the world, our neighborhoods, our town, our nation, to love and be loved, showing with our lives and sharing with our words that others, too, can hear the voice of the Father call them the beloved.
- Then, after having gone out, there is a circling back into solitude, moving into community, then moving out into ministry again. The cycle repeats itself. That was the natural rhythm of Christ’s life. We who follow Him want to make it ours.
- Since that initial meeting, I’ve been focusing on the first of these circles, the sphere of solitude.
- Week 2, we discussed How to spend time with God alone in a daily quiet time (Remember, three steps: You wait, you read, you write).
- Week 3 was Easter Sunday and we talked about how it is we have the honor of meeting with God in the first place; how—out of his infinite compassion and love for sinners—the Father send the Son to cancel our entire legal debt due to our sins; then begin the process of refashioning us through the work of his Spirit; then draw us into a tender embrace in love through that same Spirit.
- Week 4, we talked about this face-to-face motif that runs throughout scripture: how the triune God created us in his image specifically to commune with him continually and joyfully forever; how humanity has turned repeatedly away from him; how he has urged us to turn or repent and come back; and how Jesus became a human to do the turning for us, to take us back with him to the Father’s house to recline on his breast.
- Week 5, last week, we considered the dramatic difference in knowing God by first hand experience under the Old and New covenants; in the OT, God revealed himself principally as YHWH, the “I am” who is high and holy and awe inducing; and in the NT, without losing any of his holy, transcendent glory, he yet reveals himself as Abba, a tender hearted Father who wants to draw us close to his heart.
- That brings us up to today. This afternoon, I want to wrap up our considerations on the first circle, solitude. We’ll get back to that in a minute. Before we do: a quick look at the next month or so.
- Next week, May 10: Second sphere of Community: What are some of the joys and challenges of really doing life together in Christian community
- May 17: Ascension: Christ’s return to heaven and present ministry (often neglected part of our understanding of our Lord’s ministry)
- May 24: Third sphere of Ministry: responding to the Lord’s call to join him in his work of redeeming the world
- May 31: Pentecost-We get to reverently consider the Person and work of Holy Spirit in and among us
- Jun 7: Trinity Sunday-The beauty of the blessed holy Trinity, as we are graced with the privilege of meditating on the three Persons, their relationships and their various roles.
- So, this afternoon, I want to focus on an idea I’ve mentioned a bunch of times now, but haven’t devoted a lot of time to developing in any depth. But it is life-changing, if we allow its truth to grasp us at our core. It is the fact that Abba, our Father, says of us individually: you are my child, my treasured loved one, and I am totally stoked with you.
- I’ve entitled the talk: Being the beloved and becoming the beloved. I hope it will become clear to you that you are, right now, the beloved of God. If you are a Christ follower, you don’t need to do something to be the beloved of God. You are the beloved already, for everything that needed to be done has been done already. And I hope it will become equally clear that your number one goal in life is to simply become who you already are: the one who has been loved by the triune God from the far reaches eternity past and will continue to loved by Him into the infinite stretches of eternity future.
- We’ll be working from a short text in Mark’s Gospel, so I guess it’s appropriate that I’ve asked another Mark, Mark Speltz, to read our scripture today.
Reading of text: Mark 1:9-13 – Mark
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
- We’re going to focus on verse 11: SLIDE 6 “And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
- So, let’s start with three preliminary considerations.
- First, the wording of verse:
- Here in Mark and also in Luke, the Father speaks these words directly to Jesus, using the second person form of address: “you”. Matthew records this in the third person “this is” , probably because of the fact that it was to serve as a teaching guide, helping the church to think correctly about Christ. Because we are looking at Mark’s account, we’ll read this with the second person pronouns.
- Then, note the word “Beloved”. It is called a verbal adjective and can be used as a stand alone noun, as it is here, or as modifier of “Son”; both are grammatically possible. Ultimately, they both affirm the same thing, of course, since both make identical claims. I’ve chosen to treat it as a noun because the Son elsewhere is called the Beloved as a stand alone title, and there is also strong OT support for this usage. (cf. Eph 1:6).
- As a second preliminary consideration, we want to note the statement’s unique application to Jesus. These words were spoken directly to Jesus by the Father, so their immediate application is to Him as the one and only divine Son. The NT refers to Jesus as the monongenes, the one and only unique Son of God. The Father and Son share the same essence or substance. Jesus is God, just as the Father is God, for Jesus is the exact image of the Father. That is true of no one else in all creation. So these words have an utterly unique application to Christ. Having said that, though, these words also have a secondary and very special application to all believers who call on God as their Father and Jesus as their older brother. This leads to our third consideration.
- A third and final consideration is its special application to us. You might ask: Is it really appropriate for us to appropriate God’s approbation? The answer is: Yes, because the NT teaches us the astonishing truth that Jesus came not to serve as an example for us to imitate, doing the best we can to make the Father happy, being merely an external aid to our spiritual life. No, He came to BE our life, to make it possible for us to join in his own love relationship with the Father, to house his very own Spirit of sonship in us. To be so close to him relationally, that it is like a branch connected to the vine. All we need to do is be true to him, cling to him, remain in him, keep trusting Him; to not try to do life on our own apart from his communion, grace and strength, but to stay loyal to him as our only salvation. And to the extent that we do that, the things the Father affirms of Jesus in this verse, he also affirms of us. In fact, all three things that are here spoken of Jesus—sonship, belovedness, delightfulness—are spoken of God’s people in other scriptures.
- So, with those introductory thoughts out of the way, let’s look more closely at the three clauses that make up this statement: You are my beloved son/daughter; you are my beloved; with you I am utterly thrilled.
- As we go through these, I want you to personalize the teaching: receive it, believe it to be true of God’s assessment of you.
1. You are my Son/You are my Daughter
- Most of us, when we think about being a son or daughter of God, move in our minds to the act of creation: we are children of God by virtue of the fact that he made us. And on that view, every single person on earth is a son or daughter of God.
- But that is not the way the bible most often uses the terms. In the NT, we are sons and daughters of God not because he created us, but because he recreated us in his image. Prior to that, we are not referred to as children of God, because we don’t look like him: there is no family likeness. We are, instead, called things like children of disobedience, children of wrath and children of darkness, because those are the things that describe the domain in which we live, and these things characterize our day to day existence.
- But, because of the Father’s unflagging love for us, he sent Jesus to unite himself to our sinful humanity. By joining himself to our fallen condition, he began the process of redeeming it, absorbing our sins and impurities, diffusing into us his goodness and love, changing us bit by bit back into the image of God we were originally created with. Because of the work of Jesus for us and the ministry of the Spirit in us, we become actual, generated sons and daughters of God.
- The NT assumes that that a child will act like its Father. So to say that a human is a child of God sounds like an outrageous, scandalous claim. Yet that is exactly what is being claimed in the Gospel.
- In earlier talks, I’ve referenced an extraordinary verse, 1 John 3:9, but now I want to look at it:
1 John 3:9
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin (as a way of life), because God’s sperm (sperma) remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”
- No garden will continue to produce cucumbers if the cucumber seeds have been replaced with pumpkin seeds. It will produce pumpkins. Different seed; different fruit. See the logic? If God has place His seed, His sperm in you, namely His Holy Spirit, then the Spirit is going to produce his fruit: love, joy, peace… Gal 5:22.
- So, my friend, when the Father says of you, “You are my daughter, you are my son”, he means: “I have fathered you in a radically new way. I haven’t merely created you; I’ve recreated you by putting within you my own spiritual DNA to transform your genome from a sinner into a holy one; an unrighteous one into a righteous one; a child of disobedience into a loving, holy child of God. Now, this transformation takes a long time to complete, so be patient. But I’ve accomplished this for you already when, in the ultimate act of non-social distancing, my Son embraced you with all your sins and messiness and imparted to you his own perfect loving goodness and righteousness.”
- See, God does this for us the moment we place our believing trust in Jesus Christ. It’s not describing some a supped up version of the spiritual life, available only to the spiritual elite, the super saints, who live in monasteries and pray all day. It is the normal, everyday reality of even the most broken, defeated, discouraged Christian. You are God’s son and daughter: let your identity now increasingly determine your behavior.
- CS Lewis wrote of Jesus: “He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other people the kind of life He has.… The business of becoming a son or daughter of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless, ‘spiritual’ life, has been done for us.”
- So, the Father says to us: You are my daughter/son, just as he said it to Jesus. Because in Jesus through the Spirit, the Father has made us as much like Christ as is possible for a finite created thing to be like the infinite Creator. As the church fathers and mothers used to say: “What the Son of God is by nature, he has made us by grace.”
- The second clause, borrowing its verb from the first, asserts: you are my beloved.
2. You are my beloved
- The word in the Greek language is a-ga-pay-‘tos – “loved one, esteemed, dear, favorite, cherished one”
- A closely associated OT term is cegullah (sego-’lah): “treasured possession, inheritance, jewel, one’s share of the spoils.” Good example its use is found in Deut 7.
“For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you (bachar) out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession (cegullah). Yahweh did not set his affection on you (chashaq) and choose you (bachar) because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because Yahweh loved you (ahab) and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors.”
- That was true of the nation of Israel in the OT. In Genesis 11, God had dispossessed the other nations of the earth, allowing them to go their own way because they had rejected Him at the “Tower of Babel” incident. He said, multiply spread throughout the earth, trust me, and I’ll take care of you and make a name for you. They said: No, let’s gather together and build a stairway up to heaven so we can bring the gods down to us so we can manipulate them into doing whatever we want, so we can make a name for ourselves. This was the significance of the Ziggurat of Babylon incident recorded in Genesis 11 and explained in Deut 32:8-9. God gave them over to their desires to be in relationship with other, lesser spiritual beings, which became the gods of the nations: Marduk, Baal, Molech and the rest.
- So God chooses a sterile elderly moon worshipping couple—Abram and Sarai from Ur, southern Iraq—and makes them the basis for building his own nation, whom he could pour his affection on, bless and prosper. And through them comes Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel, with whom he makes a sacred covenant.
- Fastforward 1400 years: Jesus comes on the scene and enacts a new covenant with Israel which incorporates every person on earth who transfers his/her loyalty to Jesus as lord: all the nations of the earth are included, not just the Jewish people. So, we become the “treasured possession” of God: his “special inheritance” reserved for Himself. That’s true of all of us who are in Christ!
- So, you see friends how privileged, how unique, how special our position is? God calls us his beloved: we are loved by Jesus and loved by the Father.
- Jesus said in:
John 15:9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, abide in my love.” (IOW, rest in my love; let my love nourish your hearts).
- Two chapters later, in John 17:
John 17:23b: “that the world may know that you (Father) have loved them even as you loved me.”
- Heni Nouwen weaves together different verses of scripture to describe the Father’s love for us (Life of the Beloved, 30-31).
- The third and final clause reads:
3. With you I am utterly thrilled!
- That’s a legitimate translation of the Greek word: eu-dah-keo = “be well pleased with, take pleasure in, find delight in”; utterly thrilled, totally stoked
- It underscores the perfect freedom of God’s redeeming action. God was under no coercion to make us his children and draw us into the life of the holy Trinity. Twice we are told in Ephesians 1 that the Father rescued us: “according to his good pleasure”.
- Isa 53 informs us it was the Father’s delight to send his beloved Son to suffer and die for us. Hebrews 12 tells us it was the Son’s joy to endure the cross in order to bring us home to live with him and the Father forever.
- What these texts are telling us, friends, is that everything God has done to forgive our sins, refashion our natures, draw us into the circle of love and joy and laughter of the life of the holy Trinity: all of it was done with an exuberance and freedom and gratuity that defies explanation.
- Now, where our mind typically goes about this time is: yeah, but what about all my sin? What about the fact I keep screwing up?
- And you think, what, that this took God by surprise? You don’t think he knew about all your screw ups before claiming you as his own? You think he might say some day: whoa, didn’t see that one coming! That’s sin number 3zillion246; that’s one more over the allowable limit. Sorry Charlie, you are outta here!
- This is where we have to go back to God’s word. Our feelings are fickle; they change from minute to minute, but God’s word endures forever. And what does His word say: Romans 5:6-8:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- He loved you when you were lost and stuck in sin and couldn’t care less about Him. He sent his Son to die for you then. He is not going to go back on his decision because you do stuff that is contrary to your new self. As one bible scholar put it: what you could not gain by moral perfection you cannot lose by moral imperfection.
- We sin. We are getting used to these new, genetically re-engineered selves that God has made in the image of his perfect Son. But there are set backs along the way. Our setbacks don’t define us. What defines us are the facts that we are loved and that the Father delights in us. As a wise monk once commented: “I am a sinner yes, but before I was a sinner I was loved.”
- You see? He got it. God says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love”. He loved you before you were ever created and sinned. He loved you when you were lost in your darkness and sin and didn’t love him. He loves you now as you struggle to overcome the temptation to sin. And he will go on loving you down the long corridors of an endless eternity
- You might be thinking: But doesn’t God get irritated and angry with me when I blow it? Just like parents sometimes get irritated with kids who act out on their insecurities and fears and selfishness. But I think we can safely assume that God has at least as much patience and emotional maturity as the most qualified parent. I don’t think a temporary irritation overrules the deep delight we bring him as His children.
- I like what AW Tozer says on this point: Whatever Happened to Worship, 29
- That’s my take away, friends: Just stay close to Jesus. Spend time with him this week, not out of some sense of religious obligation, but out of a genuine spirit of expectation. I get to be with the One who loves me most. Get alone with the Father to listen, pray, read, reflect, then talk to others who share your desire to get closer to God.
- Don’t let discouragement keep you from him. Don’t quit, don’t accept substitutes, but persevere and press on.
- I’ll conclude a very short account about an old man was dying. The new pastor came to visit him…. Lion and Lamb, 129-30.
- Here’s our homework: This week, I want you to repeat to yourself continually these truths:
I am God’s child.
I am God’s beloved.
I bring him great delight.
- Let’s say it together.
- Let me pray.
Sending out with God’s peace to serve
Quick reminders – Tom
- Community group meets Thursday night at 7pm for anyone who would like to come
- If you want to be added to our mailing list, you can do that on our website
- You can also give online or by sending in a check
- Next week, bring bible, bread and grape juice/wine for communion
- Now may the Lord himself, the lover of our souls, empower you today and each day this week to be who you are.
- By his rich grace and deep mercy he has made you his Beloved.
- May you now become the beloved in all you think and say and do.
- In your thoughts, may meditate continually on the privileged place God has given you in the kingdom of God.
- In your words, may you bless others with wisdom, grace, comfort and peace.
- And in you actions, may you serve others in love with the strength of the Holy Spirit.
- In all things, may you delight in the Father and the Son and the Spirit, giving praise to the triune God who loves us with such lavish affection.
- In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.