The two questions I was asked to answer today are really good ones, but I have to tell you that they aren’t as fun as some that Pastor Barry was asked to answer… questions like, ‘Do my pets get to go to heaven?’ or ‘Why aren’t there any dinosaurs in the Bible?’ But… today’s questions are important questions and I’m glad that someone asked us to answer these! So, here is my first question: ‘If Jesus forgave my sins, why do I still sin?’ My bet is that the person who asked this question feels like they are alone in still doing bad things even after they’ve made the decision to follow Jesus… and while I don’t know who asked this question, I want you, whoever you are, to know that I’m also pretty sure that you aren’t alone in wondering this… I’m pretty sure that everyone here has wondered about this very same thing from time to time... I know that I have… many times I’ve thought something like this: ‘I have followed Jesus and I know that my sins are forgiven… but why do I still do things that I know are wrong?’ This is a great question that needs an answer! So, here we go! ... If Jesus forgave my sins, why do I still sin?
Okay, the first thing we need to talk about is what the Bible means when we see the word ‘sin?’ I think everyone has some idea of what ‘sin’ is… or at least most people know there are things that we shouldn’t be doing… that can be called ‘sin.’. But the first thing we need to know is that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament the words that we now translate as ‘sin’ (kat-tah in OT Hebrew & ha-mar-ti-a in NT Greek) were words that originally meant to ‘Miss the mark’ as in missing the bullseye in archery… they were words that originally came from people shooting arrows and missing the center of the target. Now we can’t be shooting arrows in here this morning, but I have a target that we can use to try some hitting the mark. FIGURE OUT
So, to ‘sin’ means this: we know what we should be aiming at in life, but we don’t hit the bullseye in the way we live… we know what we should be doing and saying and thinking but what we do is something that misses the mark. In the Old Testament, before Jesus came, hitting a bullseye, or living a life that was right on target, meant living by the rules that God had given to his people, the Jewish people. We call those rules the 10 commandments. In fact, God gave the Jewish people the 10 commandments or what is often called, The Law, so they would know what a Bullseye life looked like. Some of the rules that made up a Bullseye life are 1) not lying, 2) not stealing, 3) not murdering, 4) and not saying untrue, evil things about other people. And since the Jewish people had this list, they knew exactly what they were supposed to do and what they were not supposed to do. But here is the rub: God also made every single person that has ever lived, from the very first people right up to today, God made it so that every single person gets to choose whether they are going to do the right thing or not do the right thing… we all get to decide if we are going to hit the bullseye in life or do what isn’t the right thing and miss the mark. God made us in a way that we can choose what we do and say and think… Now, one good thing about God making us like this is that since we all get to make those decisions that makes each one of us a special person, a one-of-a-kind person… what we say is that everyone has dignity… everyone is important because we all can decide for ourselves what kind of a person we want to be. And that is great! But what also comes with getting to decide what we want to do and say and think is this: when we miss the mark, when we live in ways that don’t hit God’s bullseye-life, we also have to take the responsibility for doing the wrong things… and God has said there are consequences for choosing to miss the mark… if we tell lies, there are consequences when we get caught; when we steal something that isn’t ours and get caught we have to take the punishment for what we chose to do. So, while we get to decide what we do and say and think, we are also responsible for the times we miss the mark…
But, and here is the most important part: When Jesus came he lived a perfect, bullseye life. He never once did or said or thought anything that wasn’t exactly what God wants people to do and say and think. And then Jesus did something else that only he could do… he chose to take the responsibility for the times you and I missed the mark. He said, ‘I will take all the blame and the punishment for the times that anyone lied or stole or said terrible, untrue things… So, when Jesus died on the cross, that was what he was doing… he was taking the responsibility for everyone’s missing the mark… everyone’s! And Jesus doing this made it possible for us to be forgiven… in fact, God now says this to us when we choose to follow Jesus, ‘I’ve forgiven you and when we see each other in your next life, I’ll have forgotten about all those times you missed the mark!’
But here is something we have to always keep in mind: just because we have chosen to follow Jesus, while we are still in this life, God doesn’t take away our responsibility to make our own choices… we still get to choose to do the right things or the things we know are wrong. God still lets us do and say and think whatever we want. Now, he does give us his Spirit to help us make better decisions, that’s a big help! But while we are still in this life, we can still choose to do the right things like Jesus always did, or the wrong things… and so, as sad as it sounds, there will always be times when we all still miss the mark.
Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, ‘But it seems like I’m always doing wrong things!’ or maybe you’re thinking, ‘My brother always chooses to do the wrong things!’ or you might be comparing yourself to others saying to yourself, ‘I wish I could be more like Pastor Barry or like my small group leader. I bet they don’t struggle with doing things and saying things and thinking things that miss the mark.’ Well, I want you to know something: there are a whole bunch of books in the Bible that were written by a man we now all St. Paul and you’d think that anyone who got to write some of the books in the Bible and then officially gets to be called Saint Paul must have lived an almost perfect bullseye life! But I want to read you what he wrote in one of his letters that is in the Bible… a letter that he wrote as a way to introduce himself to some people he’d never met who lived in Rome, but was going to visit soon, and he was trying to impress them in his letter so they would welcome him with open arms when he got to Rome… and listen to what he wrote. ‘I know that all of God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. I’m so full of myself… what I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another doing things I absolutely despise. So, if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that I need help… I know the law but still can’t keep it. I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can want to do it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it. I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up… I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope! Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus has set things right for me!’ I’m just saying if Saint Paul said this, that he missed the mark all the time, we shouldn’t be surprised that we all, even knowing God has and will forgive our sins, sometimes will still miss the mark. Yes, I know it can make us feel badly; I know that sometimes I even wonder if I really belong to Jesus. But here is what we must always remember: when we finally do meet God face to face in the next life, Jesus will be there and you can count on it that this is what he will say to you, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve taken care of everything for you!’ So, even though we all still sin from time to time, even though we all still miss the mark and don’t always live in the ways we should, we can rest in the truth that Jesus has made it possible for everything we’ve ever done or will ever do that doesn’t hit that bullseye is going to be forgiven and God will welcomed us into our new life with him.
How did Jesus save the world?
I love this question and here is why… the way most people talk about Jesus is that he came to earth to save people… just people… and that he saved us so when we die, we can get off this earth and go to a new home, usually called heaven, so we don’t have to have anything to do with this broken planet ever again. I understand why this can sound wonderful. But the reason I like this question is this: The one important word in this question ‘How did Jesus save the world?’ is ‘The World.’ And the first thing we need know is what the Bible means when it says ‘the world’ as in ‘God loved the world that he sent his only son, Jesus, to save it!’ Usually, not always, but most of the time, When we read the phrase ‘the world’ in the Bible, the author is almost always talking about everything in the entire creation! People, yes, God loves people, but God also loves the earth and the earth’s animals and plants and also the stars and the planets… so, when the Bible says God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus, it’s actually talking about God loving everything that he created! And so that is what we are really talking about when we ask, ‘How did Jesus save the world?’
And, so, the question, ‘How did Jesus save the world?’ is a really big question because it is talking about everything that God created! So, ‘How did Jesus save everything that God created?’
Well, here we go! The very first story in the Bible is the story of creation… the story of God creating ‘the world’… and in this story God says that all the things he created were ‘good’ and For something to be called ‘good’ meant it did exactly what it was created to do in the best possible way. The animals did exactly what God created them to do… the plants did exactly what God created them to do… the stars did exactly what God created them to do… and what we see at the end of the creation story is that since everything was doing exactly what God created them to do, the world God had made was also the very best possible place for people to live! God actually said the world was very good... everything was just right, just right for people to live with one another and for people to live with God! The creation story also tells us that God put people in charge of caring for the world that God had made. People were given the responsibility of making certain that everything on earth was cared for in a way that made it possible for the entire earth to do what it was created to do. And, again, what the world was created to do was to be the best place possible for us to live with one another and with God. But here is the sad part of the story of creation: The first and only part of God’s creation that chose not to do what God created them to do were people… that is what the story of Adam and Eve tells us; and when they chose not to do what God had created them to do… when they chose to disobeyed God, it not only broke their relationship with God, but it broke the entire system of the world, as well. I know this doesn’t sound fair; it sounds harsh that everything had to pay for the people choosing to disobey God, but from all that we can tell, when people chose to do what they wanted to do instead of what God had created them to do, the entire created world began breaking down.
And so, when we talk about Jesus coming to forgive our sins, offering us new life, and giving us the hope that someday we will live with God and one another in exactly the way he created us to live, we should also include the hope that someday the entire world is going to go back to the way God initially intended it to be. I know this sounds almost impossible, but it true! It’s also true that almost every picture the Bible gives us of what the coming kingdom of God will be like involves new life, not just for people but for the entire creation!
In fact, the same St Paul that I talked about earlier, wrote some amazing things about this. He said, ‘The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next... when people finally live like they are supposed to live again. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God is reining it in; all creation and all the creatures are ready to be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead!’ Paul said that creation is waiting in great anticipation for the day that God steps in and makes certain that the entire world goes back to living the way God initially intended it to live… in fact, most every description of the day when ‘the world’ goes back to living the way God intended it to live, involves the way more than just people. Here is one description: In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. And there are many other descriptions of what the world will be like someday and they are all descriptions of more than just people having new life… God’s promise is that someday he will make ‘all things new’… all things… Just think, Everything in God’s world will be given new life! And this will happen someday because Jesus saved the world! When Jesus died on a cross and then was given new life and raised from the dead, that made it possible for the entire broken world to someday, once again, live just as God intended everything to live… and that means people… you and me… But it also means the animals and the trees and the flowers and everything! Everything, the whole world, has the promise of new life! Jesus saved the world… he lived as God wanted us all to live… he hit the mark… and that has made it possible for us to be certain that someday we will all live in a world where everything has been saved and God’s will, will always be done on this earth just as it is always done in heaven.