DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2)

When you set out to learn something, you often look at someone who has excelled in the field for help. So if you want to play better hockey, you sign up for a hockey camp with a former NHL star as one of the coaches. If you want to be a better leader, you attend conferences with proven business leaders. If you're a writer, you read books by skilled authors who teach you how to be a better writer.

We've realized as a church that we want to be better evangelists. We would like people to be introduced to Jesus Christ and his gospel through our lives and ministries. Almost every Christian I talk to says this in one way or another. We don't always know how to begin, and we're often scared, but if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you'd have to admit that you would like other people to encounter the grace and love of Christ as well.

So this morning we're going to try to learn evangelism from one of the most effective evangelists. His name is Paul, and he's the author of the passage in front of us. He traveled thousands of miles through the Mediterranean world, evangelized, and established churches. He, more than anyone, was humanly responsible for the spread of Christianity in the early years throughout the Roman Empire. Paul was so gripped with the gospel that he once said, "I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16) So it's probably a good idea to figure out how to evangelize from Paul.

And if you're going to learn about evangelism from Paul, one of the best passages to do so is the passage before us. In the letter we have in front of us, Paul was responding to attacks from within the church. The attacks came because people didn't understand Paul. They questioned his motives. They felt that he lacked courage. They couldn't figure out why he suffered so much. So Paul opens up his life in this letter, and in the passage before us he helps us understand what makes him tick as an evangelist.

And if we look carefully at this passage we're going to see three things in this passage that made Paul a great evangelist. These four things will help us as we learn how to be good evangelists as well. And the first one may seem obvious:

1. Grasp the gospel deeply

Did you hear this week about the Netflix launch this week? Netflix is a service that lets you stream movies and TV shows over the Internet. As part of their launch they closed down John Street downtown. You want to launch a new service with a splash. But word got out that they had hired actors to blend into the crowd. The actors were given information sheets that read:

Extras are to behave as members of the public, out and about enjoying their day-to-day life, who happen upon a street event for Netflix and stop by to check it out. Extras are to look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada.

The VP of corporate communications apologized and said, "This was a mistake and was not intended to be part of our launch plan. Simply put: we blew it." Whenever we try to persuade others, and the persuasion is not rooted in the integrity of our own experience, then we run into a serious problem.

So Paul says repeatedly in this passage that his ministry as an evangelist - and ours as well - is an outcome of his experience of the gospel. This comes out most clearly in verses 18 and 19:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them.

This is where it begins, according to Paul: he first reconciles us to himself through Christ and then gives us the ministry of reconciliation. Before we can be agents of reconciliation, we need to experience the reconciliation.

And so you see this throughout the entire passage. Paul is so taken with the gospel, and he's experienced it so deeply, that it's absolutely foundational to his sharing of the gospel with others. He says he knows the fear of the Lord (verse 11). The love of Christ compels him (verse 14). The gospel has completely changed the way that he views people (verse 16). Paul has been gripped by the gospel. He hasn't just experienced it; he's been completely transformed by it. It's what he thinks about. It's what drives him. If we are going to share the gospel, it begins with being transformed by the gospel.

By the way, this is not only important for evangelism; it's central to our renewal as a church. Richard Lovelace has written one of the best books out there on how to revitalize a church. You'd think you'd begin with the normal things: a clear vision; good nursery care; friendly greeters. But the precondition for renewal, he says, is an awareness of the holiness of God; an awareness of the depth of our sin; followed by a deep grasp of the gospel:

  • Justification: You are accepted
  • Sanctification: You are free from the bondage of sin
  • The indwelling Spirit: You are not alone
  • Authority in spiritual conflict: You have authority

And all of this comes from the fact that we are in Christ. Lovelace writes, "The proclamation of the gospel in depth is the most important condition for the renewal of the church."

So this is where it all begins. It's where it began with Paul. It's where it has to begin with us. So let me ask you: have you grasped the gospel? Has it sunk deeply into your soul? Do you savor it? Do you understand the depth of your sin? Do you comprehend the holiness of God? Have you seen what Christ accomplished at the cross on your behalf? Has it affected you to the core of your being? If not, don't move on. Keep coming back to the cross. Beat the gospel into your head. Preach it to yourself. Don't skip over this step! Grasp the gospel deeply. It's absolutely central in this passage, and it's also going to be central if we are to share the gospel with others, and see our church renewed.

Grasp the gospel deeply. Secondly:

2. Communicate the gospel

If we are to be good evangelists, we will need to communicate the gospel. What I want to do is to challenge a popular misconception here. The popular misconception is this: "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." Sounds good, doesn't it? Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). We should live in such a way that our lives give evidence of the gospel's effect. So our lives to speak loudly even when we don't use words.

But look at the end of verse 19: "He has committed to us the message of reconciliation." Message there uses the Greek word for word. What Paul is saying is that the message of reconciliation comes in the forms of words. It must be accompanied by lives that evidence the power of the gospel, but there's no mistaking that it's a message, a word that must be spoken. What is this message? It's all through this passage:

...one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (verses 14-15)

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. (verse 19)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (verse 21)

Now, if I was going to try to teach someone how to tie a tie, I probably wouldn't use words. It would be best to use pictures, or to demonstrate what to do. I'd probably stand beside someone and have them follow me. But if I were to communicate to someone what Jesus Christ has accomplished in taking on our sin, then I would have to use words. At some point, to evangelize, we have to get to the cross, and the only way to explain what happened at the cross is to use words. This is the message of reconciliation, and we have to use words.

Paul helps us understand this even more in verse 20:

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Ambassadors are usually sent by a power as representatives to other powers. It meant leaving one's home, going somewhere else, and waiting for an opportunity to communicate a message. One ambassador wrote this under the Roman emperor Constantine:

Nor is it any small matter to make a request on one's own behalf to the emperor of the whole world, to put on a brave face before the eyes of such majesty, to compose one's expression, to summon up one's courage, to choose the right words, to speak without fear, to stop at the right moment and to await the reply.

Ambassadors are commissioned with a message and an authority that is not their own. Their duty is not to come up with the message, but to deliver it, summoning up one's courage, choosing the right words, speaking without fear, stopping at the right moment, and awaiting the reply. This is what it meant to Paul to be an evangelist: to act as God's representative and communicate the message of the gospel.

Now let's admit it: we're scared to death of this. But we don't have to be. There's no standard formula that we have to follow. We don't need to try to steer conversations. There is one thing you have to do: you have to be in relationship with people who aren't Christians. You can't be an ambassador to these people if you don't know them. I'm convinced that if we become friends with those who don't know Christ, and if we grasp the gospel, that God will give us opportunities to talk about what Christ has done. So don't let this scare you.

By the way, we are hoping to provide some training in this area in the coming year.

Grasp the gospel; be ready to communicate the gospel. Third:

3. Be prepared to suffer for the gospel

There's one interesting fact about ambassadors I didn't mention. Back then, as now, there was something like what you'd call diplomatic immunity. They had what was called the "law of nations regarding envoys." There were times when ambassadors and envoys were mistreated, but they were rare, and often met with retribution.

But you see that Paul didn't think of himself as an ambassador with immunity. Take a look at the next chapter and you see that Paul commends himself in "troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger" (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). In Ephesians Paul calls himself "an ambassador in chains" (Ephesians 6:20). Evangelism cost Paul. There's no such thing as evangelizing without risk.

One of our problems is that we see suffering as an indication that something is wrong. But actually, it's the opposite. Paul saw his troubles as part of what it meant to follow Christ. He experienced troubles, hardships, and distresses precisely because he was doing what he should have been doing. Ajith Fernando, who ministers in Sri Lanka, says this:

The New Testament is clear that those who work for Christ will suffer because of their work...I have a great fear for the church. The West is fast becoming an unreached region. The Bible and history show that suffering is an essential ingredient in reaching unreached people. Will the loss of a theology of suffering lead the Western church to become ineffective in evangelism? The church in the East is growing, and because of that God's servants are suffering...Christians in both the East and the West need to have a firm theology of suffering if they are to be healthy and bear fruit.

Suffering for us may amount to nothing more than rejection, but this isn't a sign that we're doing something wrong. Evangelism and suffering go together. To evangelize, we must grasp the gospel. We must learn to communicate it. We must also be willing to suffer for it.

One more:

4. Believe that God is at work

If you are discouraged after hearing all of this, I want to close by encouraging you. If you think that this is above your abilities, or if you're overwhelmed by the challenge, then this is going to be the best thing that I've said all morning. Let me read verse 20 from the ESV: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." Do you see that? When we evangelize, it is not merely us speaking. God is making his appeal through us. God is at work when we evangelize. We are acting on his behalf and he is at work.

This is why Paul could begin the next chapter, "As God's co-workers..." Did you ever get assigned a group project in school? There was always the person who slacked off, and there was always the one person who had to carry most of the load of the entire group. Paul is saying here that evangelism is a group project, and believe me: God is no slacker when it comes to his part of the project. As you grasp the gospel and communicate it, and even suffer for it, know that God is at work. God is making his appeal through you, and this makes all the difference.

Evangelism is not primarily a matter of techniques and methods. To evangelize, grasp the gospel; communicate it; suffer for it; and believe that God is at work.

Let's pray.

Where do you need to pay attention? Do you grasp the gospel? Are you ready to communicate it? Do you shy away from suffering? Do you believe God is at work when you evangelize?

Father, we've learned this morning from a great evangelist. But you didn't just call him to evangelize. You've reconciled us to you, and you've also given us the ministry of reconciliation.

Use us. Please help us overcome our reluctance. May we grasp your gospel. May we work on becoming effective communicators of that gospel. May we come to learn that you've called us to suffer. And would you be pleased to let us see you at work with us. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Message of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

I know that many of you have been following the municipal election. So I was interested to open the latest issue of Toronto Life magazine, and to read a cover story on the leading candidate. This candidate has been getting under the skin of some of the other candidates, so much so that, as the editor's letter says, they lose "the ability to speak in coherent sentences." In a recent debate one of the candidates said, "You divide people up, and you make people belittled." "I sort of understood his point," the editor writes, "but just barely."

I'm not one to criticize others for mangling words. Earlier this year I had finished preaching. I try to be clear and careful with my words and communicate as effectively as I can. I don't always succeed. After the morning service, I was going out for lunch with someone. I gave them directions as clearly as I could using all of my communication skills. What came out was this: "Turn red at the right light." We got to the lights, and I'm glad that they could figure out that they should turn right at the red light rather than turn red at the right light. Sometimes we all have a hard time communicating.

We may have trouble getting our point across sometimes. The best of us get tongue-tied. It's one thing if we stumble when we're in a political debate or when we're giving directions. But it's very important that we are clear when we're communicating a message that's important, a message that's a matter of life and death.

In 2 Corinthians 5:19, Paul says that God "has committed to us the message of reconciliation." You know what it's like when someone calls and leaves a message. You pick up the phone and you're half paying attention. The time comes to relay the message on to the person who's supposed to receive it, and by then you can barely remember who called. Paul says that God himself has entrusted a message to us, the message of reconciliation. God has given us a message of unparalleled importance. And in order for us to be agents of reconciliation, we need to understand the message of reconciliation.

So this morning I want to simply ask: What is this message of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us? In order to communicate this message clearly, we have to understand the message coherently. From the passage in front of us we're going to understand three things about this message: the heart of the message, the effect of the message, and the how of the message.

First: the heart of the message is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

If we are going to be agents of reconciliation, we need to understand the message of reconciliation. And if we are going to understand the message of reconciliation, we need to get to the heart of the message of reconciliation, which Paul gives to us in verses 14-15:

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

The heart of the message of reconciliation, Paul says, is very simple. It's the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The heart of the message is an historical event that took place almost two thousand years ago. It's about Jesus Christ, who died on a cross and who rose again. This is at the very heart of the message of reconciliation that's been entrusted to us.

Don Miller is a writer from Portland. He was teaching a class in Canada. His students were all freshman college students who had grown up in the church. The class was called "The Gospel and Culture." He started the class with an experiment. He told the class that he was going to share the gospel of Jesus, but was going to leave something out. He wanted them to figure out what was missing from what he was going to say.

So he told them about sin, about how we are all fallen creatures. He told some stories and used some illustrations. He talked about repentance, and again told some stories. He talked about God's forgiveness, and then he talked about heaven. He went on like this. Listen to what happened:

When I finally stopped and asked the class to tell me what I'd left out, after twenty or more minutes of discussion, not one student realized that I'd left out Jesus. Not one. And I believe I could repeat that same experiment in Christian classrooms across North America.

The same thing is possible today. We can share our testimonies, which is good. We can talk about sin and forgiveness and heaven and hell. But until we talk about Jesus we haven't talked about the gospel. The heart of the gospel, the heart of the message of reconciliation, is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That's why Paul begins here. Paul says in verse 16 that he used to have a very different idea of who Jesus was. Paul used to oppose Jesus Christ, to see him as just another teacher, and a misguided one at that. What changed? Paul encountered the risen Jesus Christ. When he understood the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it completely changed the way that he saw Jesus, and the way that he viewed everything else.

This is a little like the highways that are in every major city. They bypass the city so that you miss the traffic in the downtown core. You ask somebody if they've been to Toronto, and they say, "Yes, I drove the 407 through Toronto one time." You'd say, "Well then you haven't really been to Toronto. You drove past Toronto. You got close to Toronto. But you didn't really see Toronto."

There's a lot of talk these days about different ways to share the gospel. We give testimonies. We talk about "living the gospel." We quote St. Francis of Assisi, who supposedly said, "Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words." But hear this: until we have told people about Jesus, especially about his death and resurrection, we have not told them the gospel. You've driven past the gospel; you've gotten close but you haven't got downtown. Deeds and testimonies are fine, but they can never replace what's at the heart of the biblical message of reconciliation: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we are going to communicate the message of reconciliation, we can't take them on the 407. We've got to get them downtown to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the very heart of the message of reconciliation that's been entrusted to us.

The heart of the message of reconciliation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Second: the effects of the message of reconciliation are that we're made new and made right.

Now I have to explain this a little. There are two problems with us. One is internal: we're broken. One is relational: we've offended God. Paul says that the gospel, the message of reconciliation, addresses both of these problems.

Our first problem is that we're broken. No matter how good we are, we are realize that there's something wrong with us inside. We don't think and act the way we want to. How does the gospel deal with this?

Paul says that one of the effects of the gospel is that we are made new. Paul explains one of the effects of the message of reconciliation. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" Paul is saying that when we are united with Christ, we are made new. What's broken isn't just repaired; it's made new.

Caterpillars are ugly, slimy and slow. You don't worry very much when you step on one. But caterpillars convert to butterflies, and everything changes. Tony Evans explains:

After the cocooning process is over, and the shell flips open, all of a sudden the thing that used to be grounded can now fly. The thing that used to be a parasite now pollinates. Something beautiful has come out of something that was ugly...

Now, a butterfly is not a fixed up caterpillar. A butterfly is a totally new creature that was birthed out of a caterpillar. But it's not a caterpillar. It is a brand spanking new being.

That's exactly what happens with us. When we come to Christ we are made new. God sets to work at restoring our souls and setting everything right again. This is what theologians call regeneration. It's an act of God by which he imparts new spiritual life to us. The prophet Ezekiel put it this way: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). When we come to Christ, every part of us is somehow affected, and we're changed from the inside out. This deals with the problem in us. There's something wrong with us. The gospel changes us from the inside-out and makes us new.

But there's something else wrong with is. We were broken, and the gospel makes us new. But there's still another problem: we've offended God. D.A. Carson puts it this way:

At the most profound level, whenever we sin, God is the most offended party. If, like David, we commit adultery, God is the most offended party. If we cheat on our income taxes, God is the most offended party. If we puff ourselves up in pride, indulge in slander, demean a colleague, or nurture bitterness, God is the most offended party. If we watch porn on the internet, God is the most offended party...Whatever forgiveness we try to secure, we must have God's forgiveness, or we have nothing.

So we have a big problem. The Bible teaches that we've offended God. Because of our sin, we are enemies with God. How does the gospel help? Verses 18 to 20 say:

All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore God's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God.

God has taken the initiative. Through Jesus Christ, God has reconciled us to himself. The most offended party has taken action to remove the offenses that stand between us and him so that he doesn't count any of those offenses against us anymore. God has removed the obstacles to peace with him.

Paul says in verse 19 that God no longer counts people's sins against them. He uses an accounting word. When you charge something to your credit card, it is debited to your account. Eventually, at the end of the month, a bill comes with a summary of all of your charges, and you're expected to pay. Paul says that God has taken action so that the charges we have incurred are not billed to our account. Our account has been made right with God.

In order for us to be agents of reconciliation, we need to understand the message of reconciliation that's been entrusted to us. The heart of this message is the cross. And the effects of this message are that we are made new and we are made right. Are you following so far?

We've looked at the heart of the message. We've looked at the effects of the message. There's only one thing left to look at in this passage.

The how of the message is the exchange that took place at the cross.

You may be here this morning thinking, "Okay, this sounds interesting. I get that the heart of this message is the cross. I get that the effects are, according to Paul, that we're made new and that we're made right. But I don't get what happened at the cross. This isn't adding up to me."

Paul tells us how the gospel works. Verse 21 is one of the most profound verses in all of Scripture to help us understand what took place at the cross. It says: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Here's what this means. Jesus Christ is the only person who ever lived who was sinless. But at the cross, Christ became so identified with our sins - all the guilt and all of its consequences - that in essence, the sinless one became sin for us. One person puts it this way:

In a sense beyond human comprehension, God treated Christ as "sin," aligning him so totally with sin and its dire consequences that from God's viewpoint he became indistinguishable from sin itself. (Murray Harris)

God assigned responsibility for our sins to Christ, which makes it impossible for us to be punished for our sins. God reckons our sins to Christ's account.

And in return, God transferred Christ's perfect record to our account. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." God now reckons Christ's perfect obedience to our accounts, so that we are counted as having kept the law perfectly. God does not count sins against those who have put their faith in trust.

It's no wonder that Paul could say, "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).

We've covered a lot of ground this morning. What have we learned? If we are to be agents of reconciliation, we need to understand the message of reconciliation that has been entrusted to us. What is this message? Well, it centers on the cross. It makes us new and it makes us right with God. How? At the cross, a great exchange took place: Christ took all of our sins, and we were given all of Christ's righteousness.

Paul says that God has entrusted this message of reconciliation to us. It's the most important message that anyone will leave with you. Two questions: Have you experienced it? And will you commit to understanding this message so that you'll be ready to pass it on?

Father, as Paul says in the next chapter, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." It may be that someone is here today who has never understood this message before. Would you now draw them to Christ so they see what he did for them at the cross. Make them new. Make them right with you. Allow them to experience the great exchange.

And Father, we worship you. The gospel never gets old. It moves us every time. So move us today by what Christ has done for us. And may we learn this message of reconciliation so well that we can become agents of reconciliation. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Compelled by Judgment and Love (2 Corinthians 5:11-15)

Lots of things make sense and don't really require much explanation. If I asked you what your plans were today, and you said that later on you would be going home and stretching out on your bed and having a long afternoon nap, no explanation needed. I'm with you. That's what Sunday afternoons are for. That's perfectly understandable human behavior.

But if you go back with me in some kind of time machine to 1980, and if I could wipe your memory and prevent you from watching any news, and if you and I stood by a Toronto road and saw this skinny guy with a mechanical leg jogging by, you'd have questions. You'd especially have questions if you knew that his plan was to run across Canada, and that he'd already hop-stepped from St. John's Newfoundland to here. That is not normal human behavior. You might ask him what compelled him to want to jog across Canada on one leg, and you might learn that his name was Terry Fox, and that he was trying to raise millions for cancer research. You would know that something was driving him. There has to be some motivation for such radical behavior. Once you understood his reasons, you'd begin to see his quest as one that makes perfect sense. You'd even see it as heroic. But first you'd need to understand his motives.

You see, some things make sense without explanation. But other things are so unusual that an explanation is required. And one of these things is what we're going to talk about over the next three weeks: about Christians telling people who aren't Christians about Jesus Christ. Yes, it's the e-word: evangelism. We need to be honest: this isn't normal human behavior. You and I live with and work with lots of people who don't know the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but many of them don't want to know. Many of them have pretty firmly established belief systems themselves. We live in a society that says that we should respect each other's beliefs and not impose our beliefs on each other.

So why would we even think about trying to convince other people to put their hope in Jesus Christ and to trust in the gospel? That's a very good question.

And to answer that question, I'd like to look at someone who thought through this very question and came up with two very good answers. First let me tell you about him. His name was Paul. He was someone who used to hate people who were like what he had become. He used to hunt down Christians who tried to persuade others to put their hope in Jesus Christ.

But everything had changed. Paul himself came to follow Christ. And he had devoted his life to persuading others to put their hope in Christ. This came at a cost. Listen to what Paul endured to do this:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

On top of that, Paul was opposed by fellow-Christians within the various churches he had served.

Would you agree that this is not normal human behavior? What would compel Paul to spend his life persuading people to put their hope in Christ?

Paul tells us in this passage. In the passage that we just read, Paul gives two reasons why he devoted his life to telling others about Jesus. And if we understand these reasons - if we really understand them - then it will be enough to motivate us to overcome all of our fears and all the obstacles, and to do the same ourselves.

What are these reasons? We'll tell others about Jesus when we're compelled by a picture of Jesus' evaluation and Jesus' love.

So let's look at the first of these:

We'll tell others about Jesus when we're compelled by a picture of Jesus' evaluation.

Look with me at verse 9 and read down to the first part of verse 11.

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people. (2 Corinthians 5:9-11)

Paul is saying that he has a picture, and the picture is of Jesus evaluating him. Actually, the picture is of standing before the judgment seat of Christ. This picture is so powerful that it compels him to tell other people about Jesus.

Last October I was late getting into the office. I also had to stop at the post office on my way. So I was going a little too fast up Islington Avenue and sped right into a speed trap. The officer wrote up a ticket, and when he handed it to me he told me that if I fought the ticket in court that he wouldn't be opposed to reducing the charge. Part of me wanted to ask him to skip the court part and to reduce the charge right on the spot, but I'm learning not to argue with police officers when they pull you over.

So I ended up in court a couple of weeks ago. I began thinking of the two or three other times I've fought speeding and parking tickets. Not that many, but enough. I don't want you to get the wrong idea! One time I was waiting for my turn, and the judge lost it with the person before me. This was traffic court, but they hauled him off in handcuffs and took him to jail. Then they said, "Let's see who's next. Okay, Darryl Dash." I was petrified.

So a couple of weeks ago, I sat in the courtroom. I knew the outcome of the verdict. The prosecutor and I had agreed that I would plead guilty to a lesser speed. I really didn't need to be afraid. And yet my one goal is that I would get through the experience without crashing into the seats and dividers out of sheer fear.

Now, you get that. Some of you have also appeared in court and you understand the fear of standing before a judge or a justice of the peace. Paul uses the image of an accused person standing before a Roman judge. If the person in those days was found guilty, punishment would be immediate. Paul knew what he was talking about, because he himself had stood condemned before the Roman governor in Corinth some years earlier, as described in Acts 18.

If we're fearful, Paul says, appearing before human authority in order to be judged, how much more fearful should we be knowing that we have to stand before Jesus Christ one day to give account for our lives?

Let me apply this to two groups of people who may be here today. I want to apply this first to some of you who may be here today who don't trust in Jesus Christ. We love having you here, and we understand that you have not yet come to the place of putting your trust in Jesus Christ.

But please understand that the Bible teaches that we all will have to stand before God one day and be judged. There is a healthy sense of fear that should compel you to take these issues seriously. Years ago Jonathan Edwards preached a famous sermon that said words that we need to take seriously even today:

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it...

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God.

The fact that you will stand before God's judgment one day should compel you to consider what Christ has done to make a way for you to be made right with God. He took the place of sinners and took the punishment that should be ours. Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and he may be calling to you today.

But I want to also speak to those of us who have put our faith in Christ. Paul says that we too will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. He also says that we'll receive what is due for what has been done in the body - during our lives - whether good or evil. All those who have trusted in Christ will pass Christ's judgment, because we have forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ alone. As Paul wrote elsewhere, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). But we will be judged, and it appears from a number of Scriptures that there will be degrees of reward.

This gave Paul a healthy fear of God. He said in verse 11, "Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people." We need a picture of Jesus' evaluation of our lives so that we will be compelled to not waste our lives. It will create within us a desire to tell others about his love.

This is a great reason, but it's not the only one. So Paul gives us a second reason.

We'll tell others about Jesus when we're compelled not only by a picture of Jesus' evaluation, but also with a picture of Jesus' love.

Let's look at verses 14-15:

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Here's what's interesting about Paul. He's just talked about a picture of Jesus' evaluation of his life that leads to healthy fear. You would think that fear and love go together. But here, Paul says that they belong together very well. We need a picture of Jesus' evaluation and a picture of Jesus' love. When we're gripped with Jesus' love, we'll care about his judgment. It's because he loves us that we want to hear the "'Well done, good and faithful servant!" from him. It's because we've experienced his love that his evaluation of our lives matters.

Paul says he's compelled by the love of Jesus Christ. And then he points to evidence of that love: that "one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." That's a mouthful. Let's see if we can untangle this together.

"One died for all." What does that mean? At the cross, Paul is saying, Jesus Christ did not die for his own sins, but for the sins of other people. Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" Paul came to understand that when Jesus died, he died not for himself. He died for Paul. He died for all those who have placed their faith in him.

"Therefore all died." What does that mean? The Bible teaches that when Adam sinned in Genesis 3, death came to all the world. But when Jesus died on the cross for us, he undid death. Those who trust in him die to death and sin and all that is wrong with this world. All the effects of the sin of Adam are undone for those who trust in Christ. Those who trust in him experience the end of death and the beginning of new life that will extend into eternity past death. Jesus' death undid death.

"And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." When we understand what Jesus has done for us, when we grasp how much he loves us, then our entire lives will be turned upside-down. We're back again to being so transformed by his love that his evaluation, his judgment, will matter more than anything else.

We're about to come to the visible evidence of how much Christ loved us. As someone asked, after thinking about Jesus dying for us at the cross, and being raised to give us new life: "Judge then whether this be not a reason for loving him, and for devoting ourselves unreservedly to his service? Can too much be done for him, who has done, and is doing, so much for us?" (Charles Simeon)

If you see a man with cancer and a mechanical leg jogging across Canada, you know he's compelled with a vision of defeating cancer. If you see someone telling others about Jesus, you know you've just seen someone compelled by a picture of Jesus' love and Jesus' evaluation.

Father, as we come to the table, give us a picture of the standing before the judgment seat of Christ. May that appropriately move us to change how we live here and now. But also give us a real sense of the love of Jesus Christ for us. He died in our place so that we could die to death and live again. Can too much be done for him who has done and is doing so much for us?

May this picture of Jesus compel us to tell others about his love. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Like a Weaned Child (Psalm 131)

One night a few weeks ago we attended an off-Broadway show in New York City. We came out and walked a few blocks to Times Square. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in Times Square at night, but if you haven’t, it’s like the Yonge-Dundas Square on steroids. Lights, lots of them, constantly changing and coming at you from every direction. People everywhere you look. Noise, not any one noise but just noise from traffic, people, music. We stood for a few minutes taking it all in. I loved it.

The week before we had spent a week on a lake in Wisconsin. There weren’t any lights there at night, except for the light from the moon. No noise, no people. Just stillness.

Now we’re at a critical weekend in our year in which we’re at the transition point between two very different worlds. I don’t know what your summer has been like, but I imagine you’ve had a little quiet and rest, a bit of a slower pace. This week we’re entering the Fall: kids and teachers going back to school, people returning from vacations, and so on. Life is going to go from a decent 60 kilometers an hour to 110, and you’re still going to have people passing you.

So this morning, before we go there, I want to look at an important psalm that’s meant a lot to me these past three months. If we pay attention to it, it’s going to tell us how our hearts can find something we desperately need that will lead to a soul that’s found its rest in the midst of the craziness, and even more importantly, a heart that worships God and invites others to worship him too.

A Negative Cameo

Psalm 131 was written by King David. You’ll notice that it’s called “A Song of Ascent.” Psalms 120-134 are all called Songs of Ascent. They were written to be sung by pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem for the festivals three times a year. They’re songs that prepare us to worship.

In this psalm David gives us a negative cameo of someone who can’t really worship God, before he gives us a positive one. The negative cameo is found in verse 1. David gives us some qualities of character that he does not have. Listen again to verse 1:

My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

So here’s a negative picture. David is giving us a picture of himself, and he says that there are two negative qualities that he avoids as he comes to God in worship.

The first is pride. He says, “My heart is not proud...my eyes are not haughty.” Can’t you just see the picture that David is painting in contrast to himself? Someone who not only has a proud heart, but who struts around and peers down at you from his elevated state. Here’s what it looks like to not be a person who hasn’t found rest in God and who isn’t able to worship: think lots about yourself, and very highly of yourself as well.

Let me give you the best definition of pride I’ve been able to find. “Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him” (C.J. Mahaney). What I love about this definition is that it makes sense of why pride is so antithetical to worship. Pride is all about self-glorification. Pride is about worship, but not the worship of God - it’s about the worship of self. When we are proud we are essentially robbing God of his rightful glory and seeking to glorify ourselves. We’re depriving God of something that he alone is worthy to receive. It’s like if I sang, “In my life, Darryl, be glorified, be glorified.”

The problem, of course, is that all of us are proud. It is part of our sin nature to suffer from pride. This is a serious problem. In fact, pastor and theologian John Stott says that pride is “more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.” Proverbs says that pride is number one on the list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17). Theologian Jonathan Edwards called pride “the worst viper that is in the heart” and “the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” He ranked pride as the most difficult sin to root out, and “the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts.”

This is related to the second negative quality that David mentions: a refusal to understand our limits. David says, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of an event that took place when she was 10 or 12 years old as she traveled with her father on a train from Amsterdam to Haarlem. She had stumbled upon a poem that had the words "sex sin" among its lines:

And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sex sin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but, to my surprise, he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he asked.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."

And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions; for now, I was content to leave them in my father's keeping.

What David is saying is that we need to stop trying to pick up the suitcases that are too heavy for us. Many of us are trying to lift God-sized issues in our own lives. No wonder we’re tired.

On the positive side, David is saying that he’s learned to begin seeking God’s glory rather than his own, and then to recognize his own limits - that God was able to handle things that are far beyond his limits. If you and I are going to have what David describes in this passage, we also need to root out the pride in our own hearts, seeking God’s glory instead of our own. We’ll also have to learn to stop trying to handle the issues in our lives that are God-sized issues. We’ll understand our limits and turn to God who is limitless.

A Positive Cameo

So David gives us this negative picture. He says that he’s learning not to pursue his own glory, and he’s learning that some things are beyond his pay grade. God is God and he isn’t. But then he gives us a positive picture. Verse 2 says:

But I have calmed myself

and quieted my ambitions.

I am like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child I am content.

This verse gives me hope. Up until now we could have thought that maybe David just doesn’t struggle with pride or that he naturally knows his limits. In this verse we learn that David has taken specific steps to develop more positive qualities. As one person puts it, “The soul...was by deliberate action reduced to a calm, gentle, submissive, patient, and contented state.”

In other words, David had to struggle with himself. If we don’t take deliberate action, we’ll default to pride and we’ll attempt to carry those issues that are too big for us.

David says, “I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions.” The ESV puts it this way: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” We all know what it’s like to have souls that are agitated and churning. When we’re pursuing self-glorification and trying to handle God-sized issues on our own, we’re not going to have calm souls. David has found a way to deal with an anxious heart and to calm it, even when he’s surrounded by situations that could easily overwhelm him.

Then he gives us a picture that captures what he’s talking about. “I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”

There’s a big difference between an unweaned child and a weaned child. Both may sit on mom’s lap. One is thinking about lunch. A child who’s still nursing will not naturally decide, “You know what, I’m old enough and probably should stop this nursing thing.” In a sense, that child is there for what he or she can get from mom, and will let you know about it if there are any problems.

But picture a young child who’s been weaned. She sits on her mother’s lap. She’s been through the battle and is now there not for food, but for the simple joy of being in relationship. Her soul is calm and quieted as she lies against her mother’s breast. The world may be going crazy, but she’s okay as long as she lies there. There’s a deep sense of peace, tranquility, and contentment. She can lie there contentedly without fretting or craving the breast. She’s content even in the absence of what she was considered indispensable. David offers this as a picture of what it looks like to find rest in God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus said something similar. His disciples came and asked him, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Listen to what he said:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

There it is. Jesus himself tells us the same thing. If we are going to enter the kingdom of heaven, we’ve got to become like weaned children - humble and dependent. It means that there’s no place for spiritual self-sufficiency. This is true in every area of our lives, but it's got to be true spiritually. We don't come depending on what we've done so we can have relationship with God. We come as children in complete dependence on what Christ has done to bring us into relationship with God.

Do you realize who’s talking in this psalm? David is the greatest king in Israel’s history. He’s called a man after God’s own heart. He’s written more of the Bible than any other person. Yet as far as God is concerned, he comes the same way as everyone else. You don’t ever graduate from coming as a child in God’s kingdom. You never get past coming to him with empty hands.

You never get beyond this. It’s like the famous theologian who was asked how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published on theology. He replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” You never move beyond this childlike rest in God. True worship comes from cultivating a life that’s found its rest in God.

Invitation

The psalm closes with this invitation:

Israel, put your hope in the LORD

both now and forevermore.

It’s like David is saying that out of his rest, out of his humble confidence in God, he’s able to invite others to put their hope in the Lord. When we cultivate lives that have found rest in God, we will likewise be able to invite others into this as well. Our lives will be an invitation to others to experience the same type of rest that we’re experiencing ourselves.

This psalm has been very meaningful for me these past few months during my sabbatical. I stepped out of my normal role as pastor. I was reminded again that pastors come to God just like everyone else does - like children. During my sabbatical I was reminded of my propensity to be concerned for my own glory, and to try to carry issues that belong to God. I was able to discover again the joy of cultivating a soul that’s found its rest in God.

The same invitation is provided to you as well. You have nothing to prove to God. You can come with empty hands, because everything was provided for you at Calvary. When you see what Jesus accomplished in dying in our place, taking the judgment that belonged to us, we’ll be able to find our true rest in God.