“The greatest things in life are not visible, but we feel them. What’s that look like?”
A movie trailer that gives you questions, not answers:
How can we steward this gift of life? – What should we do? – God what should we do? – What’s the most important thing? – What is my role? – I want to be where I am most needed. – Lord should I do something? – Can I do something? – Where is the thing that lasts here? – What are we doing? – Are we doing good? – Are we making it worse? – God, what do you want us to do? – Is it worth the risk? – Am I making any difference at all? – Do I have the wrong motives?
As I open at a Unstoppable Gospel I want to help people calibrate their expectations for the conference. There are so many things in life that seem important. Hearing accounts of miraculous advances in New York City, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, around the world… it can be overwhelming. My goal is to guide us to engage with all of the stories and content from a position of clarity. That clarity is available when we are able to separate what is essential from what is important. Jesus does that for us in Matthew 22.
After being asked provocative questions about politics and what happens after people die Jesus is asked to rank what commandments are most important. Whether or not it is intended to be another effort to trap Jesus in an impossibly difficult question we get a very clear answer.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
The Great Commandment is nice, but…(?)
Jesus’ answer in Matthew 22 is called the Great Commandment. Oddly some people reframe Jesus’ answer to be a setup for his more important Great Commission in Matthew 28. But Jesus does not leave room for that; he is very clear.
- God says for us to love him within a covenant relationship (Dt. 6).
- God says to love other people appropriately (Lev.19).
- Everything else God says to do is based on #1 and #2.
The Great Commission does not compete with the Great Commandment, it is a way of living out the Great Commandment.
So what does Paul do with this idea of Love being essential?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, sup my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
- Spiritually gifted – Love = 0
- Amazing faith & knowledge – Love = 0
- Missionary martyrdom – Love = 0
Paul confirms that all the important stuff is only important relative to the essential: Love. This gospel of Jesus that Paul expounds is the point of the overall biblical story.
The Unstoppable Gospel is a Love Story: Prince + Rescued Bride = Kingdom
The story begins with God creating humanity:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” – Genesis 1:27,28
What does it mean to be created in the image of God? 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. To be created in God’s image is to be created by Love to love. Love whom? Love the creator and love those made in the image of the Creator. The original purpose of humanity is to love God and love people.
The story gets dramatic with a betrayal:
Humanity is seduced by rebellious creation to turn from the Creator. The love between God and humanity is betrayed. In response to God confronting humanity Adam blames Eve and the love between humanity is betrayed. God is grieved, as is humanity, but God promises reconciliation in spite of the pain of betrayal.
As the story develops God’s reconciliation focuses on one human who will experience God’s sacrificial love in a way that will bless that man, but also all of humanity from that man. The hope of humanity being restored to our purpose of loving God and humanity is expressed this way:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3
Abraham is blessed to be a blessing. He receive love that he is able to return in kind and to share with others. The story seems hopeful but then turns dark as the descendants of Abraham end up enslaved. But God rescues his people and gathers them in the wilderness to restore their calling to be his beloved and to fulfill their original purposes:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. – Exodus 19:5,6
The King and his beloved will be a Kingdom that is pure, unmixed, holy. A Kingdom that is priestly, connecting people and God. The Love Story continues but it has many painful twists and turns along the way. The prophets describe how God’s people say they love him, but they are adulterous in their idolatry to false gods and in their greed toward others made in the image of God.
In shame the LORD’s people cry out for a kiss:
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other. – Psalm 85:6-10
The LORD continues to pursue reconciliation with words of hope, and then in the prince:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son – Hebrews 1:1,2
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He represents the LORD to humanity and he also represents humanity back to the LORD. He is faithful in wilderness temptations where Israel failed. He shows the LORD’s power to confront sin and corruption, but also tender mercies toward those humbled in their shame. He talks about being a bridegroom anticipating his bride. Jesus promises that the original vision, of humanity created in the image of the Creator who is Love living as a kingdom of priests loving God and man will be fulfilled:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:14
The end in this verse is the “telos”, the purpose or goal. This is the Love Story that started, that seemed lost beyond hope, actually achieving the hope from the beginning.
The Revelation of Jesus makes it clear that the story has always been a Love Story:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – Revelation 1:5,6
The Revelation unfolds the struggle but ends with a vision that gives hope to us today.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price – Revelation 22:16,17
We are invited to Love God and Love humanity with confidence.
That is our essential mission that gives meaning and power to all of the important forms that mission takes. The gospel is good news, that the Prince of Peace has rescued his bride and that a beautiful Kingdom is available. This gospel is unstoppable, and we get to be a part of it. Let’s eagerly listen to the stories of how this Love is advancing around the world and let’s listen for what God would say our important missional roles are in living out the essentials of Love.