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Truth Project #8 - Mystical Union: Am I Alone?

May 13/12 Jn.14:15-26

“SAVED” – MORE THAN JUST A FIRE ESCAPE?

What does it mean to be ‘saved’? That seems to be a key term in Christianity, a principal goal in evangelism is to get people ‘saved’ - but what’s it mean, really? Is it just some sort of jargon to indicate you’re across the goal line? Yes Jesus’ name is a short form for “Yahweh saves” - but saves from what?
    Many people might suppose that it primarily refers to being saved from hell, a sort of ticket to the ‘fire escape’. The verses following the famous John 3:16 do say, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Here it does seem being saved from hell - damnation - being ‘condemned’ is in view. Romans 5:9, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” And Jude 23, “snatch others from the fire and save them...” So far we’re “3 for 3": emphasis does seem to be about being saved from hell / condemnation / fiery wrath.
    But could there not be more to it? Something more positive, a being saved FOR something not just FROM something? Let’s go back to the place where the angel gives Jesus’ name to Joseph, Mt 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” A subtle distinction, but maybe we’re getting at something; saved “from their sins” not “from the PENALTY for their sins.” Could Jesus have the possibility of saving us from the POWER of sin itself, in this life?
    John 14:27 has a saying of Jesus following His first prediction in that gospel of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.I do not give to you as the world gives.Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The word “peace” in Hebrew would be shalom: the NIV Study Bible comments, “This term speaks, in effect, of the salvation that Christ’s redemptive work will achieve for His disciples - total well-being and inner rest of spirit, in fellowship with God.” Is that Jesus’ goal for us, what He’s aiming to save people FOR: total well-being, wholeness, healing, fellowship with God? Inner rest of spirit, being “right” and “at peace” with others instead of “at odds” with them?
    It seems faith in Christ and His accomplishment makes it possible for us to be saved FOR fellowship and communion with God. In V23 just before, Jesus says regarding the person who loves and obeys Him, “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
    So, salvation isn’t just about a fire escape - a set of ideas that somehow just saves us FROM something that happens OUT THERE, being exempted from the deserved effects for our misdeeds feeling the brunt of God’s holy wrath: salvation is positive, FOR a changed state that is highly desirable, a personal transformation that frees us from the power of sin itself and changes us from the ‘inside out’ to be a person with whom God can come and ‘make Himself at home’. As the Truth Project materials explain it, “oneness with God represents the heart of the Christian Gospel; in other words...Christianity is not primarily a moral, philosophical, or religious system, but rather a deep, intimate, and living relationship with a personal Creator.”
    Christianity isn’t something that can be dispassionately ‘picked off the shelf’ of religious philosophies by giving mental assent - “sounds plausible, I’ll buy that.” It’s not just a respectable-sounding code of ethics. Becoming a Christian involves substantial change, transformation, being ‘born over again’ - you as a person, your substance is forever altered as you come into direct contact with the living God.

THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST IN THE BELIEVER

Last week we started looking at how a Christian worldview sees social structures such as the family and church. Today we look at the dynamic of the spiritual relationship between God and people. We find it’s mysterious, mystical, there’s a sense of wonder in the way the Bible describes this topic.
    Despite all we know about the world through science and the way we’ve learned to control so much through technology, is there still a corner of your life where you tolerate or maybe even cultivate a sense of WONDER? Are there any MYSTERIES left in life for you? My father-in-law spent his career as a police officer, at one time working on the criminal investigation department of Scotland Yard. He was involved in some fine detective work solving mysteries, including murders. Now that he’s retired, and as he upgrades his video library from videotapes to DVDs, Yvonne and I are ‘inheriting’ some of his collection. Can you guess what genre we might be watching? Have I already given you enough of a ‘clue’? Yes, mysteries - detective shows like Agatha Christie, New Tricks, Foyle’s War, and others. Frankly, I’d never make it as a detective trying to solve a mystery, at least not judging by these shows; you think you know who’s the most likely suspect, the suspicious character with an obvious motive, and lo and behold - the (trusty) butler did it! Regarding these sorts of mysteries, I’m at a loss, overwhelmed. But that’s a mystery for you.
    The New Testament describes the phenomenon of a believer’s relationship with Christ as a ‘mystery’ (so don’t expect me to do a thorough job of unpacking it all in 20 minutes!). Last week we looked at Ephesians 5, which described the husband-wife relationship as parallel to that of Christ and the church; Paul described intimate oneness but concluded with something puzzling [SLIDE 5], “the two shall become one flesh.This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Is he hinting at a deep unity and oneness between Jesus and His followers?
    Other places also refer to this ‘mystery’: [SLIDE 20]  Romans 16(25f), “the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known...” [SLIDE 21] Ephesians 1:9f, “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment— to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” There’s a unifying to take place as part of God’s cosmic plan, but we haven’t seen its fulfilment yet, so it’s a mystery.
    What’s the essence of this mystery, as experienced on a personal level? [SLIDE 8] Col 1:27, “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Now, there’s an amazing thought – “Christ in you”! How could my imperfect, scruffy, lowly life possibly host the Son of God?! (Yes I know He was ‘born in a barn’ but I can’t guarantee I have a ‘stable’ personality!) Yet Paul writes in Galatians 2(20), “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Paul also describes this indwelling the other way around, 2Cor 5:17 [SLIDE 10], “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!” A dramatic change in this process - in Christ, I’m a totally new person.
    How can this happen? What’s involved on our part? Let’s look more closely at our Scripture lesson in John 14(15-26). V15, Jesus says if we love Him, we’ll obey His command; there’s a parallel in v23, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching.” Literally, keep My word; v24, ‘teaching’ and ‘words’ translate basically the same term in the Greek (logos). Anyway, back to v15, if someone loves Jesus and keeps His commands (or words), v16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – (17) the Spirit of truth...[end of 17] He lives with you and will be in you.” Note the prepositions - WITH and IN you. Significant detail! V18, “I will come to you.” 19, “You will see Me.Because I live, you also will live.” Just park on that a minute: because JESUS lives, WE ALSO will live. That’s a real ORGANIC situation, connected. I’m not talking ‘organic gardening’ here, but organic as the dictionary defines it - “structural, inherent, constitutional, fundamental.” Part and parcel of the same body, as your organs, your stomach and intestines make up your digestive system. “Because I live, you also will live.” V20, “you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.” Whoa! Everybody’s all over the place! How can that be unless there’s some profound unity / oneness with Jesus in us and us in God?
    Again, Jesus takes a run at it in v21; there’s a subtle change in focus here from you (plural) to he (singular) - Jesus is clarifying that it’s not just a group thing, but applies to each individual believer. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Conscious experience of Jesus’ presence.
    Then a third time (value of repetition!), v23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” COOL! God the Trinity ‘making His home’ with me? How crazy is that!
    Word specialist Robinson comments back in v17 that “He lives with you” uses a Greek term (par not met) that implies not just ‘with’ but “by your side”, “at home with you.” So all through this passage, it’s clear that God Himself wants to come and camp out in your personal space, hang out with your soul. [SLIDE 7] Real Intimacy, Union, Oneness.
    1Jn 3:1 exclaims, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” This is that miracle of having to be ‘born again’ that Jesus was telling Nicodemus about (Jn 3:3ff). Spiritual regeneration, becoming God’s very own sons and daughters by His Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians (4:6), “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."” It was unthinkable to pious Jews of that time that one could DARE call the Almighty Lord of Hosts “Dad”! Then again, those who heard Jesus speak were disarmed by the shocking intimacy He displayed in calling God His Heavenly Father, and teaching His disciples to do the same in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9).
    The mystery of Christ indwelling the believer...He comes to satisfy our inner person in ways nothing in the world can duplicate. [SLIDE 51] As Augustine said, “God has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Him.”

THE APPEAL OF THE MASHED-POTATO CHURCH

Now here’s something curious: as God’s spiritual transformation takes place in an individual’s life, that also brings him or her into connection with, not only Christ, but also other believers. Consider an example from mathematics: what’s infinity divided by 3? Answer: infinity. What’s infinity divided by, say, 3 dozen? Still infinity. In short, as many people as God comes to ‘be at home with’, they still get ALL of God!
    John 15 contains the famous passage about the vine and the branches. [SLIDE 9] V5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.If a man remains in me and I IN HIM, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” There are many branches depending on the one vine for their connection and supply. There are other ways the New Testament describes this corporate aspect (besides the Holy spirit indwelling individuals). [SLIDE 18] 1Cor 10.17, “We, who are many, are one body...” [SLIDE 16] 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” In 1Cor 3:16 Paul tells the church “you yourselves (plural) are God’s temple”, while 6:19 also applies this on an individual basis - our own personal body is also a temple of God’s Spirit, hence we ‘flee from sexual immorality’ (18). [SLIDE 27] Eph 2:19ff describes the church as “a holy temple in the Lord.And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
    Now, this isn’t just a nice theological concept; this has startling social implications. Most shocking in Peter’s and Paul’s time was the association this encouraged between Jews and Gentiles (think “apartheid” and “segregation” and you won’t be far off for what conditions were like beforehand). [SLIDE 23] “...the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Paul really spells it out in his letter to the Galatians: [SLIDE 24] “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Consider those categories - can you feel the earth tremble? [SLIDE 25] “Jew nor Greek” - no racial barriers; “Slave nor free” - no economic barriers, looking down at the ‘have-nots’ or despising the rich; “male nor female” - no gender barriers, one’s not better or worse than the other, there’s no superiority just because you’re a man. God loves His daughters just as much as His sons!
    God means for this startling oneness to be a sign to those outside the church how REAL Jesus is. The Lord prayed in Jn 17(20ff), “...that they may be one as we are one: I in them and You in Me.May they be brought to complete UNITY to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”
    Unity in the church - amongst various churches: it suggests to others in society that maybe there really IS something to this Jesus thing. But, it doesn’t always come easily. Paul urged, [SLIDE 31] “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism...” (Eph 4:3ff) Sometimes it really IS an effort to show oneness to another church-goer! We are naturally different personalities, coming from different backgrounds, with different giftings and understandings of God’s immediate goals. But make the effort to hear, listen to, and really understand that other believer.
    Oneness is tied to a major New Testament principle, namely “ONE ANOTHERING”. [SLIDE 34] Jesus commanded in John 13(34f), “A new command I give you: Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love, like oneness, is another sign to outsiders that Jesus is the ‘real deal’ and we’re actually following Him. The NT lists several examples of ‘one anothering’: [SLIDE 32] love one another, bear one another’s burdens, pray for one another, forebear one another, be kind to one another, admonish one another, build one another up, give preference to one another, live in harmony with one another; [SLIDE 33] encourage one another, submit to one another, serve one another, accept one another, be devoted to one another, teach one another, comfort one another, forgive one another, be of the same mind with one another, and regard one another as more important. Stop there and think a moment: what opportunities have you found for any of those in the past week? The past month? Do you need to go farther back?!
    I read a book once by a pastor from South America about “mashed-potato love”. He was making the point that when you mash the potatoes together, it’s impossible to tell one from the other any longer, the distinctives and separations are lost. That’s how it should be when church members truly ‘love one another’. Your concern for the other person becomes more important than protecting or promoting yourself.

DON’T TRIP ON YOUR TASSEL

Too often those in the church get off track when pride and selfishness take over, and we become “religious” for appearance’s sake. [SLIDE 37] God told the Israelites to make tassels at the edges of their garments “so yo will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not PROSTITUTE yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.” (Num 15:38f) That’s strong language - a prostitute sells him or herself for sex, but so doing cheapens themselves in the transaction, besides sinning against God and breaking any marriage covenant they may have. God’s saying our lusts and desires can cause us to forget His teaching and disobey, thus ‘selling out’ our soul.
    By Jesus’ time, the religious leaders had started taking this tassel-command too literally, making them and their verse-boxes or ‘phylacteries’ on their arms and foreheads super-sized to show off how pious they were! [SLIDE 39] Jesus notes, “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” It was all for show, trying to impress others: “Look how holy I am!” They even twisted the tassel-command so it no longer turned attention to the Torah but towards them. Yet in this regard too, Jesus teaches about God’s intimacy, it’s essential to know and love HIM and seek significance from HIM rather than worldly ways. We’re not to perform our ‘acts of righteousness’ in a way that seeks public attention, whether in our giving to the needy, our praying, or fasting. [SLIDE 46] “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Mt 6:5f) The God of intimate communion hears and sees and rewards: seek significance from Him, not from selfish gimmicks.
    Paul said he was “crucified with Christ”: that’s how it was possible for Jesus to live in him. Selfishness destroys unity amongst God’s people. Jesus calls us to crucify our selfish inclinations and love others instead. To be completely ‘selfless’ may be hard to do, but consider a ‘self-lease’: when you lease a car or a building, the owner basically ‘hands the keys over’ for the duration of the lease. So yield control and ownership of your life to Jesus so He can truly ‘move in’ and make His home with you.
    Loving others means getting involved with them, being willing to allow their problems and needs to intrude on your comfort zone. You can’t be selfish and loving at the same time! Selfishness makes us want to ‘COCOON’, while Jesus’ love seeking to express itself through us nudges toward COMMUNity. Inviting people over spontaneously for a simple meal might mean they get to see your uncleaned house, how you REALLY live! One of the keynote speakers at our denomination’s Regional Gathering this past week was Pernell Goodyear, who used to pastor a downtown storefront church in Hamilton. They found that a lot of churches were reluctant to rent space to their ‘riff-raff’; however, generally Mennonite churches were more open to that because they tended to be less uptight about ‘messiness’. Other churches were more concerned about the rent money or keeping things neat and tidy. That’s an interesting discussion our accommodation committee has had as we move forward – are other churches afraid we’ll want to change things? And what about the space OUR church wants to use to minister to people? Let’s be careful not to ‘trip on OUR tassel’! Let’s pray.