Monday, September 28, 2009

The Truth of God in Christ (John 1.14, Exodus 34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 27, 2009
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Today we are looking at John 1:14 for the third week in a row. In that verse, Jesus is described as showing us God’s glory and as being full of grace and truth. In the past two weeks we’ve talked about God’s glory and about grace. Today we are going to talk about truth.

Let me remind you, briefly, what glory and grace are, then I’ll offer a preliminary definition of truth. Glory refers to the presence of God, or sometimes described in the Bible as the “face of God.” In its purest form, God’s glory is not something we can comprehend or see. But God has shown Himself to us in Jesus. In Jesus, God put on human flesh and lived among us – “moved into the neighborhood.” And so, though we were spiritually blind to God’s glory, through Jesus we can see God.

Last week we talked about grace. I offered a definition of it along with a related definition for mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve; grace is getting what you don’t deserve. I tried to offer several ordinary examples of the extraordinary gift that is grace – a sister or friend unexpectedly and even undeservedly saying, “I love you” into the midst of an argument and broken situation. I shared, too, how transformative such grace is – and if so on the human level, how much more so when we truly experience God’s gracious love and forgiveness.

This week I want to talk about truth. Like grace, we can experience it (or lack of it) on an everyday and human level. Someone can tell the truth or lie; there are experiences that seem true or seem fake. What is in view in this verse is larger than those mini-experiences, and reference truth with a capital ‘T’ – that is, God’s Truth. And like glory and grace, John 1 declares that Jesus came to make a home among us to reveal God’s Truth to us.

There may be better definitions of Truth, but particularly in relation to the rest of this verse and the Biblical story, let me offer this one for us to ponder today:

God is Truth: therefore, knowing the Truth involves learning about God, who we are in relation to God, and any implications of that relationship.

Said another way, grace and truth help put some definition and concept to the presence of God we would describe as “glory” – and just as John 1 says that Jesus manifests the glory of God to us, so also Jesus is full of grace and truth, means by which we experience and encounter the glory of God.

Said even more simply, the grace and truth of God we find in Jesus will point us back to God and His glory.

That’s all pretty theological and deep. Let me get a little more specific about truth and maybe those definitions will start to make more sense.

The God that Was and Is

It is a commonly held view that the God described in the Old Testament is mean, nasty, judgmental and harsh. And the God described in the New Testament is forgiving, kind, gracious, and easy. Both are false and distorted views of God and are not the Truth.

I chose to include the Exodus passage this morning because John 1:17 references it and because it so closely follows the John passage in describing God. Remember what we’ve been talking about from John? We cannot comprehend God’s glory except that God drew near in Christ, showing us both His grace and truth?

That giving of the Law through Moses (John 1:17) is described in Exodus 34. In that event, the glory and presence of God also drew near – not in human form, but in a cloud of God’s Spirit. Listen again to the description of God, right before he gives the Law to Moses.

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7)

Sounds like a God of mercy and grace to me! But it also goes on…

“…yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 34:7)

And it sounds like a God of Truth, dealing righteously with the reality of human sin and disobedience! And Moses goes on to pray:

“…let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as your own possession.” (Exodus 34:9)

And that’s not the end! Here, in the earliest parts of the Old Testament, is the great promise of God. In verse 10:

Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant…”

That covenant is the great promise that led not only to Jesus as Messiah and Savior, but to God’s salvation being a testimony to God’s glory on the earth.

The story of Exodus is the same story as John and is the same Truth that is known through trusting Jesus Christ: God is merciful and gracious; humanity is sinful and broken; God alone is able to save and has made a way through Jesus.

The Truth about God and Us

Let me try to put all that in more everyday language. The Truth about God and us is that we are a broken mess and we can’t fix it. That plays itself out in all kind of ways, many of which you are well acquainted with. We see that truth in the world all around us and in the darker corners of our own lives. But most significantly – MOST significantly – that is a description of our relationship with the God who made us.

Many people could describe that from the human side of the story: “I don’t believe in God… What’s God ever done for me?... I don’t have any use for a fairy story… God didn’t keep my friend from dying in that accident… or my mother from dying of cancer…” The list of complaints against God is long and easy to come up with. And that list describes the broken mess, our helplessness, and even the disconnect with God.

But Truth is more than seeing the mess. The Bible claims to be God’s side of the story: that God has done something about the brokenness of humanity. Interestingly and perhaps tragically, we are resistant to that Truth. So we deny God’s existence; we deny that anything is broken; even if we admit it is, we hold out that we ultimately can find a solution – in doing so, we can make ourselves out to be gods.

Bottom line is the passage from which we take our pattern of confessing sin and hearing the assurance of God’s grace. It comes from 1 John 1:8-10…

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [Even beyond that…] If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and his word is not in us.

So here’s the Truth – God’s own Truth: you and I and every single human being out there is broken and messed up and far from God, and incapable of repairing that breach.

And here’s the Good News, declared (among other places) in John 1: God has come all the way down to where we are, come to live and dwell among us, to make a way where there was no way. God has shown us mercy – not given us what we deserve for our disobedience and sin; and God has lavished grace – given us what we did not deserve, the free gift of forgiveness, restoration, and life.

What Do You Do With Truth?

So there’s the story. It’s at this point that the real challenge of preaching comes in. Up to this point I have played the role of teacher, simply pointing to what Scripture teaches and trying to unpack and clarify words, meaning, and message.

But now we have need to wrestle with the big question: what do I do with that?

More specifically, what are YOU going to do with that?

We’ve talked about seeing God – having our spiritual eyes opened to God through trusting this Jesus. We’ve talked about the power of God’s grace to really transform and impact your life, whether highs or lows. And today we have talked about Truth – who God is, who we are, and what the reality of our relationship with God is.

The first question is, “Have you believed and trusted this message about Jesus – do you trust Jesus?” And that opens up the consequent questions:
  • Have your eyes been opened spiritually to see and know God?
  • Have you experienced God’s mercy and grace?
  • Do you know the Truth about yourself and God?

And those are not questions that you answer once and move on. I continually have my eyes opened to what God is doing in and around me. And I periodically shut my eyes and tune God out. As I described last Sunday, one thing that really turned me around from a real low point was a fresh (and unexpected) experience of God’s grace. And part of what keeps us focused is a continual feeding of our mind and spirit with God’s Word, which is Truth.

Let me briefly mention where we are going in the coming weeks, then I’ll return with a challenge for you this week.

I called these personal questions “the first question.” But as we become outward focused followers of Jesus – or “searchlight Christians” – we start wrestling with the question of how to witness to God’s glory. How do we present God’s grace and God’s Truth in ways that are faithful, effective, and consistent? How do we avoid the errors of cheap grace or legalistic truth and present a whole and complete Gospel – that is, GOOD NEWS – to people who need some good news?

It may not make sense that we talked about grace before we talked about truth. How can you understand the gift of grace if you don’t yet know your need for it? I talked about grace first because it came first in the verse, but also because we often experience grace before accepting of understanding truth (or grace!).

In the coming weeks, we will look to Jesus to help answer these questions. We will see how Jesus approached and interacted with those who were really broken and messed up; and we will see how he presented grace and truth in order to show people the face of God. And we will wrestle with our own words and actions and how we point (or don’t point) people to God.

Now, I said I would return to a challenge. And it’s not unrelated. One of the biggest challenges to presenting grace and truth is our own “stuff” that gets in the way. It’s the whole “blind leading the blind” cliché. So, we start here; it starts with me.

I challenge you this week, out of John 1:14, to deal with the topics of glory, grace, and truth. And let me frame three questions which I hope will point you towards God’s glory, grace, and truth.
  • Where do you long to see or hear from God in your life right now?
  • Where do you need God’s mercy and forgiveness and what would it mean to you to find it?
  • Where do you need to be honest with yourself about your own “junk” and how it affects your relationship with God and others?

May the Spirit give us ears to hear and courage to act. Amen.

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