With the way my mind and my psyche work, I very rarely have last-minute inspirations.
Yet yesterday, while eating breakfast at 5:45 in the morning, I had one. I realized how we needed to bring the service to a close.
Here’s the bottom line of the message you’ll read below: Jesus FEELS joy when we HAVE joy that we are BOUGHT people.
All week, I’d wrestled with how to bring home the impact and the beauty of being bought.
And at Sunday breakfast — by myself, at 5:45 a.m. — it suddenly became obvious. The closing song was Jesus Paid It All.
So: instead of an altar car or invitation, how about we build to that from the moment people walk in? How about, for the first time in the 24 year history of Good Shepherd, we NOT hand out name tags to people as they walk in (a benefit is that our greeters can extend a hand in greeting rather than distribute name tags).
And then, how about we invite people during the closing hymn to come forward as an act of joy and get a name tag that says simply, BOUGHT.
My friend and colleague Dennis Sult loved the idea, made the name tags happen (under pressure, on Sunday morning!) and as a result, here’s what appeared all over public places in Steele Creek, Lake Wylie, and Fort Mill yesterday:
I am getting ready to say something that will make 1/3 of you mad at me, another 1/3 simply not believe me, and then the final 1/3 will longing for more. And where you fall in those triads tells everything about you. (Some of you are thinking, “oh Lord, he’s gonna tells us he’s voting for Donald Trump!) But enough of that, cuz this talk isn’t really about you. So: you ready for the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 deal?
Here it is: God has moods. His moods swing. He’s a moodswinger as someone has called it. Yes! He does! He is! Because when you read the bible – actually look at the library for yourself rather than take my word for it only – (and even if you’ve been reading it for years) you will be struck by all the ways that God has some very human kind of emotions. Now we usually think of him as remote & almost unfeeling – one influential thinker called him the Unmoved Mover – almost like the first glimpse of the Wizard of Oz (AV). But then the bible comes along and blows a hole right through that mindset. In Gen 6:6, God regrets making the human race; in Psalm 37:13, he laughs, in Exodus 20:5 he is jealous, and in dealing with Moses in Ex 32:14, he changes his mind. So from grief to anguish to hilarity, it seems if you actually read Scripture, our God is a feeling God, an emotional Lord.
And to that list, we had this little phrase, tucked into Hebrews 12:2, about Jesus: for the joy set before him. There is evidently an emotional, deeply rooted joy that awaited Jesus on earth that he presumably dwells in now, that I believe he is feeling at this very instant. But what is Jesus’ joy? Do we have a role in it? What in the world does any of this have to do with Xmas & Thrones?
As always, the answer to that question comes as you circle back around and see Heb. 12:2 in context. As Heb 12 opens up, the author (unknown) has just finished with Hebrews ____. Right! 11! Which is a long list of oddballs and misfits who make up the people of God and whom God declares to be his. But look at 11:38 to get an idea of just how weird they were:
the world was not worthy of them
This collection of people was so strange, so odd, so out there . . . that they didn’t even belong in this world! And that’s God’s Hall Of Fame! Then look at 12:1a:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses
So that cast of characters – ppl who literally could not make it in the world – are surrounding us, cheering us on, and serving as our on-going role models. Their stories motivate us. To that Hebrews 11 list, I think of Arthur Pearce as part of my cloud of witnesses – he was a UM preacher who never made it big, never served a mega church, never spoke at conferences . . . all he did was love Jesus and love people. Not a half bad legacy. And he is in my cloud of witnesses.
Then there is 12:1b:
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
and you know what that means? That a living relationship w/ Jesus Christ is a marathon & not a sprint, full of massively small steps, and you can’t carry a bunch of unhealthy baggage with you. If you carry a bunch of unhealthy stuff around with you, you’ll never really know what a lrwJC is about. It’s like someone told me once: we all have a six pack that looks like this: AV of six pack. It’s just that for most people those same six muscles have been . . . obscured (AV). In the same way, we all have a best self & some of us layer gossip or anger or gambling or bitterness or trauma from the past over it. Hebrews 12 says as long as you carry that around it will drag you down. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.
And yet instead of responding to that reality with a JUST SAY NO to sin/trauma/dysfunction, Hebrews 12 counters with something to say YES to:
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
So: you’re being cheered on by a group of heavenly misfits, you can live a six pack life by ridding yourself of baggage, it has something to do with looking at and thinking about Jesus, having your mind expanded about Jesus (you’re thinking, “duh, Talbot, that’s why I’m here!”) and all that sets the table for: who for the joy set before him . . . what? Hosted a party? Got a new iWatch? Won the week at DraftKings? Uh, no. Endured the cross. Oh. So there is this sort of imposing sense that before Jesus could encounter joy, he had to endure agony. The agony of the stakes, the suffocation, the blood, the birds trying to pluck his eyes out and him not being able to protect himself, the humiliation of being nailed, naked, at not much higher than head level with his mom right there. And I just chewed on that and the discordance of it. Where’s the joy? Was the cross joyful? “Beautiful day in the neighborhood.” And I realize: no! The cross was not joyful; it was awful.
But: what it accomplished? What he wrought through it? Now that was joyful. Because look at 12:2c:
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So the joy was before him, ahead of him in time, and when after the resurrection he re-assumed his rightful place in glory, he is evidently bathing in joy. Surrounded by joy in the same way we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. But what is the connection of that cross with this joy for this Savior who went through it all? What did the cross accomp? This: it bought you. It redeemed you. That word “redeemed” has lost all meaning to us because we apply it to coupons but in the ancient worlds they used it for slaves. It meant going to a slave auction and buying a 13 year old girl or 10 year old boy who have been sex toys for their owners, and in an act of unspeakable generosity, buying those precious souls to set them free. That’s what redeemed means. That’s what the cross did. That’s why you are a bought person.
Because – here’s what’s true – all of us are that enslaved 13 year old girl or 10 year old boy without Christ. We are owned by our enemy. Who enslaves us. Binds us. Who gets us to believe all kinds of lies about ourselves – either that we’re free to do as we please or that we are the scum of the earth of no use to anyone. The enemy who owns us is so deceptive most of us don’t know that he owns us! He is so deceptive that he gets us to believe one of the greatest deceptions of all: that he doesn’t exist. Including some of you good church folk today! Too edumacated to believe in Satan. Nope! He’s real. And he’s in the real estate business. And people are his prize possession.
And so on the cross Jesus had his Sua Sponte (AV) moment. What is sua sponte? A Latin phrase used by the Army Rangers that says, “I chose this.” Jesus dove headlong into the agony & misery & desolation of the cross all so that he could buy back what Satan had stolen. All so there could be a new breed of misfit toys – like the folks in Hebrews 11! – who transferred ownership from the Prince of this world to the Lord of heaven. And reading Hebrews 12:2 made me realize how much he loves it. He is filled with joy when we respond in faith to what he did on the cross and the fact that we are a BOUGHT people. When we’re happy that we’re bought! When our identity is that we’re bought! He does heavenly leaps when we endure, when we resist temptation, when we get rid of that which obscures our inner six pack! When we love him more than the sin for which he died, he is delighted.
Yeah, God has moods, like I said at the beginning. And you, I believe, can influence his feelings: You bring joy to Jesus’ emotions when you have joy as his possession. And I want him to feel joy because I have joy as a bought person. As his possession. Jesus FEELS joy when you HAVE joy as a BOUGHT person.
It’s like the woman I know who came to the end of her rope during a bad patch in her marriage. And in a moment of clarity and surrender and prayer, she was able to say, “if this gets no better, it’s still ENOUGH. Because I have you, Lord, it’s still ENOUGH.” Guess what? With that perspective, it got better. Jesus FEELS joy when you HAVE joy as a BOUGHT person.
Or the realization that hit me when a good friend said (as a compliment!), “You’re consumed with Good Shepherd.” True dat! But then I had a simultaneous DOH! moment: “I’m not consumed with THE Good Shepherd.” The organization; not the Savior it represents. I assume THE Good Shepherd is happy with my work ethic, glad that I care about the church, but he’d feel quite a bit more joy if I was as sold out for him as for the church. When my greatest delight would be not what the church has done but the fact that I am a bought person. Jesus FEELS joy when you HAVE joy as a BOUGHT person.
Jesus loves assembling a community of BOUGHT people. That’s what we have in common in this room. Satan STOLE US and Jesus bought us back. Jesus FEELS joy when you HAVE joy as a BOUGHT person.
I think this brings JOY to him when we collectively acknowledge WE ARE BOUGHT! because he is the only one who could do it. He’s the only one who could give us the only thing we truly need – to be bought with his blood. Mohammed couldn’t do that. Buddha couldn’t do that. Krishna couldn’t do that. Barack Obama on the left and Donald Trump on the right can’t do that. Only Jesus had that combination of sinlessness, moxie, courage, and – oh yeah! — enfleshed God-ness!!! to pay the price. The only one to provide the only thing we needed.
Really, when you think about it, the cross was like the most excruciating labor pain ever. Yeah! The cross was like Jesus’ labor pains. Because on it he gave birth to an entirely new community related not by the blood inside but by the blood applied. A collection of misfit toys who related to each other not because of the blood flowing under the skin but because of the blood applied to the sin. And … what does every mom feel after the excruciation of labor pains? The incredible joy of holding a new born baby! That joy immediately makes them forget what they just went through! For some of you, to the point that you turn to your husband and say, “let’s have another one!” But the joy from the new birth overwhelms the painful memory of what it took to get there.
Hey – bought people. You ready to bring that kind of joy to Jesus today? Instead of asking him to bring Joy To The World how about you deliver some joy to heaven?
Jesus FEELS joy when you HAVE joy as a BOUGHT person.
Followed by altar call and BOUGHT name tags.