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2CH sermons

In Christ (sermon by Harry Goodhew)

Introduction

Someone sent me a video clip recently. It was riveting. It featured a young woman with cerebral palsy who bore very noticeable burn marks on her face and arms. She was addressing a packed auditorium. She was a survivor of a late term abortion effected by an infusion of saline, hence the cerebral palsy and the burn marks. She spoke as an ardent anti-abortion advocate. She was engaging, passionate, devastatingly personal, and heart stirringly inspirational.

A profoundly moving phrase that she repeated often was “don’t write me off, I’m God’s girl.” She had a rock solid sense of her relationship to her heavenly Father. His love for her as his child was the foundation of her day by day life. It rang clear and warm in all she said.

Segment 1

The wonder of being “God’s girl” or for that matter, “God’s boy” is expressed in the Bible as being “in Christ”. It is a just a little phrase but it says so much. It encapsulates the wonder of being a child of God. It’s shorthand for God’s overwhelming goodness and love towards us

When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians he vigorously employed this phrase. Listen to him as he, a Hebrew apostle, addresses a significantly Gentile audience of men and women who acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 5 He destined us in love to be his sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 which he lavished upon us. 9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

So “in Christ” we are blessed with heaven’s riches. He chose us “in Christ” before history began to be his sons and daughters, to be holy and blameless before him and to be released from the bondage of all our wrongdoings through the death of Jesus. He has destined us for a part in that great final renovation of all creation when he finally unites everything under the dominion of Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth. As the guarantee of all this he has given us his Spirit, his seal of the relationship he has established with us “in Christ”.

In spite of being severely scarred in mind and body that young woman had it right. While she had good reason to declare that what had been done ‘to her’ was wrong and damaging, she also had a profound reason for saying that what had been done ‘for her’ by God gave her grounds for courage, hope, and the capacity to thrive and contribute.

Segment 2

As I watched that video clip, and as I recall it now, I’m challenged about my own appreciation of God’s great goodness and love in calling me to faith in Christ and consequently to be “in him” with all the fullness that is contained in that phrase.

When Jesus was baptized the voice of his Father in heaven said “You are my beloved son in whom I am delighted”. Because Jesus is the Messiah and as such the representative of his people, we who believe in him are ‘in him’, and may, as one writer has put it, hear God saying to us “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.” What a privilege!

In one of the drawers in my desk at home lies a little bundle of thin cardboard bookmarks. They come from a number of different sources – booksellers, Christian mission agencies, plus some rather elaborate ones given by friends as gifts. Now the destiny of those bookmarks is simply to lie there fulfilling no useful purpose until – until I open the drawer, pick up one of them, and place it in my book to mark the place where I concluded my last spell of reading. When I do that everything changes for the bookmark. It now has a different history. It no longer lies idly in my desk drawer. It is inserted in my book. Now, wherever my book goes the bookmark goes too – next to my bed, travelling on a train, lying on a shelf in our lounge room, on a seat in the barber’s shop. The history and destiny of the bookmark is inseparable from that of the book in which it now lies. So it is with you and me when we are inserted into Christ through trusting in him. So again listen to Paul teaching his friends in Colossae:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In the way that the bookmark and the book share a common life so we share a common history with the Lord Jesus. He was raised from the dead, so are we. He is seated in glory with the Father, so are we. When he appears in his glory we will appear with him in glory. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. That is every reason for optimism and hope and for a firm sense of confidence. As the young woman in the video clip said, it is no small thing to be “God’s girl” or “boy”.  Whatever the scars of that attempt on her life might be, she had found something to more than compensate for those evidences of human rejection.

Segment 3

Our union with Christ forged by the Spirit of God involves us in God’s great purpose to renew all things through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus God’s Messiah. As consequence I can think of three things at least that might be an appropriate response to the Apostle’s encouragement to “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

The first would be to cultivate a proper sense of confidence in our own pardon and adoption as God’s daughter or son; to emulate and express the confidence that the young woman of whom I spoke expressed. God’s mercy and promise is the proper foundation for that confidence, nothing else. When we give voice to that sense of security and certainty we are not boasting, on the contrary, we are simply giving expression to what God has said, personally affirming his word of promise. Christ is the beloved Son and we too are now beloved children in him. It’s dishonouring to God to do otherwise.

A second response that would seem appropriate would be to strive to be like him. When he called people long ago saying “follow me” much more was intended than a stroll over the terrain of Palestine. It was to be like him in his love for God and for all others. Now that we are “in Him” we too are called to look like that. True, we are not Jesus, and we all have a long way to go before we come to that final perfection for which God has destined us. But the set of our mind and heart is to be a devoted son or daughter as Jesus was. Our daily prayer, given to us by the Lord himself, needs to be, “thy will be done”. We should pray that our outlook and actions will be a reasonable demonstration of where our lives are located – in Christ.

Our third response might well be a cheerful hope concerning the future. Such an attitude grows from the knowledge that being “in Him”, when he appears in glory, we will appear with him. If that is a real dimension to our thinking and living it cannot fail to generate a proper sense of optimism whatever our present circumstances may be. To be afflicted with cerebral palsy and to bear disfiguring scars is no easy load to carry. Nor is being beaten, shot at, debarred from educational opportunities and excluded from your community because you follow Jesus. Or living in circumstances where there is little chance for employment or enough food or proper shelter. But in my limited experience people in those situations are often much more joyful and hopeful than those of us who suffer none of these trials. And why? Because God‘s promise of a wonderful future for those “in Christ” looms large for them.

Conclusion

So, “don’t write me off, I’m God’s girl” was a ringing cry of triumph over adversity. That “your life is hidden with Christ in God” is an assertion and affirmation of grace and a call to a new way of living. That we are blessed and affirmed by God in this way gives grounds for the Apostle’s call to “rejoice in the Lord and again, I say, rejoice. Thus it is not presumption but faith that takes God at his word and rejoices in the relationship that He says He has established with those who believe in the Lord Jesus.

Discussion

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