Why the Gospel Solution is So Different
We’re praying that everyone here, everyone at home, wherever we are, we would hear that invitation to come. We know what it’s like to feel left out. We know what it’s like when we feel like everyone else is doing something and somehow, we didn’t get an invitation. There is no place for that today. Jesus is calling us to come. Let’s turn to Revelation 22, Revelation 22. The second to last time in this series, we’ll be doing that. Revelation 22.
This week, I read a very disturbing book. It’s the kind of book you just sit down and have a hard time putting it down until you’ve read through it in a sitting. It’s called “The Creaking on the Stairs: Finding Faith in God Through Child Abuse,” by Mez McConnell. And to be sensitive to survivors and to children, I’m going to avoid details, but Mez’s childhood was dominated by verbal, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. And I have a hard time reading the stories without wanting to crush the perpetrator. But as disturbing as these stories are, there is something in his story that if we look at it and listen to it with fresh eyes, it will be as, if not more disturbing, because Mez’s response to his childhood of abuse included bitterness and anger and drug abuse and crime. But God kept pursuing him, kept inviting him to come. But here’s the disturbing part. God kept convicting him. And for those of us who have been Christians for a while, do you ever imagine hearing the gospel for the first time again? What is it like to hear this good news that’s bad news that is good news? Because to hear the good news, you have to hear the bad news. What is that like for the first time? I remember that, and it is offensive.
So, imagine for a second you’re a teenager. You never knew your mom. Your dad was gone. You were raised by a stepmom who delighted in torturing you. And then God has the audacity to come to you and tell you you’re a sinner. Can you think of anything to our hearts and to our culture that is more disturbing, more troubling? Listen to Mez’s words.
“Here’s the awful reality: I, too, will stand before Almighty God in the judgement. All my sin will be laid bare before Him … I will be judged guilty regardless of my upbringing. Regardless of my childhood traumas. Regardless of the pain and chaos of my life. I will be found wanting in the final judgement. I will be found guilty of ignoring God, of taking his name in vain, of denying his very existence. I have been a rebel, and I will have to account for it. And it will be terrifying … The rage that eats away at us at the thought of our abusers getting away with it. The murderous thoughts of vengeance when we see somebody in the street that reminds us of our tormentors. That does not even compare to the righteous hatred and anger God feels against sin and sinner.”
That is troubling. What is he saying? We crave justice. And God is saying, “Yes, justice!” But the tidal wave of rage that surges within all of our hearts (and I don’t care who you are, whether you’re Christian or agnostic or atheist). When you have been wronged in a particular way that is significant to you, you will feel that tidal wave of rage and that craving that the wrong be exposed and justice be brought about. But that tidal wave of rage is but a ripple compared to the righteous wrath of God toward all injustice, all sin. Listen to what Mez continues to write.
“It soon became clear to me in the very early days of trying to understand Christianity that I only wanted justice on my terms, and I certainly didn’t want it for myself. I’d happily dish out judgement on those I think deserved it, but for myself and some close friends, I would be more inclined to mercy.”
Yet the gospel, like no other message you’re going to hear anywhere — no other philosophy, no other theology, no other religion — the gospel comes at us from two directions. And if you try to remember, and I remember the first time I heard the gospel. I felt ambushed, cornered. Whichever way I turn there was no way out. I tried to escape. I was hemmed in because the gospel surrounds us. It comes at us from two directions.
What are the two directions? Let me give you two examples. Here are the two directions. You are worse than you thought, and all the hurt you’ve experienced cannot justify your sin. You are worse than you thought, and all the hurt you’ve experienced cannot justify your sin. Which, by the way, you don’t want to miss this part. I don’t have time to develop it now, but do you see how that is also offensively empowering? God is not treating us there like a perpetual victim. He is coming to us as an image bearer. That is huge. But then the other direction is, you are loved more than you can imagine, more than you thought, and all the bad you’ve done cannot negate Jesus’ sacrificial love. Surrounded. You’re worse. You’re loved.
The gospel comes in two directions. Therefore, we are all victims. We are all — and I’m not saying that neutralizes the pain that some have experienced that is, humanly speaking, far greater than others — but I’m just saying all of us know what it’s like to be a victim, to experience deep hurt. And we need to be honest about that. And it doesn’t help to shove that down and deny that. But at the same time, we are all villains. We need to be honest about our sin, at the same time.
Now, some of us have been around Christianity long enough to think we’ve experienced it, but we water it down so much with our hurts and our cultural assumptions and our experiential explanations, and then we can’t figure out why it won’t work. I’ve tried the gospel, it doesn’t work. But as I talk to people who describe that, often they are describing a part of the gospel, and they reject the other part. They want a bit of God’s good news; they want to leave out parts that are uncomfortable. And then we wonder why, when we dissect the Word of God, discard vital components, and then wonder why it won’t work.
So, let’s take a fresh look at the gospel solution so that we can see, first of all, it is so different. It is offensively different. You will not hear it anywhere else, in any other philosophy. But then it is also transformingly different. So, three things as we look at Revelation 22:12-17. Three ways in which the gospel solution is so different. First of all, the judge is different. The verdict is different. The invitation is different.
Let’s look at the judge is different. How is he different? Three ways in this passage the judge is different. First of all, he holds each person accountable. Look at verse 12, Revelation 22:12.
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.”
Now the language here is that of accounting and justice language. Each person is repaid based on what that person has done. So, in that sense, our deeds define our destiny. There are no write-offs, no extensions, no explanations, no justifications. There is no finger-pointing. There is no blaming. There is no ability to explain away my actions based on someone else’s actions. Each one will give account. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:26,
“For what you will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
He holds each one accountable.
Secondly, he rules over everything. Jesus, the one who is coming soon, says in verse 13,
“I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Children who are taking notes with the little packets we handed out, you’ll have an opportunity to draw an Alpha in your notes. What’s an Alpha? It is the first letter in the Greek alphabet. What’s an Omega? It’s the last letter in the Greek alphabet. So, what is Jesus saying there? Why is he using the Greek alphabet to describe himself? He is the first word and the last word. He is the beginning and the end. He starts everything. He finishes everything. There is no other God beside him.
He is actually quoting from Isaiah 44:6 that says that the Lord says,
“The King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’”
Revelation 1:8, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
So, the book of Revelation begins with this. It ends with this. God Almighty describes himself as Alpha and Omega in Revelation 1. Jesus describes himself as Alpha and Omega in Revelation 22, which is clearly communicating the deity of Christ. You can’t have two Alpha and Omegas. God made that clear in Isaiah 44:6. So, Jesus is describing himself as the beginning of history and the end of history. He rules over all history. He starts it. He finishes it. He rules over everything.
Yet, third aspect, third characteristic of the king, the judge is, he is one of us. He holds each person accountable. He rules over everything. Yet, he is one of us. Look down at verse 16.
“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.”
Now the bright morning star comes from Numbers 24:17, “A star shall come out of Jacob” to crush God’s enemies and rescue his people. “But I am,” Jesus calls himself, “I am the root, the source of David and I am the descendant, the heir of David.” What does that mean? So, David’s line, King David’s line, which flows from Jacob and is this line of kings through which the Messiah will come. He says, I am the root and the shoot. I am the source and the product of that line. Isn’t that amazing? He is the God-man. He is both over it and creates it. He initiates it and he satiates it. He satisfies it. He is the source of the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. He is not just a judge who rules over us to condemn us, but he actually comes into our humanity to satisfy the very judgment he is making for our sin.
Some of you may have seen the sheriff in Flint, Michigan who took off his helmet and marched with the peaceful protesters. What was he communicating there? He’s explaining why he took his helmet off as a sheriff, how he feels the pain of the protesters, and how he unites with them in their craving desire for justice. And this resonates with people. There were a lot of tears. Why does it resonate with people? Because it is but a tiny glimpse at what Jesus has done for us. He didn’t just march with us. He did come and live among us, but he took all our injustice, all our sin on him, and he bore it. Look at 2 Corinthians 5:21.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So, as both the root and the shoot of David, the Messiah, the God who became man, he alone can meet the justice of God and yet at the same time pay for the injustice. This judge, it’s quite obvious, is different.
But then secondly, notice the verdict is different. Here the judge delineates between two kinds of people in verse 14, those who enter and those who don’t. Those who enter are described as blessed. This is the seventh blessing in Revelation. And if you look in the notes online, you will see the list of all seven blessings in Revelation. But these who enter are blessed because their robes are washed. Now, he is not saying they’ve washed their robes in some kind of self-righteous, self-attainment cleansing way. We already saw in Revelation 7:14 that “They… washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is the sacrifice of the judge that washed their robes, and they have believed in his sacrifice. Therefore, their robes are washed. Therefore, they enter the new heaven and the new earth, those who enter.
But then secondly, look at verse 15, those who do not enter.
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Dogs in the Old Testament were a picture of uncleanness. They were an unclean animal and they symbolized being outside of God’s covenantal love. So, what he’s referring to there are those who have rejected God’s covenantal love. Sorcerers are those who trust in signs and magic rather than God. Notice that there are both obvious sinners described here — sexually immoral, murderers — and what we tend to think of as less obvious — idolaters, liars, those who practice, love and practice falsehood. But the verdict is clear. All of us in this room can see ourselves in verse 15, right? We know what it’s like to love falsehood, to practice lies, to believe things about ourselves, about God, about others that are not accurate. And so, what the judge is doing here is leveling us. We all deserve to be outside. This passage is removing any kind of presumption that based on my upbringing or based on my performance somehow, I’ve got an in. No.
But then third, just when we are ready to throw up our hands, look at the invitation. The invitation is different. Verse 17.
“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.”
What’s the key word there? Thank you. Come. Yeah, three times. Come, come. But knowing who the speaker is and who the invitation is for can be a little confusing here. So, let’s walk through it. The Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say to Jesus, “Come. And let the one who hears,” which seems to refer … If you go all the way back to Revelation 1, this book was written, yes, but it was written to be read aloud. So, the one who hears are the ones who are hearing this book, this message of the gospel. So, all who hear are joining into this “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” But then there’s a dual application there. It’s come to Jesus. But it’s also looking around to everyone else. And there is a centripetal force to this. Come, come. Because he goes on to say, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” So, everyone who is thirsty, come. The only qualification of moving from the group who will not enter to the group who will enter is to be thirsty enough to come. Come. This invitation is different from any other invitation. Are you thirsty? Do you know what it’s like to try to drink of sources of satisfaction that only leave you more unsatisfied? Come. Do you know what it’s like to have a desire that nothing in this world will satisfy? Come, drink the water of life. And this isn’t just individual here. It’s what I mean by there is a centripetal force, not centrifugal, centripetal. It draws us in. It brings us together. Is there not anything more we need right now in our nation than this?
Wednesday night, Jeremy and Jenn had organized a prayer gathering in the amphitheater, the Greer Amphitheater. You’ve got people from a variety of races, backgrounds, gathering together, praying. Don’t worry, we weren’t all holding hands. Clear violation. But it was a beautiful thing to see people who come from such a variety of perspectives calling out collectively as a group and then in smaller groups for a work of Jesus Christ to heal injustices, distrust, hurt, betrayal, all of all that. Let’s cry out to him.
And one thing that stuck out to me as we were doing this is there were people who would come along that didn’t know this was happening. And they noticed, “Woah, what is going on here?” And they wanted to know. And some of us got to talk to and pray with a number of people, because there is something magnetic that draws us in when people are not defensive and not trying to argue our own point or prove our own, make ourselves look better, but humbly crying out to Jesus Christ who came to invite others to come. Come in, come in. He is the one who can heal. He is the one who can save. There is a magnetic attraction.
Now, please do not misunderstand what I’m saying here. We’re highlighting how different the gospel solution is to any other solution. I am not saying by that, we stop there and don’t engage in applying that socially. I am not saying that. But what the gospel allows us to do is then pursue those social solutions in ways that don’t just create more problems or more division. It changes our hearts. It changes us from the inside out. So, now we can see for the first time without the beam in our own eye so that we can truly help love our neighbor.
This is the passage, Revelation 22:17, that was preached on November 1859 when James Chalmers and a gang of thugs went to a church in Northern Ireland to cause trouble. They wanted to break up the service. It was pouring rain. And because of the rain, Chalmers went inside to get out of the rain. And he heard this verse preached. And it so gripped him that several days later he went to a minister and cried out to Jesus Christ and became a believer. And as he described years later, summarizing, what did God do there? Here it is:
“I was thirsty, and I came.”
That is the invitation. You can be a child and come. You can be 90 years old and come. Soon after Chalmers responded to the call, he prepared to go to New Guinea. And this is another aspect of that magnetism of the gospel. Because when you come, it puts within you a burning desire to see other people come. And he went from island to island in New Guinea, proclaiming the gospel to tribe after tribe of cannibals. He slept in huts many, many times surrounded by human skulls and could overhear the people he was inviting to come talk about how they would like his skull. He buried his wife there. Later, he was remarried. She also died. He went through intense loss, but something drove him to continue, no matter what the sacrifice, to continue to invite people to come. And it’s this call. He was thirsty, and he came, and he drank, and he wanted others to come and drink. Thousands of cannibals became Christians through his and other missionaries’ ministries in those years. Ultimately, he was martyred and gave his life for these people he was inviting to come. And that became a picture of the love Jesus has for us.
The judge is different. The verdict is different. The invitation is different. Therefore, the result is different. This is the gospel that transformed Mez McConnell. Listen to what he writes, the one I started the message with.
“Jesus came for the victims. For the helpless. For the abused. For the lost. For the wayward. For those without a voice. For those who have faced injustice. For those who have known only pain and hurt. For the abuser, for the oppressor. For the violent. For the murderers. For the rapist. For the paedophiles, for those who have only caused pain and hurt. For broken people like me. For broken people like you. For broken people like them.
“I had to come to a place [he writes] in my life where I realized that I was a sinner before a Holy God. Yes, I had been a victim — there’s no doubt about that. Yes, serious crimes had been committed against me. [Please don’t miss this.] No, I was not to blame for any of it.”
I’m going to pause here. For those of you who are survivors, hear that. When God calls you a sinner, he is not at all attributing the abuse you experienced to you. Mez is not confused about that. He knows he didn’t cause, he’s not responsible at all for, any of the abuse that he experienced. But he goes on to say,
“God was asking me a different set of questions. Was I responsible for my own rebellion against Him? Yes. Even though I desperately wanted to blame her. I wanted to hang it all on her. ‘I would have followed you, God, if she hadn’t …’ [blank] Learning that I was solely responsible for my own sinful rebellion against God was a tough one. I’m not going to lie. It hurt. A lot … Yet, in so many ways, I was exactly like her. I was hard-hearted, bitter, cruel, and angry. I was every inch the sinner the Bible called me out to be. It took me more self-harm, more drug-fueled parties, more violence, more crime, and a cell in a maximum-security prison to finally help me to see the truth: I was a sinner before a just and holy God, and I had no excuses. The hard truth is that I wasn’t entirely a victim. In fact, I had often been the victimizer that I so hated about her. I was a rebel, and, what’s more, I was proud of it. But where had it gotten me? All this rage. All this bitterness. All this self-destruction. It had gotten me nowhere.”
Mez came to the place where he saw his need to come. He knew that there was no social worker, no counselor, as vital as they are, but no human being could do what he needed done in his heart. So, sitting on a bench in the park, he admitted his sinful rebellion. He threw himself on Jesus for mercy. And Jesus, as he said, instead of being “irrelevant,” suddenly became the focus of his life. Listen to the way he describes it.
“It didn’t stop my pain. It didn’t lessen the impact of my struggles. But it did offer me a context in which I could handle my emotions without them drowning me completely.
“Then, one day, completely out of the blue, I noticed that something had changed. Something deep inside of me. I began to care for people; to love them. Even people I would previously have hated.”
Now, is there anything more today we need than that? Today, Mez is married, has two beautiful daughters, is a pastor and over a church-planting movement in Scotland that is reaching out to the most broken, poor communities. That’s what this invitation does. Come. And as you come, he changes us from the inside. But then he sends us out to say, “Come.” It is magnetic. Let’s pray.
Father, this solution is so different from any other we will hear in our communities, anything we’ll ever hear on the news. The judge is different. The verdict is different. The invitation is different. You’re telling us the worst news we could ever hear, that we are worse than we even thought, that there are parts of us that we can’t even see the depth of our wickedness, and that no explanation will justify our hardness and stubbornness of heart. But at the very same time, you’re moving toward us and communicating a love like no other love, a sacrificial love where you, Jesus, paid for the very sins you will one day have to judge if we will not repent and believe. So, Father, please, by your the power of your Spirit, draw everyone to yourself. Lord, we must come. Come. May we hear your invitation. We need this today. Lord, we live in a day when our remedies result in more maladies, when the side effects of our solutions perpetuate the problems they were intended to solve. One injustice breeds more injustice and anger and hurt on all sides goes viral. You know us, Lord. You know we become defensive. We see our neighbors wrong and we can point our fingers and see everything they’ve done. But we’re blind to the beam in our own eyes, so we end up taking an eye for an eye. Justice, as Isaiah said, is far from us. Righteousness does not overtake us. We hope for light and we behold darkness and gloom. Truth has stumbled in the public squares. Uprightness can’t even enter. You saw that there was no man, no one who would intercede. And so, your own arm brought salvation. And because of that, Lord, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Come among us even now. Come for us. We need you. In Jesus’ name, amen.