Closing the Gap – Week 12 Notes

By March 25, 2018Sermon Notes
  1. Intro:

Osama Ben Laden left his home in Saudi Arabia to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

He slept in a foxhole with a wood ceiling with dirt piled on top…bombs often falling on the surrounding mountainside

This was the son of a Billionaire and worth many millions himself…yet he chose to go and fight a war in a country not his own.

The men he had recruited to fight with him would pray for martyrdom…hoping a bullet or a bomb would find them.

Some lived in white tents on the rocky mountainside…not even trying to hide from the Russian bombers flying overhead…hoping for a death that would earn a guaranteed salvation.

Back home after the war Ben Laden lived in ramshackle homes…his employees often lived better than he did.

He would daily slaughter a lamb for his many guests, but eat very little, nibbling as they feasted.

Then when they left he would eat the scraps off their plates…believing his sacrifice would gain the favor of God.

Throughout his adult life he fasted not just at Ramadan but every Monday and Thursday as well.

I’m not making him out to be a hero, he was not…he was behind the murder of many people.

My point is that he lived a very sacrificial life…and he did so, by his own admission to “earn” the favor of God.

His believed he could earn God’s favor and those beliefs shaped his behavior.

His beliefs and behavior shaped him into a certain kind of man…and it was not a good man.

Many if not most people believe they can and must earn God’s favor.

Most don’t believe like Ben Laden did that they can earn God’s favor through murder…but most believe they can earn from God.

This belief leads to misshapen values and beliefs.

All of this misshapes human hearts…and can lead first to pride and graceless living…but ultimately it can lead to disillusionment and despair

Disillusionment: “I did things right” and yet…my kids struggle, my marriage struggles, my health fails, I am not “cured” of temptations and addictions…things are not going well for me.”

“I kept my end of the bargain…I worked hard to earn God’s rewards…why didn’t God keep his end?”

On the other side is despair.

Despair: “I can’t do all these things right…I am powerless to keep my end of the bargain. My sins are too great for me…I cannot earn God’s favor…my situation is hopeless…because I am too weak and sinful.”

The gospel is a covenant, an arrangement…but it is one-sided deal…it is all grace.

But what of faith? Is that not our side of the bargain?

Faith is a grace gift as well…but even so, faith is receiving the gift of salvation…it is not earning it.

But what of spiritual disciplines…are we not to try?

-Effort…yes, Earn…no

This is why the word “gospel” means good news.

It is unlike any man made religion…they are never good news…they are always the old bad news of “earn”

The Gospel is grace…Unearned forgiveness from God.

I can add nothing to what Christ has done for me.

The Gospel is grace…unearned power from God.

I have a new heart and new ability to live this new life.

I can unplug from the power source…and try to live earning and deserving from God by our own efforts.

Again we are not talking about efforts to grow in and enjoy God’s love…but efforts to earn it…to deserve it

Effort to grow in relationship, is motivated by love…when we love we want to work hard in the relationship…our efforts are an expression of our love.

Effort to earn in a relationship is a kind of bargaining that substitutes for love…when trust is absent or low then we try to earn from one another.

Score keeping becomes the name of the game…instead of two people on the same team…an earning “relationship” creates winners and losers.

When I unplug from the power of grace as the driving force in my relationship with God…I can do okay for a while…or so it seems.

Which proves to be misleading…”hey, I unplugged and I’m still going…the music is still playing!”

Then when the battery has drained…we find we have wandered from grace and find ourselves experiencing grief…unnecessarily so.

You cannot earn what has been done for you by Christ…and you must remain in Christ and not retreat back into the earning mode.

Trying yes, closing the gap yes…earning…no.

Because when we do move into earning mode…we will find ourselves back in disillusionment and/or despair.

We must understand that what has been done for us is a finished, perfect work…we cannot add to it…we must stop trying.

Let’s stand together and I will read:

John 19:16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others — one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.


30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Finished means that there is nothing more to be added…if there were, it would not be finished.

When something is finished and it is “perfect” then it is not just that nothing more need be added but nothing more could be added.

To try and add to perfection would be to subtract not to add.

We cannot add to what has been done for us on the cross…it is finished perfection.

  1. Let’s consider the cross…the place of finished perfection.

I’ve heard sermons that go into great detail about the physical suffering that Jesus endured.

This is fine; it can be helpful for some and not for others.

But what is helpful for all of us, I think, is to read the account as the gospel writers gave it to us…but to read it as if it really happened.

Don’t plow through this, but take some time this week to read the account of the crucifixion as a historical narrative, a news event if you will.

To smell the fresh lumber of the cross and the pungent sweat from the nervous guards and the bodies of the dying men.

Hear the rattled breathing of the last gasps of the suffering men.

Hear the catcalls from the mockers and the weeping from the Lord’s mom and other women he called friends.

Feel anger rise in your throat as an innocent man is being executed.

Put yourself there…what would you feel, think, see, hear?

It is important to read this as a real event.

If not, it can eventually become less real than the other aspects of my dailylife.

And if its not really real…then what bearing does it have on my real life today?

Last week the parents of Carmen, a young lady who was killed at her school in Parkland, FL invited all of America to contemplate what they had gone through.

Carmen’s dad said…”We become immune to tragedy…We guard ourselves from it, we don’t want to think about it. We want to make it an academic debate, because then we don’t have to feel the pain and suffering of others.”

He said “You should try to imagine your daughter, who you are so proud of…riddled with bullets.”

That’s a terrible thing to contemplate…I know that we can’t absorb all the world’s pain…and we shouldn’t try.

But this grieving father is making a valid point…if we do not connect with the suffering of others…it all becomes less than the reality that it is.

I think has often happened in regards to the Cross of Christ.

Because I have heard the story a million times…I’ve seen it on movies and in Easter dramas…crosses are worn around necks.

It has become something we are immune to as a reality, an injustice, a horror.

This man who spent his life for the good of others was tortured and murdered for his efforts.

It’s important that we train our minds to think of the cross as a historical reality.

But that will not be near enough…just getting it into our minds as a real, historical event…will not tell us what the cross means.

  1. Remember the meaning

When bad things happen people go on a search for meaning…it normal…I believe it is so because we are made by God on purpose, so naturally we are “purpose” seekers…its in our DNA.

We hunger and thirst for meaning…especially when things go bad.

Sometimes well meaning people will try to help sufferers by saying something like “Everything happens for a reason.”

This of course is a foolish thing to say to someone is suffering.

Though it is not a foolish thing for a Christian to believe when they are suffering…you just shouldn’t say to the sufferer.

But when people say this kind of thing in the wider culture…it is often unconnected to any biblical reality.

What do they mean by that? What kind of reason could it be? Who exactly is it that is ensuring all these bad things have a final “reason.”

“Of course they happen for a reason”, some suffering dad might respond…”the reason is that life is unfair, and the universe is random and undirected.”

“There is a reason but no final meaning.”

When people cannot find purpose in their lives, and especially in their struggles…despair most often follows.

In Romans 8 Paul writes

Rom. 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

He unapologetically declares that all things have purpose for those who love God.

He goes on to write about how if God is for us who can be against us…he gave us his son, how will he not also graciously give us all things…that is our final salvation…our final meaning.

He goes on to list all the things that exist and how none of these can separate us from the love of God…and therefore from final purpose.

To believe Jesus died on a cross in the Middle East around AD 33 as a historical fact is important but not near enough to be of any real, lasting value.

It is important that those final words of Jesus…”It is finished” shape the meaning of Christ’s death for us.

The death on the cross means that our salvation has been purchased for us.

Muslims believe Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet…Jesus was important but not as important because he was not the final word.

But on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished”…there is nothing more to be added to his work.

This was the final word of God regarding our salvation…”It is finished.”

The cross was an event in human history…with a meaning that transcends human history.

And an application that impacts or should impact…each of our individual histories.


God is really smart and really powerful…

Surely there was a better, less violent, more creative way to accomplish what needed to be done.

Some theologians who do not take the Scriptures seriously have called this “cosmic child abuse.”

They mock the idea of a substitutionary atonement for sins…they think it makes God less…into a sort of cruel, judge…merciless.

But if we start with God’s wisdom and not our own, then we would conclude that since God did it this way, this is the best way.

If we begin our questions with the wise, all-powerful, all loving God…(and we should), then the assumption must be that if God did something a certain way, it is the best way it could be done.

Why the cross? There are a number of answers and undoubtedly many more than we are even aware of…

But one answer is that the cross combines the fact that God is a just God and God is a loving God.

The cross is where the love of God and the justice of God found perfect balance and perfect expression…the cross is where we saw love and justice…”finished.”

Jesus had prayed in the garden for his Father to show him another way, but there was not one.

So he declared that he would obey at all costs and his will was surrendered to the will of the Father…we went to the cross…to finish.

Earlier in his life some men had tried to kill Jesus but it was not time…so he simply walked through the violent mob…untouched.

In the garden before his death the soldiers asked the Lord “Are you Jesus” and he replied, “I am he.”

They then drew back and fell to the ground…the word “fall” here implies “ruin, terror, dread”

They experienced his power…and he could have put a stop to the whole thing at anytime…but he didn’t.

Unlike every other human being who has ever lived, Jesus was in control of the exact circumstances and timing of his own death.

When people attempt suicide, it is most often because they feel they have lost control of important circumstances in their lives…there is no future worth living for.

Jesus was never in a situation where circumstances were out of his control.

He did not give up on life; he willingly gave it away.

His cry was not of resignation or failure; it was the sound of success.

He had successfully completed what he had come to do…he was finished.

“It is finished” powerfully summarizes the gospel.

Since it is finished…you cannot add to it.


How do we consistently stay out of the “earning” mode?

  1. Recognize the signs of the earning mode
  2. Remember the difference between earning and effort
  3. Reflect consistently on “It is finished”
  4. Recognize the signs of the earning mode: two pairs of indicators

Persistent Pride and Persistent Guilt:

*Persistent: direction not perfection

-Persistent pride: I can and I am earning God’s favor

-Comparing myself to others (favorable), competing with others

-Believing God owes me “gold stars” because of my good behavior

-Persistent guilt: I must but I cannot earn God’s favor

-Comparing myself to others (unfavorable), competing with others

-Believing God is going to “smack me” because of my lack of good behavior

Discouragement and Disillusionment:

-Discouragement: I cannot keep all these rules, I cannot/not sin, why try anymore?

-Disillusionment: God has not kept his end of the bargain…I have done it all “right” why isn’t my life better? Why try anymore?

There are other evidences of being in “earning mode”…but these show up in our relationship with others (comparing and competing) and with God (Hiding and blaming)

*Recognize the evidence of earning mode in your own life…

Belief: I must earn

Behavior: How is this belief showing up in my life and how is negatively impacting my relationships with God and others?

  1. Remember the difference between earning and effort

Earning is the belief that relationship with God can and must be gained through my own efforts…I must making qualifying choices and not making disqualifying choices.

Effort is the belief that relationship with God is so valuable that I want to do all I can to make it the best that I can.

They often look the same in outer practice but are driven by very different motives and result in very different life outcomes.

One looks like love and is compelling

The other looks like pride or insecurity is not compelling

*Think of a child who is unsure and insecure about her relationship with her mom.

-She tries to be near the mom, works to please her, looks to others who have relationship with her mom and tries to do some of what she sees there.

-But the engine that drives her efforts is fear, insecurity, and competition.

-She is frequently sad, lonely, competitive, and fearful.

-Her actions to earn relationship undermine the relationship because of the attitude behind the actions.

*Then the child comes to understand that her mom loves her, perhaps she was adopted and was applying old experiences to this new situation.

-Now she tries to be near the mom, works to please her…all the very same actions…with a completely different attitude.

-There is a different engine, or power driving her actions…love and confidence…not fear and insecurity.

The best picture out there for this is the story Jesus told of the prodigal son.

-He sinned and horribly dishonored his father.

-He came back and offered to “earn” a servant’s relationship with his father

-But his father would have none of that…he was given full forgiveness and access as a son.

Then, finally…

  1. Reflect consistently on “It is finished”

A practical way to know if you have unplugged from the power and are moving into earning mode is to look at how you are relating to the people around you.

If you are “graceless” in your responses to them…then it is likely you are unplugged from the grace of God.

Are you increasingly and consistently (this is about direction not perfection)…competitive, angry, judgmental, harsh, unforgiving, not listening, unsympathetic.

Or do you feel continually worthless, unworthy, insecure?

Take the time to go back and reflect on “It is finished.”

When you are plugged into his grace…his grace is going to flow into and out of your life.

Repent, Reflect, Rejoice…in his grace

Then go and show his grace to those around you.

WAIT TO PLAY VIDEO: Going to show a Video of Tree

John 15:5 “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.

It is finished…do you know this? are you living in this?

Leave a Reply