What does the Gospel mean to you? I’ve been thinking about this all week in preparation for a meeting this Sunday. To me, it boils down to Religion vs Relationship. It’s the difference between ceremony and connection, liturgy and linkage, ritual and relationship. For Religion is mostly man-made, piling on the things we can’t do…while a Relationship with Jesus Christ is about freedom. It’s about freedom from sin and death and freedom from the Law we can never keep. But the biggest difference between Religion and Relationship is this…Religion can’t save you. Only Jesus Christ who lived a perfectly sinless life has the ability to bring you into His glorious Kingdom and eternal life…it’s only through Jesus that you can make your way back to God.
It could have been me speaking with such irreverence towards Jesus. The Greek word for “hurled insults” in this verse is Blasphemeo, where we get the word blaspheme from. The robber who reviled Jesus, mocked Him by saying, “If You call Yourself the Messiah, then show us by rescuing Yourself from Your own impending death!” So any time I operate in disbelief and mistrust of the Lord…I’m basically hurling insults His direction also. Yes, it could have been me.
It could have me with that agitated crowd yelling, “Crucify Him!” Or worse yet, it could have me standing within that frenzied crowd too scared to open my mouth and object to the injustice I was witnessing. Would I have just stood there silently condoning the atrocity as it played out before me, more afraid of man than God? Yes, that could have been me.
It could have been me among that group of dosing disciples. There they were in the Garden of Gethsemane, having just been warned by Jesus to watch and pray as He moved off to pray alone. Coming back to them, Jesus was dismayed to find them all sleeping and asked, “Are you sleeping? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you won’t fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38) Yes, it could have been me that Jesus found asleep. For how many times have I started to pray only to have my mind wander and become distracted after only a few minutes?
When Jesus came to earth He made the greatest sacrifice of self-abnegation and self-denial possible. He humbled Himself and renounced His Divinity. In other words, Jesus went out of Himself in order to enter into fellowship with us. So why are we so against doing the work to enter into relationship with Him? We’d like Jesus to just save, change, and sanctify us without lifting a finger in the process. Or we’d rather bargain with Him first – (“You do this for me first God, and maybe then I’ll start working on myself.”) The bottom line is that we also must go out of ourselves in order to enter into a right relationship with God…and waiting around until He does all the work in our lives (that we need to be doing) will never happen.
With each temptation, the devil offered Jesus a shortcut…a way to compromise and thus circumvent God’s plan. So anytime our own impatience tempts us to not wait but instead run ahead of God…we’re playing right into the same scheme. Now none of us like to wait…we all want immediate gratification, so when offered a shortcut, we usually take it. But within that shortcut can hide compromise, risk, and loss. I Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” In God’s perfect plan there are no shortcuts, and even though we may feel impatient when waiting on the Lord…we are to stand firm, fully committed and trusting in Him.
To paraphrase Acts 26:18…We are to turn from spiritual darkness to the light of Jesus Christ… from the limited power of Satan to the infinite power of God, so that we may receive forgiveness of our sins and a place among fellow Believers who are sanctified by faith in Jesus. The Lord has snatched us from danger and set us free…the chains have been broken off and we are no longer a slave to sin and the jurisdiction of darkness…for the Kingdom of God is now residing within our hearts. (Luke 17:21)