The Goodness of Jesus – a Sermon

I don’t normally post sermons up on my blog, but having read Tony Jones’ ‘A Better Atonement‘ ebook and seen his request for anyone who’s writing or preaching about atonement on his blog, I thought I’d put something up. This isn’t a transcript (though you can hear the audio on the church website), it’s a draft version of what I planned to say. Preaching is not a written art, it’s all about the spoken word and so planning on the screen only goes so far. Right at the bottom I’ve embedded the slideshow I used alongside my talk.

I’d also like to say an enormous thank you to the family and friends who were at the service on Sunday to support us in the blessing of our little boy, Nathaniel. It meant a great deal to us, so thanks!

If we want to understand why the Goodness of Jesus matters, we have to start at the beginning. Twice.

First of all, the creation story in Genesis 1. Let me start by saying that I believe that believing that God is the creator is essential for Christian faith. Whether you believe that it happened in precisely six twenty-four hour periods or not is not such a big issue to me, though I’ll happily talk to you about why I believe what I believe, but it matters that God did in fact create everything that is around us in this fantastic universe.

[This paragraph goes with a sequence of images on the screen] Light, dark, sky, ocean, land, flowers , trees and even apples. Sun, moon, stars and planets, fish, whales and coral, cute birds and kind-of scary ones. Insects, tigers, creepy-crawlies and Sunday lunches. And when God had made each one, we’re told that he looked and saw that it was GOOD.

Last of all, we’re told, came human beings, men and women. In the idyllic situation of the creation story, before any kind of sin, death, sadness or pain is mentioned, God sees the whole of creation, with the addition of humanity and says that it is ‘very good’.

Now many of you will have heard what comes in chapter three of Genesis. The man and woman are told not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, yet they do. It seems that they want to be in control of their own destiny, to be better than the ‘very good’ that God saw. Through this sin, we’re told, Death comes into the story.

Second of all – there’s another beginning to the scriptures. The beginning of Exodus is the beginning of the nation of Israel, the Jewish people. It’s a story of freedom from slavery – while they are doing forced labour in Egypt, Moses turns up with a message from God – who says that he’s going to take them away from slavery to a good land – one with lots of produce and security. Yet time and time again, despite this promise, they disobey God, wanting their own way, not wanting God’s way and the ‘good land’ seemed to be just as full of problems as any other country.

Throughout the history of Israel, their rulers turned out to be bad more often than good (maybe not just in Israel, either) There were times that seemed to be hopeless, and times that seemed to be OK, but where did the promise of a good land, of rest and peace disappear to?

There seemed to be two options – give it up as a utopian dream that could never really exist, or start to talk about God as the only real good in the world. The Psalms were the hymn-book and prayerbook of the Jews and over and over they say “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is GOOD, his love endures forever.”

But this isn’t a sermon about creation or the old testament – it’s about Jesus and his goodness. For Christians, all the hope for goodness both in the Old Testament, the world around us and in our own lives is focussed on the person of Jesus.

In a letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes about Jesus as the ‘second Adam’ or the ‘last Adam’ – a fulfilment of all humanity could have been and a new start for a new humanity. To me this makes a lot of sense of the life and death of Jesus, making it all tie together around this theme of goodness.

You see in Jesus, all the promise and potential that’s in God’s “very good” are fulfilled. As he walked around Palestine two thousand years ago, everything he did brought back the “good” that was always supposed to be. He taught and explained how the way people were excluding others from God was wrong, how everyone was welcomed unconditionally. He brought physical healing as well, demonstrating how even the most damaged could be made good.

There are many complimentary ways of understanding Jesus, both his life and death and resurrection. We think of Jesus solidarity with us in our suffering, sharing our pain. We think of Jesus taking our place, dying instead of us. We think of Jesus the example of commitment, as Peter writes about in the passage we read earlier. We can think of Jesus triumphing over the powers of evil.

But when we’re thinking of the goodness of Jesus, connecting his death with all he did through his life, we see that it must be part of how Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of God, bringing the goodness that was always meant to be. Tom Wright puts it like this: “Jesus’ crucifixion was not a messy accident at the end of a glittering career, but was in fact the proper, though shocking, climax to it.” Jesus died because it was part of the plan to bring back the good that seemed to have been missing for so long. In dying with us, dying like the first Adam, but without ever disobeying God, Jesus shows that death is destroyed by rising from the dead. Even what looks like a complete victory for evil is in fact the triumph of good.

But it’s not something that happened in the past and gives us some vague hope for the future. Let’s go back to the passage we read earlier from 1 Peter.

As an aside, let me acknowledge that it’s tough to read a passage written to slaves and ignore that context – one that’s very foreign to us today – barbaric, even. Peter’s suggestion that they should imitate Jesus is very subversive – and I’d be glad to talk to you about it afterwards if it’s something that you find difficult.

Peter writes first of all about Jesus doing nothing sinful, nothing wrong at all. But his goodness goes beyond that – Peter says that he ‘entrusted himself’ to God. This isn’t just some vague belief in a higher power that’s out there somewhere, it’s a deep immersion in every aspect of life, depending fully on his father, committed to doing anything that will bring his Kingdom. That plays out in the teaching he did, in the miracles he did but supremely in his death and resurrection.

In his life and death, Jesus shows God’s solidarity with us in the pain and dirt of this, but his resurrection shows that there is new life, something beyond what we currently experience. Peter starts to refer to a famous passage in the old testament about the suffering servant. It goes further than we have already, saying that in the wounds and suffering of Jesus there is healing. better than that even, Peter says to the Christians he’s writing to that they’ve already been healed.

He also uses the image from Isaiah of God – of Jesus – as our shepherd. It’s one of the most beloved images from both the old testament (the Lord’s my shepherd) and the new (Jesus said “I am the good shepherd). In this context, Peter is saying that the brokenness and pain we experience comes from wandering away from God and his goodness. He’s saying that Jesus doesn’t just heal us and leave us, but leads us as we join with him in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, in bringing back the good that was always meant to be.

We all feel the brokenness of the world and ourselves – for me it’s on a daily basis. As we go into holy week, remembering Jesus’ last days before his death and as we look forward to celebrating resurrection (and chocolate) next week, let’s hear the invitation of Jesus.

Perhaps you need the ‘very good’ of Jesus to break into your life – the healing that comes from his wounds.
Perhaps you need to realise that you can’t fix all the brokenness in the world on your own or with anyone else but Jesus.
Perhaps you need to join in and follow him as he shepherds you and guides you, encourages you to join in his healing mission.

Whatever it is you need, may you experience the goodness of Jesus this Holy Week. May you feel the healing that his wounds have brought us, may you return to the shepherd and overseer of our souls.