A friend of mine who waits tables recently told me of an experience he had the other night. To increase their tips servers attempt to strike conversations with guests and will use anything they can. When a server’s guests have kids the conversation gets easier. My friend saw that one of the kids kept leaning up against his dad and falling asleep throughout the meal, so my friend joked about getting more rest. The dad, in a very understandable fashion, explained that his son had just finished another chemotherapy treatment; the kid couldn’t have been more than seven or eight.
Sometimes we need to focus on the beauty of creation. Sometimes we need to focus on building our society. But sometimes we should remember that this is still a world in which children suffer and die. The preacher with perfect hair and even more perfect teeth tells us that Jesus wants us to “have our best life now.” But how do we look at the father who’s child is fighting cancer and say, “Oh no, I promise you that this is the best Jesus wants for your kid.” We have cool, hip pastors with Hawaiian shirts telling us that Jesus wants us to live a purpose-driven life. But how do we explain to the parents who just lost their newborn child that Jesus has a purpose for his life? What life? He came into this world only to be snatched away, his only experience of this life being a hospital room.
If someone (from the “outside”) were to judge the Christian religion off our best selling books, some might conclude that Christianity is hateful, others might think it has somewhat of a point, I think one could justifiably sum up Christianity with one word, an adjective: naive. We’ve ignored the realities of this world. We preach that the world is fallen, but then shocked to discover that what we’ve preached is actually true; we are like the medium who claims to speak to the dead, but become afraid when the dead actually speak.
We become so wrapped up in the implications of the gospel, we spend so much time reading about the gospel, we debate over what exactly composes the gospel, that we’ve forgotten about the Gospel, the Truth, the Person, the Word.
When faced with the burdened down, the weary, the hurting, the victims of a life gone awry, Jesus does not lecture them on what His atonement accomplishes. Instead, He tells them, “Come to me, all who are wearied and overburdened, and I will give you rest (refreshing rest). Take my beam of balance (“yoke”) upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble at heart. And you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, my translation). That is the atonement, that in Christ we receive rest. Does Jesus save? Yes, if we let Him. Does Jesus save? Yes, if we seek rest in Him.
What is the atonement? What does it mean that Christ saves? It means this: Christ is the rest that the weary seek after, He is the hope that the hopeless long for, He is the lover of the unloved, the father to the orphans, the spouse to the widowed. He is strength for the weak, sight for the blind, sound to the deaf. He is light in our darkness, a companion to the lonely.
Never, ever, ever forget that this is the essence of the Gospel. It isn’t found in ceaseless debates or in an empty theology of self-betterment. The essence of the Gospel is that Christ came as the answer to the problem of evil. Christ didn’t come to give us some truth on how to live a better life. Christ didn’t come to point us to some way of living that would make us better. Christ didn’t come to bring us methods on how to have a better marriage. Christ came as THE way. Christ came as THE truth. Christ came as THE life. He came to teach us about Himself. That is the essence of the Gospel.
At some point, we Christians need to wake up and realize that we’re in a world that is stuck in winter. The darkness of this season penetrates the souls of all. We are left outside in the snow as the sun sets, attempting to find a fire to warm us. Many people find these fires of false philosophies, fires that provide a temporary warmth. But even these fires cannot last throughout the winter or even the night. The role of a Christian isn’t to put a blanket on those stuck in this frigid winter and tell them that Jesus gave them the blanket. The blanket is nice, it provides temporary warmth, but it ignores the bigger issue. Our role is to bring these people out of winter and into summer. Jesus saves? Then let us save people by gently helping them to migrate to warmer lands rather than protesting them for being cold.
We must tell them, we must show them, that Jesus is the warm summer heat to the frigid winter in our souls. Anything short of that and we have failed.