- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently at Grace Community Church by pastor John Slye:

Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Jesus had nine different Greek words to choose from for “mourning.” The word he chose is very important for us as we try to understand this verse. He chose a word that means to have deep agonizing grief over the loss of a loved one. Separation is what this verse is all about. We are separated from God. Why? Jesus doesn’t say, but we are safe to assume it is our sin that separates us from God as Isaiah 59:2 says. Our sin distances us from God. But Matthew 5:4 isn’t a scripture about sin; it’s primarily about separation. The problem is I have the tendency to turn it into a verse focused on sin, and I’m afraid I’m not alone.

One scholar, in commenting about this verse, said, “You never see Jesus laughing in the Scriptures. You don’t see Him happy; you see Him weeping, agonizing, angry and lamenting. Why? He is distraught by our sin.” But is He? Is it our sin that is really breaking the heart of God, or is it something completely different, something that might change a lot of people’s opinions about Jesus and His followers?

Idols, what are they? An idol is something we focus on, talk about and fixate on. After a while our idols define us as people. If my idol is money, eventually people will say John is all about money. Now here is the real kicker: What do most non-churchgoing people think the church is all about? Sin and condemnation. Maybe, just maybe the church has turned sin into our very own idol? We certainly seem to have become known for that. When we surveyed our community the No. 1 thing people said that they think the Christian church is all about is condemnation. That is so sad because it is the last thing Jesus is about. How is it that Jesus’ church could have strayed so far from His plan?

When I was in Bible college, we would have elaborate conversations about sin. Could you chew tobacco, drink alcohol, smoke, dance or go to movies, and how far could you go with a girl? There is something about human beings that we tend to be drawn to bad news. Bad news sells. So when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn,” where does our attention go? Does it go to the separation? No, it tends to go toward the sin. Separation is about God’s mercy and grace and how much God loves you and wants to be reconciled to you. God’s desire is to be back in relationship with you. That’s God’s focus.

One of Jesus’ famous stories is known as the prodigal son in Luke 15. A son comes to the father and says, “Dad, I’d like to take my inheritance now.” To do that in his culture was like saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead, but since you’re not, I’ll just take the money.” The father gives him the money and sends him off. The son goes out and loses all the money, and then stoops as low as he can go and gets a job feeding pigs, longing to eat their slop. He finally comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father.

Who is the father in this story? God. As you read the story, it says the father is standing and sees his son as he looks out over the horizon. That’s a word picture of God standing on the edge of heaven looking out for any of us separated from Him. When he sees him coming, the dad takes off in a sprint to the son.

When he reaches this sinner of a son, he throws his arms around him and welcomes him home. What’s missing in this story? Sin. Why doesn’t the father focus on how terrible a sinner the son has been? Because sin isn’t the father’s focus; separation is. Why else did the father run? Older Jewish men would not run in public. It was humiliating to do so. The reason the father runs is because if the community would have gotten to the son first they would have killed him for his sin. Who is the community in this story? The church.

Jesus did not come to this earth to solve our sin problem. He came to solve our separation problem. I invited Jesus to be my Savior more than 30 years ago, but in reality I’m still sinning. If Jesus came to solve my sin problem, it’s not working. What Jesus came to solve is our separation problem.

Surveys indicate the No. 1 problem people have with church is it’s all about condemnation. This is what happens when we focus on sin instead of separation. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I used to read that as, “I’m in Christ Jesus, good for me, but so sad for you who are not.” Now I understand it in a fuller sense. Since Jesus is in my life, condemnation no longer is. Like a prisoner Jesus has set me free from the need to condemn. Eternity is in his hands, my responsibility is to follow him as best I can.

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