Happy Birthday, Alex!! You know, today happens to be my birthday. Traditionally, we mark the day people are physically born into this world, and may do so with gatherings in which we give them gifts, eat cake, and try to make the birthday “honoree” feel special. Each one of us is a unique creation of God, and each individual’s life should indeed be celebrated, because each of us was brought into this world by God. We are special because we are each a small reflection of God’s beautiful image.
And yet, that image of God in us is marred by the universal presence of sin. Even the best-natured, most talented, brightest and most attractive among us suffers from this disease of sin, which spoils the image of God in us, and makes us into something we were not meant to be.
The presence of evil in this world is readily observed. Each day we hear all the bad news, as we watch television reports, and read our newspapers or Internet news feeds. The bad news is all the horrible things people are doing to each other: theft, rape, abandonment, adultery, murder, etc. The list is never-ending, fueled by the energy and creativity of minds under the influence of evil.
On top of this we also have the bad news of natural disasters, accidents, sicknesses, and deaths that happen every day, not by the hand of other human beings, but simply because we live in a fallen world in which such terrible things happen to all. Something within us intuitively reacts to all these negative events with the feeling– this is not the way it should be, not the way things were meant to be.
But the scariest, most sobering part of recognizing evil on earth, is that we find evil not only without, but also within. We may want to deny it, but we know that in our hearts we too have hated, lusted, stolen, coveted and thought things we know are wrong. And often we have acted upon these evil impulses, and have hurt others and also ourselves by our acts.
The presence of evil, both without and within, and the havoc it causes is sad, even tragic. Perhaps we are tempted to question the God we know or suspect exists, as we cry out, “Why, oh God, must things be this way? Why all this evil in the world? Why is evil within me?”
But there is good news. There is a solution to these questions. God did not leave us alone in our earthly predicament. But in love, He sent His own son, in the form of a man, to Earth. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. He lived on Earth for only a brief 33 years, and in his humanity was subject to the same conditions we experience every day. He walked and ate and drank just like any other human being. Like us, He was born a helpless infant and had to be taken care of and raised by his human parents. He learned to read and write, how to do the things children of his day were expected to do. As He grew up, He had to fulfill certain responsibilities as a member of his family. From Joseph his earthly father He learned the family business of carpentry and later began a preaching and teaching ministry. Surely He too witnessed all the good and evil that is part of life on earth. But there was something very different about this Man.
In his ministry, incredible miracles were taking place, things that had never been heard of — the blind were seeing, the lame made to walk, lepers cleansed– even the dead were raised to new life. He commanded demons, who instantly obeyed Him, and even the winds and the waves responded when He spoke the word. What kind of man was this?
In His teaching Jesus said unique things, things that sometimes made Him look like a madman or even a blasphemer to some. He had the audacity to forgive people their sins, and He taught that unless one who ate of His flesh and drank of His blood would have eternal life (John 6:54-56). What kind of teaching was this?
One day a man came to him in secret to ask Jesus some questions. He had seen the miracles Jesus was doing and knew this man must have something special- God must be with him. Jesus proceeded to teach this man, Nicodemus, who himself was a religious teacher, essential spiritual lessons. Jesus told him that in order to see and enter into the kingdom of God, one must be born again. To paraphrase, Jesus was saying it’s not enough to have only a physical birthday, but we all must also experience a spiritual birthday. One must be born spiritually, as well as physically!
Friends, today happens to be my physical birthday, but I am so glad that June 7, 1983 marks my spiritual birthday. On that day, as I recall, I quietly asked the Lord to save me, as I was alone in my bedroom. I confessed before Him that I recognized that I was a sinner and that I believed that Jesus had died on a cross to pay for my sins. How beautiful the feelings of peace and joy I experienced in the months after that, knowing that my sins were all and forever forgiven, that I had a new start with God, and that from now on I would live knowing that God was watching over my life, who would direct and shape me into the man I was supposed to become.
But it has not always been an easy path. Mostly this is because I battle with sins in my life and heart, sins that too often I have let dominate me. But God is faithful, and I see how He is working in me, sometimes by allowing painful circumstances that I would not have chosen nor could have foreseen. I believe that I have been on a journey of learning and applying more deeply the truth that will set me free. We have been led to a church where right doctrine is highly valued, not because it makes one intellectually superior or more right, but because it leads to a better understanding of who God is and how He works in our lives. This leads to living a more God-centered life, in which I learn to love and honor Him God better as I see more and more how glorious He really is, how good and kind and patient He is. Sin and evil, then, do not have the last word. Jesus, the Word made flesh, does, and He declares “Behold, I am making all things new (Rev 21:5).”
As John Piper said in a sermon titled, “Behold I Make All things New“,
When God makes all things new, he will make us spiritually and morally as pure as flawless crystal, he will give us a body like the body of his glory, he will renovate all creation to take all futility and evil and pain out of it, and finally he himself will come to us and let us see his face. And so forever and ever we will live with pure hearts and glorious bodies on a new earth in the presence and the glory of our heavenly Father.
This will be the glorious result of what began with a spiritual birthday here on Earth– I, along with the creation, will be made completely new, by the power of Christ. To God be the glory.