When you’re a pastor sometimes you dream in sermons. Last night I had one of those dreams. The scene wasn’t an auditorium or chapel, a sanctuary or cathedral, but a classroom full of students. They sat at desks in rows while I stood at a podium…preaching like it was a Sunday morning service.
Occasionally I’ll have this dream in a similar fashion with one exception: it will turn into a pastor’s nightmare. It’s basically the same dream except I’ve been called on to preach and I have no sermon. When that dream occurs I generally wake up in a sweat, relieved to find out Sunday hasn’t yet come.
In this dream, however, I was prepared. I stood preaching my guts out. Then, the bell rang, and the students were dismissed. Some stayed while others got up and left immediately. I closed the sermon with this point: “Jesus did not die for good guys.” I said it; I emphasized it; I shouted it. A vein bulged on the side of my neck as I made my impassioned plea for students to hear and receive this truth.
The only thing from my dream-sermon I remember is: Jesus did not die for good guys. Now that I’m awake I’m still thinking about it. At least two types of people need this reminder. The first is the person who knows and feels deeply within that they are undeserving of God’s forgiveness. These individuals are conscious and keenly aware of some terrible act (or present, continuous acts) in their lives that separates them from God. Whether they put the words of the psalmist to it, they’ve asked the question, “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” Their answer, “Not me!” They’re right to conclude they cannot stand before a holy God based on their goodness (Psalm 130:3).
They are wrong, however, to think that a holy God cannot descend to them. This descension is why Christians just celebrated Christmas. They’ve wrongly thought Christianity means cleaning yourself up, getting your act together, and getting into church. Christianity in their view means becoming and being a good boy or girl. So, with their self-awareness intact, they’ve resigned from the effort or are in process of trying to become what they’re not…a good boy or girl.
The second type of person who needs to hear that Jesus did not die for good guys are…well, good guys. These are Christians who were saved from their sins, but 1 of 3 things has happened:
1. They’ve forgotten what they were before God saved them.
2. They’ve looked back on their sins and characterized them as light compared to things they could’ve done, especially compared to other sinners.
3. They have a deluded or dismissive attitude about sins in them presently.
These three things form a picture that can serve as an illusion for us as Christians. The illusion is that God saved us BECAUSE we were good. We know the right things to say and pay lip service to our state as a sinner, but subjectively we weigh our particular sins in a balance and always come out better than others. It cannot be overstated the dangerous effects this has on one’s life.
The gospel addresses and corrects both individuals – the despairing and prideful. To those far from God, he says his arm is not so short that he cannot reach us. The gospel says to us: “Jesus came!” He lived and died not to save good people but bad people. Christ didn’t come for the healthy but the sick.
To those duped by thinking themselves better than they ought, the gospel offers the needed reminder that everyone is sick. It says to us all, “Jesus came to save sinners!” As one pastor put it, “If all the world were a western, there’s only one guy wearing the white hat.”