A place of mystery, a dark region of unexplored secrets, a fairy realm of magical enchantment, only the bravest dare delve its depths, and only the most foolish do so without some sense of trepidation and awe. Slowly I reach out, hands trembling slightly. What lies within? What treasures might I find? What dangers?
Gently prying the sides apart, I peer into the gloom, wondering what I will find this time.
My wife’s purse is an amazing place.
You doubt? She’s a mother, public school teacher, and children’s ministry volunteer. Spend that much time around small children and I’m sure your purse would be a pretty interesting place as well. She has to be prepared for every occasion, and she picks up all kinds of odds and ends along the way. Magicians have their bottomless hats; my wife has her purse. She wins.
I love watching her try to find stuff in there. After a little rummaging, she can usually locate the important things fairly quickly: wallet, cell phone, keys, lipstick. I don’t know how she does it. If she asks me to get her keys, I usually just bring the whole purse. Otherwise, I’d be gone all afternoon. But my wife can track them down in an instant.
When she has to find something she hasn’t seen or used in a while, however, that’s when the real treasures come out: toys, candy, pens, mysterious “presents” from her kids, food, and small herbivores. Okay, maybe not the last. But you get the point. Beneath the dirty Kleenex and nail files, down in the wrinkled corners far from the light of day, that’s where the fun stuff hides.
I like to think of my wife’s purse as a magic bag filled with amazing treasures. On any given day, she’ll probably pull out just a few of those. Others may get used on a weekly or monthly basis. And, some particularly rare treasures almost never breathe fresh air.
And, for many of us, the Gospel is just like this, a bag full of treasures, some so tarnished from daily use that we’ve forgotten how amazing they truly are, others pushed so far down that we have forgotten all about them, if we even knew they were there in the first place.
Some treasures are relatively ordinary. Now, at first glance, the concept of an “ordinary treasure” seems like a contradiction. How could a “treasure” ever be “ordinary”? Yet, it happens all the time.
Have you ever looked closely at a blade of grass? At first glance, it’s nothing special. Just a flat and fairly straight piece of vegetation. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see the veins running up the blade, the frayed edges at the top from the last time you mowed the lawn, the delicate way it bends slightly to one side. Place that same piece of grass under a microscope and you’ll see even more: an entire grass universe will open up before you—cells, chloroplasts, molecules, atoms, neutrons, electrons, and so on. Each level giving way to another. Press deeply enough and you’ll arrive at levels of reality only dimly understood by our most brilliant scientists—quarks, antiquarks, leptons, strings. Can you get much more ordinary than a blade of grass? Yet, when we stop to take a close look, we begin to realize that what seemed so normal and non-mysterious a moment ago actually contains limitless mystery, wonder, and awe. But, how often do we do that? Grass is “normal”, and normal things are not mysterious; normal things are not treasures; normal things are, well, normal.
Some Gospel treasures are like a blade of grass. We see them so regularly that they’ve become ordinary, almost boring.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
One one level, . Jesus does love us. He loves us very much. Press a little harder, though, and you begin to see the wonder, mystery, and awe lying just beneath the surface.
Who is Jesus? That question alone could take us an entire book to answer. Messiah. Savior. God. Man. Son of God. Servant.
Who are we? Creatures. Beings made in the image of God (more on this later). Sinners. Saints. Persons. Men. Women.
And, what is love—not just the broken, human love that I’m familiar with—but real love? What does it mean to say that God himself loves? And, what does it mean to say that the almighty, holy God of the universe loves tiny, broken, rebellious creatures like us? Talk about a mystery.
“Jesus loves me.” A childlike statement of simple faith? A profound declaration of mysterious wonder? Both. Viewed under the microscope, a whole universe unfolds before us. A universe that we have just begun to explore.
If parts of the Gospel have become “normal” for you, then I encourage you to take some time to see the mystery again.
Even the ordinary can be a treasure.
A Forgotten Treasure
When I was a kid, “cleaning” my room involved cramming as much stuff as possible into my closet and praying that my dad wouldn’t notice when he came to inspect. Sometimes that even worked. Usually it didn’t. That means I often had to spend an afternoon pulling everything out of my closet and putting stuff where it belonged.
I remember one afternoon in particular. Toward the back of the closet, I found an old lunchbox. Thoughts of rotten PB&J sandwiches and prepubescent flies swarmed through my head, until I opened it. Nestled inside like a pirate’s lost treasure, I found twenty dollars I had hidden several months before, a considerable sum for a small child. This was my secret stash. (I’m not entirely clear on why all kids need to have a secret stash. But, it seems pretty universal.) And, I had forgotten all about it.
That was an exciting afternoon. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to do with the money. But, that was beside the point. I had rediscovered my secret stash! Indeed, finding a forgotten treasure was so exciting that I spent the next several months trying to recreate the experience. I tried hiding that lunch box back in the closet, under my bed, in another room, and even on the ledge just outside my window. Nothing worked. Try as I might, I kept remembering where I’d stashed it this time. It’s hard to forget a treasure on purpose.
It’s easy to do on accident.
I can’t remember when I first heard the Gospel. Growing up in a Christian home, I’m sure I first it before I could even understand what I was hearing. But, I have an amazing capacity for forgetting things. So, even if we assume that my Sunday school teachers those many years ago did a great job explaining the Gospel to me, how much do you think I could forget over the course of several decades? Or even just a few years? I’ve always been able to recall those “ordinary” truths we discussed above. But, what if there’s more? What if there are treasures in the Gospel that I’ve simply forgotten about?
I bet if I dug into the Gospel a bit more, I’d find a secret stash of Gospel truths nestled inside an old lunchbox just waiting for me to rediscover them.
What about you?
An Unknown Treasure
The really great thing about my wife’s purse, though, are the things even she doesn’t know about. I still haven’t quite figured out how that happens. But then, I don’t spend most of my day surrounded by small children. So, she occasionally finds things in her purse that she knows nothing about.
I tested this the other day. With her permission, I dug down into the nether regions of my wife’s purse. Along with the ordinary items, I found a single mitten (even though it was almost summer), several plastic doodads of unknown origin and function, a small stuffed elephant, candy that I think was from several Halloweens back, and a love note that one of our daughters had slipped in there months before. She had no idea how any of it had gotten there.
What if the Gospel contains treasures we don’t even know about yet?
Just look at what Peter says when he preaches to a large crowd on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36). He’s just explaining the Gospel, so you’d think it would be pretty straightforward. Yet, he includes all kinds of odd things that most people don’t even consider when they’re talking about the Gospel. He begins by emphasizing that Jesus’ death was done according to the “plan” of God. What plan is this? What was God trying to accomplish and how did Jesus fit into this? Then, Peter spends more than half of his time talking about the resurrection. Really? What does the resurrection have to do with the Gospel? When I explain the Gospel, I usually focus on Jesus’ death. But, Peter only devotes one verse to Jesus’ death, spending nine verses on his resurrection. Why is that so important? And, we Peter spends a lot of time talking about God’s promises from the Old Testament. It’s good to know that God keeps his promises, but is this really a part of the Gospel? And, why does Peter include the fact that Jesus was raised to the right hand of the Father and that he has poured out the Spirit on his people? How do these truths relate to the Gospel?
I’ve heard a lot of Gospel presentations over the years, and I don’t think any of them included most of the ideas that Peter thought were so important. What have I been missing? What might we all be missing?
The Gospel has treasures many of us know nothing about. They sit in the wrinkled corners, waiting for us to come looking.
UNPACK YOUR BAG
With a purse like my wife’s there’s only one reliable method for discovering everything that lies within: tip it over and see what comes out. Every now and then, you have to empty your bag in the table, giving it several good shakes to make sure that each wrinkled corner surrenders its precious cargo. Then you can pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and take a close look at what you’ve discovered.
That’s what this book is for. Like my wife’s purse, we need to dump the Gospel on the table and (re)discover its amazing contents. Some things will be ordinary treasures that we know well and use regularly, but whose true depth and mystery we need to see again. Other things we’ve heard about, but have since forgotten. And, there may even be some things that we never knew about in the first place. Regardless, this book offers you a chance to pour yourself a cup of coffee (latte, tea, hot chocolate…whatever), sit back, and experience again the amazing glory of God’s good news.
Let’s unpack the Gospel together. You may be surprised by what you find.
[This is part of a short series I’m doing on different ways I could begin my Gospel book. I started yesterday with “I Don’t Want to Be a Dirty Klingon.” This one is obviously a bit longer, and goes in a very different direction. Let me know if you have any thoughts/feedback.]