A Gospel for the Lonely
Last week we talked about how the gospel is not a one-size-fits-all message. Instead, the gospel maps onto our personal stories to meet the specific needs, idols, brokenness of our lives.
The tendency preachers often have is to spend 30 minutes describing the problem and only 10 minutes describing the solution. We spend 30 minutes explaining why we need Jesus, and then only 10 minutes talking about Jesus.
I heard Charles Zimmerman’s OIL message: glance at ourselves and gaze and Jesus.
I want to reverse that a little today and spend our time talking about the gospel, Jesus, the solution.
And so I plan to do a little mini-series on more fully fleshing out the gospel as it applies to loneliness, shame, and the overachievement.
Today, we want to speak to the lonely, or more specifically, apply the gospel to loneliness.
I’m sure we all have felt the pain of loneliness at times
People in a new town, new school, new job.
Moms with their babies, all day with no adult interaction.
Even people with are surrounded by people, or seem to always be busy—lonely inside
College students. Right there with tons of peers and activities, feeling alone. My freshman year it seemed like others at church knew each other before they came to college. I would walk back after the Friday night large group alone.
Some of us, like Grace (in vignette), feel a deep ache within them, and there’s fear that they’ll always be alone. Parents were really there for her, perhaps friend have let her down, and she doesn’t have a loving husband
We want to point out that loneliness isn’t just for singles. Marriage doesn’t not always solve the loneliness problem. There are lots of lonely married people too. In fact, in some ways that may feel even more tragic, more lonely.
According to the Existentialist, a human being's existence is a lonely existence. At the end of the day, we are all alone. Can anyone ever truly understand what it is to be you, to experience all the things you have experienced, to understand your joys and happiness, your pains and sorrows? Surely we can talk to other people about how we feel, we can draw pictures, we can play music, but all this attempt to communicate ultimately leaves something behind. We cannot always get our feelings, ideas or experiences across exactly. There is a painful reality that ultimately we are alone, by ourselves, and ultimately lonely. (www.webofloneliness)
I’m sure we’ve all felt the pain of loneliness at some point in our lives. We are created as relational beings and we live in a fallen world. But unlike the existentialist who finds himself ultimately alone, we believe we are not alone. Today we want to see how the Gospel speaks to us relational beings.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be loved.
We are meant to be in relationship with one another. We were created as relational beings.
God himself sad in the garden, it is not good for man to be alone.
The problem is when we define ourselves (seek our identity) in being loved, or we base our significance on being loved. To live in the gospel is to find our identity and significance in Christ (which is what we want to explore today).
Last week we said that the Gospel maps onto our individual lives. To the lonely, the one seeking for love, the gospel is that Jesus loves you far more than you could ever understand or imagine. We want to take a closer look at Jesus and the Gospel.
1. Jesus cared for the outcast, the lonely.
Jesus’ ministry was not to the popular, but to the marginalized.
Jesus cared for those no one else seemed to care about. Jesus cared for the nobodies of his day. He spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors. He healed the blind, crippled, demon-possessed. He received children.
In Luke 15, Jesus is spending time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes. Religious leaders quietly criticize Jesus for his choice of friends. And then Jesus tells 3 parables (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son), all making the same point: these “less than desirables” are important to God. He rejoices of them. He longs for them to come home, and runs down the street to embrace them when they do.
Maybe some of us feel lonely because we feel we’re not that likeable, attractive, we don’t have the personality. Somehow we feel un-included, marginalized. Jesus spent a lot of time with, reach out to those on the outside, the unnamed and unwanted.
Maybe by God’s Spirit, as you read passages like Lk 15, you realize that Jesus has been running after you.
Mt 8, Mk 1, Lk 5 all tell the story of how a man with leprosy begged Jesus to heal him, “Lord, If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately the man was cured of his leprosy.
Jesus healed many different people many different ways. He put mud on a man’s eyes and told him to wash in a particular pool. He sometimes just said, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” And the person was instantly the person’s blind eyes see or the bleeding stops.
It’s interesting that this time we read that Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. You need to understand that this man has been “unclean” for a long time. “Unclean” people were to stay outside the community. You weren’t allowed to touch someone unclean because you’d become unclean too. This man has been alone and untouched for years. In Scripture some times you see that people were greeted with a kiss. This man was never kissed, never hugged, never touched. In fact, this is the man people ran away from. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Be clean.” He first touches the man.
Jesus understands our private pain, our inner longings, our silent tears.
Maybe by God’s Spirit, as you read accounts like this, you realize that Jesus see your deepest needs, Jesus touches you.
Maybe this is your personal gospel: “To someone no else would touch, Jesus reached out and touched me.”
There plenty of other pictures of a loving Jesus who knows and cares for hurting and lonely people. To the lonely, we say, Look at Jesus.
2. Jesus suffered alone.
Throughout his journey to
One of his very own disciples betrays him for 30 pieces of silver.
Then after the arrest, the disciples flee. Another one denies he ever knew Jesus. Jesus stands before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate alone. As he hung on the cross, all of his disciples but one had fled. But most significantly, He was abandoned by His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In his darkest moment, he suffered completely alone. There was no one who understood his pain, no one who shared His pain, no one who was ever more cosmically alone.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Heb 4:15)
Maybe you feel like no one else understands your loneliness or struggle. We have a God who understands. He knows loneliness.
3. Jesus made the great exchange.
We say at the cross was the great exchange. He who was righteous became sin, so that we who were sinful could become righteous. He who was rich became poor so that we who were poor could become rich. He who had perfect companionship, soul-mates, fellowship became lonely, so that we who were lonely could come into perfect fellowship with God and with others.
On the cross, Jesus didn’t just take your sin and guilt, He took your poverty, your brokenness, your shame, your loneliness, and He gave you riches, wholeness, glory and perfect and intimate fellowship. Jesus died for your sins; Jesus died for your loneliness. Do you believe that?
4. In the big story, Christ has removed the curse of loneliness and restored paradise.
I’d like us to see the big redemptive story through the lens of loneliness and fellowship.
In the Garden, Adam perfect fellowship with God. Even so, God specifically said, it is not good for man to be alone. So He made Eve.
Man was not made to only be in relationship with God, man was also made to be in relationship with others.
And so, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect fellowship with God and with one another.
Then after the fall, they covered themselves. There came a world of alienation: before God, before one another, before ourselves. We live with masks and walls.
Next chapter, we see Cain and Able; jealousy, murder. Sin has not only cast us out of the Garden; sin has destroyed our fellowship with one another. Cain is sent as a restless wanderer, a lonely man.
Loneliness and alienation is a result of the fall.
The Gospel is not just that Jesus has forgiven us of our sins and given us a home in heaven. The Gospel is that Jesus has removed the fullness of the curse. He has restored Shalom. No longer does the ground produce thorns, no longer is death in our bodies. No longer are we alienated from God, and no longer are we alienated from one another. That is the Good News, Christ has taken the curse away and restored paradise for us.
We now live in a world of love & fellowship: we are united with Christ, we are the dwelling of His HS, we are adopted into God’s family, we are part of a new community where we
Love one another, encourage one another, pray for one another, forgive one another, serve one another, honor one another, submit to one another, consider others better than ourselves, etc.
There is no more loneliness in the Kingdom of God. Loneliness is conquered, cured, vanquished, eliminated. We still feel it, but we no it’s a defeated enemy.
5. John & Gaius: A Snapshot of Christian Friendship
Christ has removed loneliness and alienation. There is deeper fellowship with God and with one another. And you see pictures of that in the NT. 3 John is a beautiful picture of Christian Friendship
vv. 1, 2, 5, 11. Dear friend, whom I love in the truth.
vv. 3, 4. I’ve heard about your faithfulness, about your hospitality to missionaries. That gives me “no greater joy.”
It is a picture of an older brother encouraging a younger brother, finding joy in his spiritual obedience and growth.
It is a real special joy to care for a younger brother/sister, minister to them, pray for them, and see them growing in the Lord. It’s the joy of caring for someone else and for his spiritual growth.
It is joy and friendship based on a common desire to serve and follow Christ. It is not just two Christians who are friends; it is a friendship based on a common commitment and desire for Jesus. And from that flows prayers, encouragement, joy, guidance/instruction.
Jesus has taken us from a world of “Cain & Able” to “John & Gaius.”
6. Through Jesus and His Gospel we can have intimacy that would otherwise not be possible.
Jesus opens the door for intimacy with Himself AND with others; that is what He has accomplished for us.
Non-Christians can have deep friendships, strong marriages, but we believe for the Christian, we can have far more.
A. We have the same Spirit, same Lord, same Father, same citizenship & homeland. We have a common gospel, a common Scripture, a common mission, a common purpose.
As with John and Gaius, the common desire to love and serve Jesus provides the overlap of deep commitments and passions.
B. We are freed from shame and are people of glory. We’ll look more at this one next time, but as we mentioned last week, the gospel says, we’re far more messed up than we realize, and we’re far more glorious, beautiful, significant than we could ever understand. There’s nothing to hide. We are children of glory. So now, we don’t have to be afraid to talk about our mistakes and inadequacies, our addictions and scars. We know we’re all messed up, and we know we’re also radiant, a bride without stain or blemish. We don’t have to cover ourselves, wear our masks, play our charade game; there’s nothing to hide.
C. We can love out of fullness instead of need.
If we are hungry for acceptance, for friendships, for love, then we’re just using people to feel loved and accepted. That can lead to
just liking people who like you, only those who fill your need
always saying Yes, because your so needy of their acceptance
being overly protected, because your so afraid of being rejected
always thinking about what other people think, because that’s where you’re looking to find your significance
If, however, you have a Jesus who loves you already, who understands you and cares for you, who has given you hope and significance, then instead of trying to find more acceptance, you’re free. You’re free just to love others.
If and when you do feel lonely,
we can drown ourselves in depression and self-pity
we can try to make friends to fill our neediness
Or we can look at Jesus
There is a loving Jesus who cares for, understands, tenderly loves you. He touches you.
He knows what its like to be lonely, to suffer and die so cosmically alone.
We can preach the Gospel to ourselves
That on the cross, he took our sin and gave us his righteousness; he took our loneliness/alienation and gave us fellowship/community.
In the bigger story, the curse that has produced alienation and loneliness He has cured. He has conquered loneliness, and has restored paradise, Shalom.
He has inaugurated a new community, a new family where we love, serve, honor, encourage, pray for one another.
And now, being so loved, so rich, we are free to love others instead of trying to serve ourselves.