The bitter-sweet taste of the gospel
If you chew long enough on a piece of bread it will begin to taste sweet. This is what science says. And so does the Bible. The gospel can be as sweet as honey bread, but it can also be bitter. A taste-test with the Chief Apostle.
On 24 September 2017 Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider celebrated a divine service in Melbourne in Australia. The District Church received a new Apostle, Peter Schulte, who was also assigned as a District Apostle Helper. Many congregations were able to participate in this divine service by satellite transmission. The Chief Apostle based his sermon on Revelation 10: 10: “Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”
“The little book which John ate can be understood as an image for the word of God,” the Chief Apostle said in interpreting this image. We have to eat it, he said, in other words, we have to occupy ourselves with it and put it into practice. As a matter of principle, the gospel is the glad tidings and therefore as sweet as honey. But, the Chief Apostle added, it does include limitations and constraints, which people can interpret as bitter. The Chief Apostle mentioned a few examples of this bitter-sweet teaching.
God is love. What a sweet message! “God loves us all equally. No matter who we are, where we come from, irrespective of our weaknesses, and despite our failures: He loves us. That is the sweet message.” But when you go into this a little deeper, it becomes clear that God truly loves all human beings, not only individuals. “He loves my neighbour just as much as He loves me—even if my neighbour is a great sinner. He loves him as much as me.” For some this may sound very bitter, and not all can accept it. They are glad that God loves them, but they cannot accept the fact that God loves their neighbour just as much as them. “Let us accept the love of God. It is wonderful to know that God loves me with all my weaknesses. And for this reason it is not a problem that He loves my neighbour as much as He loves me.”
God is grace. More sweet news. Jesus Christ is the Saviour who conquered hell and death. That is why He is able to save believers from death. But that also means that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation! There is no other way. For some people this is bitter. For them this message is too demanding. They believe that there are other ways that lead to fellowship with God. Of course there are many ways to become a better person. There are many ways one can do good. But the gospel states that only faith in Jesus Christ, the Son, leads to the Father.
God is liberty. What a sweet message! God gave man a free will. “We have the freedom of choice. He will never force us to do anything against our will.” On the other hand, God wants believers to choose Christ freely, and do so in a clear and definite manner—without compromise. This is the bitter side of the decision, the Chief Apostle added. But Jesus clearly said that He will confess those before His Father who confessed Him before others. “Let us not be ashamed to say that we are Christians, that we believe in the gospel. Let us profess our faith in Jesus Christ.” That is not always easy, he said, but the Lord has promised us that He will acknowledge us before His Father.
God is glory. What wonderful news! The faithful can be heirs of His glory. What a wonderful outlook! The bitter side: we have to walk the path He walked. We have to carry our cross, deal with trials, and fight and struggle against the devil. “And for some this is too much. Following Christ to heaven is fine, but giving oneself up—one’s thoughts, opinions, and plans—and bringing oneself into alignment with Jesus is too much for some.” But for the glory of God every struggle is worthwhile. We will not even remember our sufferings. No one can attain this glory by their own merit. “Because we are aware of this grace, we do not want to get upset if God does not spare us every sorrow, even though we are faithful to Him. Our reward is fellowship with Christ!”
Chief Apostle Schneider: “Faith in the gospel is a source of salvation for those who accept its limitations and constraints.”