More Than Meets the Eye
More Than Meets the Eye
Life is really about perspective. Last night, my wife went to a concert in Dallas with some friends and family. I got home, and my son was in bed, and my daughter was sitting up next to me, and we were chatting about her day. She said, "Daddy, I wish we were rich." I said, "Okay, we are. We are rich. What do you mean by rich?" She said, "I wish we had a big bed." I responded, "Baby, your mommy and I have a California king bed. I had to special order it. They don't get bigger than that." She said, "No no no, I want a bed that Mimi and Pappy, Nana and Papa, and Sage and Kaitlyn, and mommy and Reid can all sleep in together." So I said, "Okay, boo. Daddy can afford that, but that ain't happening. Now go to your bed."
In the end, it really is about perspective. My daughter thinks wealth is having a bed large enough for basically everyone she knows—her whole universe—to sleep together in. Here's what I want to do as quickly as I can: I want to establish some perspective that I hope will help where you find your life playing out.
My Father's business
(Read Luke 2:41-49)
Some of you might have a version that says "be about My Father's business" (NKJV). This is correct. It's the same idea. In the first century, this "being about the house" and "being about the Father's business" are synonymous. What I want to do in order to establish some perspective in our lives is talk about what the Father's business is in Jesus—what he is accomplishing in Jesus.
This is a really strange story in terms of the life of Jesus. It's the only picture we have of him between infancy and active ministry at age 30. And it's really an unglamorous story. There's nothing really spectacular. If you go and read some other kind of ancient literature, there are all these really crazy stories about Jesus as a kid. There's one where he was playing in a puddle and made the puddle part, and another kid came by and threw a branch in it. Then Jesus was like, "What's that water to you?" Then bam, he killed him. I don't think that actually happened.
It's one of those kinds of supernatural stories that people want to attribute to the little child Jesus—the little teenager Jesus—which makes this one a little more believable in Luke. The story in Luke is just this: "He went to the temple and started teaching. That's what you get at age 12."
Who is Jesus?
(Read Colossians 1:15-23)
Flip over to Colossians 1. In order to figure out the business of God in Jesus—what Jesus is up to in the temple, and then everything else he's going to do—we have to figure out who Jesus is. So let's look at Jesus. We'll pick it up in Colossians 1:15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."
I love that verse. Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, is the image of the invisible God. This means that all we would want to know about the character, temperament, and personality of God, we see in the man, Jesus. How does God handle sin? Look at Jesus. What's God's tone toward this group? Toward that group? Look at Jesus. This is a pretty profound verse. That should send you to the Gospels to start reading. What's God like? This image of the invisible God is found in Jesus.
Verse 16 says, "For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." Here's a little brainteaser for you. The authority which Jesus' mom is using to rebuke him was given to her by him. The text just said that all rule, all authority, all positions of power were created by Christ for Christ. The very authority this mother has over her child was given to that mother by her child.
Now I need to spend a second on this word "reconcile," because in order for something to need to be reconciled, it has to be broken. Paul's saying here that Christ came and did his Father's business, and in doing his Father's business, he takes what's wrong and makes it right. He reconciles it. He's reconciling unto himself all things. How? "[W]hether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col. 1:20b). Whatever ails the universe was reconciled back to rhythm by the cross of Christ.
Christ's work for us
Now let's get into you and me, because that's Jesus. Now Paul is going to start talking about you and me. Verse 21 says, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior."
That's a tough verse, and it's a tough verse because the majority of humanity is not going to own up to having a hostile mind toward God and being doers of evil deeds. What we want to do on the whole, and specifically here, is find really evil deeds out there. On a scale of 1 to 10, we want to find an 11. We want to say, "See? Look at that. I'm not bad." That's the game we play. We never use biblical standards. We look at atrocities, and we want to lay ourselves against the atrocity and say, "I'm not hostile in mind toward God, and I'm not wicked. I'm a good person. I even give to the little bell ringers at Wal-Mart. I've done that. I'm not wicked."
Now, the problem with that is that the standard of holiness is not other people's wickedness. That's not how it works. A litmus test of Morality 101 is the Ten Commandments. Are there any liars in here? Okay, that's one. We could keep going down the list. Has anybody worshiped other gods, rather than the real one? I know that's a big one. You might think, No, I haven't. But yeah, we have. Our gods are just a little dumber than monkeys and cows—our gods are cars and houses and stuff like that, which is even dumber, I think. At least a monkey and cow are living things. Has anybody ever coveted anything that someone else had? Have you ever thought they got it in an unfair way, and you were worthy of it? Come on, you don't have to lie. Oh, wait, you're liars. Never mind, we already established that.
We could go on and on here. We fail, 10 out of 10 times. Everybody loves to hang their hat on "I haven't murdered anybody. Give me that one." But I can't give you that one because Christ won't give it to you. He says, "Listen, it doesn't matter if you don't murder. If your heart's filled with rage, it's the same sin."
Yeah, so you fail, 10 out of 10. You pulled a straight up zero. Do you know how difficult it is to bring your average up when you score a zero on the one big test? I could tell you from personal experience: it's nearly impossible. We're starting out scoring zero. I don't care if you were born in the church, I don't care if you were raised in it, I don't care if you've obeyed all its rules. You're just as guilty, just as broken. Everybody gets a zero on this one. All of us are alienated, all of us are hostile in mind, all of us are doing wicked deeds—all of us.
Now that I've got all of us chipper, let's keep going to verse 22: "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." The cross of Christ has reconciled us, has made us right before God. Look how far the cross of Christ goes.
The work of the Cross means that you and I, right now, are holy and blameless and above reproach, which means no one can even bring an accusation against us. Is there anybody feeling that in here? Is there anybody walking in here going, "I'm blameless. I'm above reproach. You can call me holy—it doesn't make me uncomfortable." I hope not. Or maybe I hope so. I don't know what to do with this. But this is how God views you and me because of the Cross. Who did this? Christ did this. Who's made us holy, blameless, and above reproach? Christ has done this.
Now this is a far cry from other world religions. Religion's theme, its bumper sticker, is "I obey, therefore I'm accepted." You've seen none of that in this text. Christ reconciled it; Christ made it right, Christ fixed it, Christ makes you holy, Christ makes you blameless, and Christ makes you above reproach. There's no mention of you at any level, except that you're wicked.
Steadfast in faith
Paul is going to move on here, however, and he is going to say we get this holy, blameless, and above-reproach deal if we continue on in doing something—but it's what that is that's so very surprising. Verse 23 says: "if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel."
What this text says is that we get holy, blameless, and above-reproach standing with God not if we complete this task, that task, and this task, but rather if we hold steadfast in faith. Faith in what? Faith in the Cross. Faith in Christ, hope in Jesus: that's where this happens.
That's profound, because everyone else would say, "Do this, do this, do this, do this, and do this to get right standing." Biblical Christianity says, "Hope, faith, and Christ: done. The altar's shut down. Christ paid the bill and absorbed the wrath of God toward sinners. Jesus."
The reason why people really don't like for you to preach that a lot is because people will use that message of grace to do whatever they want. They'll say, "Oh, well, there's grace—and God forgives everything." Which is true, but the problem with that line of thinking is it reveals that, unfortunately for you, you're not saved. Romans 6:1 says, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" That's impossible. That mindset doesn't work in the heart of someone who's been conformed.
Christ as our example
Although that's his primary role, Christ's coming also has a secondary role. Here's what I'd tell you: throughout the pages of Scripture, there are these men and women who tend to have one great virtue and then the rest of their lives are train wrecks. Some of them, I don't even know what their redeeming quality is, and I don't even know what their virtue is.
Is there anything positive about Samson? I can't think of anything. He broke every angle of his vow. Even that great story we teach all our kids about—when he picks up the jawbone of a donkey and kills 20,000 people—he's breaking his vow. He's not supposed to touch anything dead, and he picks that up. He's also got major woman issues. A girl tried to kill him four times, and then he waits two weeks, and then he calls her back and says, "Do you want to have something to eat?" He is the most codependent fool in the Scriptures. He's got a problem with this woman, and he's got some lust issues. Look at the pinnacle of this book: finally, after he breaks all his vows, the Philistines get him and gouge his eyes out. He finds himself at the pillar of a temple, and he's like, "If you give me my strength back, I'll kill all these fools." And God's like, "All right." Samson then kills everybody and himself. That's how the book ends.
Esther had unbelievable courage: "If you go in there, you're probably going to die, but it may be for such a time as this that God has placed you where he's placed you." Job had an unbelievable amount of perseverance. Jeremiah's another cat with an amazing amount of courage—I know he gets a bad rap because he complains about it the whole time, but it doesn't change the fact that every time he prophesies, somebody kicks the trash out of him, and he keeps prophesying. David had an unbelievable amount of passion.
They all seem to have this one high virtue, and the rest of their lives are kind of a train wreck. So in the person of Jesus, God puts all that is good, all that is right, and all that should be imitated. Then Jesus becomes not only the one bringing the kingdom of God and putting the kingdom of God at hand—dying as an expiation, propitiation, and removal of our sin—but he also becomes the example by which we are to follow.
There are so many examples here. In healing the sick, he's teaching us benevolence. In rebuking hypocrisy, he's teaching us boldness. In enduring temptation, he's teaching us strength. In forgiving his enemies, he's teaching us grace and meekness.
Jesus' life is not playing out in a vacuum; it's playing out in very similar ways to the way our lives play out. Let me give you an example. Has anybody been to a wedding? We've got Jesus at a wedding: celebrating, serving. Have you been to a funeral? You've got Jesus at a funeral. In fact, one of my favorite parts about Jesus going to Lazarus's funeral is that he weeps, mourns, and wails. I don't know if you've ever been in that kind of canned Christian environment where someone has experienced loss and feel it's their Christian duty to pretend they're all right: to pretend their heart's not failing, that they're not frustrated with God. Maybe they really are that, by a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, but I've definitely been in a room where it's white-knuckled, and six months later, there's a collapse. No, Jesus says, "Mourn. It's okay to mourn. It's all right to hurt, it's okay to be frustrated, and it's alright to not understand. Mourn."
Has anyone in here ever been involved in conflict of any kind? Because it's almost like every seven verses, Jesus is back in it. With meekness and gentleness and always with truth, he engages the conflict. Has anybody ever had problems with their family? Like your mom thinks you're crazy or stuff like that? Well, we watched Jesus do that, and we watch him honor his mother at the same time: fulfilling obedience. We could go on and on.
If you've been in one place your whole life, or if you grew up in the ghetto, one of the things that happens is you get defined by who your dad is, and you get defined by who your family is. A lot of people tend to get crushed under the weight of that. It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy. When you're a kid, you think, I'm not going to be my old man. I'm not going to be my mom. Then, in the end, you become that.
In the same way, Jesus goes back to Nazareth and starts working and preaching and teaching, and what do they say? "Isn't that Joseph's boy? Aren't you a carpenter's son?" Christ refuses to be defined by that. In suffering, Jesus asks for prayer and leans on God. In weariness, he sits down and rests. I love the fact that Jesus gets tired. We don't ever think of him that way, but on more than one occasion, Jesus got tired. In fact, one of my favorite stories is when he meets the woman at the well because he sits down there. The disciples have been with him the whole time, and he's like, "I'm tired. Go into town and get me something to eat." So they head on into town. I always love it because he's feeding five thousand people, commanding the winds and rain, and yet he makes them go into town to get him a sandwich.
But watch him with his friends. Watch him within temptation—he uses the Word of God and trusts that the Word of God is good and right and active. In busyness—and I think a lot of us can relate to this—he always sought out solitude. In the busiest, craziest times, he would always find that time to leave and get alone with God.
I want to speak to something here, because solitude and isolation are not the same thing. Most of us, in busyness, try to isolate ourselves. He doesn't isolate himself; he seeks solitude, and those two things are different. Jesus is this consistent, constant example of life lived at the highest level, of life lived at the deepest level. I guess what I'm trying to ask is: "What would Jesus do?" I'm kind of angry and embarrassed that it came to that. I've been actively mocking that for years and here we go, saying, "No, we have a great high priest who has endured all that we have endured, so in that moment, he can say, 'I know. I showed you a way out.'"
Jesus is not your retirement program
Now, let me tell you some things I worry about. Here's the gospel: Christ coming and absorbing the wrath of God, being the one we are to model and pursue. I always had this romantic notion in my head of going someplace where it was very difficult to do church: where popular culture was not overtly conservative but more liberal, where there was a great deal of antagonism against the church. It would be a place with very hard ground. That's where I always wanted to do this, and I'll tell you why. I think this is a romantic notion, and I don't think it's true, but I'll tell you why that was in my head.
It seems like for a majority of us, our relationship with Christ works very similarly to our retirement program—like some kind of divine Roth IRA or some kind of cosmic 401k. Every month we want to put a little in, hoping we've saved up enough when all is said and done. On the whole, it doesn't seem there is a passionate pursuit of, longing for, or submission to Christ as the covering over every area of our lives. Instead, he becomes our retirement program: something that's going to pay dividends when we get closer to death, but not right now. Right now, what I want to do is put in three percent or five percent a month because the church is going to match, and then my hope is that when my time comes and it's time to retire—when it's time to die—I've got enough that when I stand before God, I've put enough aside to get in.
There's a series of monumental problems with this. Number one: Christ doesn't use scales. Your church attendance and good behavior are not going to go over there and be weighed out next to your bad. That's not what's going to happen. Who makes you holy and blameless before God? Christ, the Cross—not monthly installments of church attendance.
I'm perpetually worried about us. Do you know how many horrifying texts there are in Scripture, ones that should make us lose a little sleep every now and then? I've been an ordained minister for nearly 15 years, and there are still nights I have to get up and get on my knees and worry and press into the Lord a little bit about the verses that say, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:22-23) That is a horrifying text of Scripture. Or how about, "[C]ontinue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12)?
Here's what I guess. There's this monumental weight to this thing that seems to escape most of us. There's this eternal, unbelievable weight that most of us seem to miss out on. What we end up doing are these good little church things, and we put that aside and then we have the rest of our lives. Or we say, "Jesus, you can have Sunday, but I've got this. Or you can get this, and I get this."
The first problem is that Christ doesn't work on a sliding scale, and the second problem is you're robbing yourself of real, legitimate, beautiful life. God is not after your begrudging submission. God's not glorified in your begrudging submission, but in your joy in him. If you're like me, when I would hear messages like this, I'd just be like, "What am I supposed to do?" I think that's always the legit question. I don't want to come and say, "Do better. Amen. You're dismissed." I don't want to do that, because I don't think it's fair.
But it's also difficult for me because I don't know where you are, and I don't know where your life is. I know there are some of you who are not believers—your friends brought you, or you've been coming here for whatever reason and you like it a little bit. You're more intrigued than anything. Then there are some who do believe, but you've been losing faith, you've been losing hope, and you've been losing those things that are so vital to continue in.
So how about we take a step a step of faith, a step of obedience. Maybe that's checking out a home group. Maybe that's finally checking out recovery. Or how about we say, "You know what I'm going to do this week? I'm setting the alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier, and I'm going to get up and open up the Book of John, and I'm going to read a little bit and pray."
Let's take one step, just one step of faith this week. That's where you begin. Nobody puts on the cape and becomes "Super Godly Person" overnight. Well, that's not true—there are those guys. Jesus told a parable about them. They shoot up real quick, and then the sun comes out and they die. We want good soil, deep roots. Take a step. I don't know what that step is for you, but take a step, just one. Then let's let the Lord work.
Where do you need to imitate him? Where is that area of your life where he's been pressing on you, leaning on you, wooing you, calling you? How about being obedient to that if that's indeed God beckoning you to life, beckoning you to joy, beckoning you to hope.
Editor's Note: This sermon was used with permission from The Village Church. It was originally posted here.
Matt Chandler serves as Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and serves as president of Acts 29, a worldwide church-planting organization.