The Problem of Christmas
Good morning! My name is Toby, and I want to thank the elders for giving me the opportunity to come this morning. It’s a privilege that I take very seriously. I want to welcome those who are watching online, video stream, for whatever reason. You’re with us in a sense, and we’re with you. And welcome to all those people who got hung up by the train. Glad you made it! I’m sure some are still going to be coming in the next few minutes. I just got in from out of town last night. So, I’m going to pray for us, and I would ask you to pray for me, if you would. Let’s go to the Lord.
Father, we come this morning with all sorts of things on our hearts and in our minds. We can be very easily distracted. And you have great and glorious things for us, but oftentimes we can’t see them. And that’s true of me. Father, open my eyes. No one in this room needs your grace more than this sinner. Thank you for the honor of coming to your Word. So, Holy Spirit, come and be our Teacher. Open us up and give us new life. Breathe new life into us. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
The day or two after Thanksgiving, I sat down to watch something on Amazon Prime, and I was shocked that just overnight, there is this huge proliferation of holiday movies and series. Of course, you know, about half of them were made by Lifetime. And anybody…? I’m kind of weird, so I did a little like unscientific survey of how many actual movies and specials are on Amazon Prime holiday stuff. Anybody want to make a guess on that particular day? How many? Thirty? Fifty? Five hundred? Three hundred? Eight hundred and eighty-six! Which, you know, I can’t even wrap my mind around that! And it was interesting. You know, some of them are the old favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life or Rudolph or Elf, or that one that most of us grew up watching with our grandparents. Santa Claus conquers the Martians. Right? Ya’ll remember that. Yeah. Fond memories of Santa bringing Christmas fun in space-blazing color, if you notice.
But I did a little deeper dive into about thirty of these movies, what they were about. And it was interesting … even that one was … they’re all kind of about the same thing. Now, if they’re Lifetime versions, you move to a small town, you fall in love, and you live happily ever after. But most of the rest of them were about this: this season is about what really matters. Concentrate on what really matters this season and, kind of the sub themes were things like reconciliation. You know, the son and the father haven’t spoken for five years, and they come back together at the holidays. That’s a good thing. Themes of love, joy, peace, compassion, togetherness, even forgiveness. And who doesn’t need a little reconciliation? Anybody in here need less peace in their life, right? And so, the themes are good. And I thought about these movies, how they touch on these human longings that we have, these human longings for togetherness and love and joy and compassion and reconciliation. But they don’t deliver. They tease. But ten minutes after you watch most of these movies, you are unchanged. That’s okay. They’re movies.
But it got me to thinking about how the true message of Christmas, the Christ person, changes people long after ten minutes and way beyond the first century, though he died alone, if you will, and how Christ has been changing millions, perhaps billions, of people for a long, long time. Maybe there’s something there that we need to reexamine. And I say “reexamine” because many of you are familiar, maybe too familiar, with the whole message. Right?
So, we’re going to look a little bit today of how to get beyond the Christmas-y feelings to the Christ and ask this question: Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? And that’s such a “preachery” sort of question to ask. And you’re like, “Oh, l already know who Jesus is.” But be careful. Because his disciples spent almost every moment with him for almost three years, and they didn’t get it. They missed it. Until after he was raised from the dead, they didn’t know who Jesus was.
And I’m also reminded that many church goers don’t get it. In 2018, just a few years ago, a survey was made of churchgoers, but not just churchgoers, churchgoers at churches that say, “Hey, we believe the Bible. We take the Bible seriously.” And so, there was a survey done, and here’s what the survey found. One-third of the people in those kinds of churches said that Jesus was a good teacher, but not God. One-third. Forty-three percent said that when Jesus was on earth, he sinned … Churches that say they take the Bible seriously. And more than sixty-five percent said Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.
All three of those are heresies, by the way, which means just “wrong” about who Jesus was. Let him speak for himself, shall we? In John 8, he says this … Jesus, his own words, he says this:
“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Now stop. What does Jesus say? The whole chapter he’s talking both about his humanity and his deity, and he says unless you understand and believe that I am this, you will die in your sins. So, if he’s right, it’s a pretty serious question that we need to ask and answer correctly.
So, if you’re here for the first time or you’re visiting, I apologize because you are in the middle of the weirdest Christmas series I have ever heard of, where we are spending four weeks talking about the wrong teachings about Jesus or what are known as historical heresies — everybody’s favorite subject. And today we’re going to look at the one called Nestorianism. So, I want to beg your patience. I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking about the historical problem that’s before us and a few minutes talking about the solution to the historical problem. And we’ll spend most of our time at the end talking about what difference does it make if Jesus is who he says. So, the historical problem, the solution, and then what difference it makes.
So, let’s start with the historical problem. Just give me a few minutes, and let’s talk about when all of this is taking place with Nestorius, okay? In 381 … I’m sorry, in 313 the Emperor of Rome issued what’s called the Edict of Milan. And that made Christianity legal, which was mostly a good thing, right? You’re not going to be thrown to the lions anymore. You can come to a gathering like this, and they’re not going to take you to jail. So, this legalized Christianity, gave a lot more freedoms. It was mostly a good thing.
But in 380, the Edict of Thessalonica went a step further, and now Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, and things got bad. Things got bad because it was now fashionable to be a Christian. Now you can make business contacts at church. Now you could get political power because church and state were kind of wrapped up with each other. And in a real sense, the vitality of the church began to die in 380, in a real sense. And just a few years later, a guy named Nestorius was born in 386. I don’t think that’s his baby picture. But, you know, just a few years after that, this was the context. And then in 428, he became what’s called the patriarch of Constantinople. Patriarch just means bishop. In Constantinople, there up in the north, it’s modern day Turkey, Istanbul. And at the time, this was THE city in the western world. Rome was on the decline. There were barbarians coming into Rome. Rome was going down. Constantinople was it, New York City, whatever. And Alexandria down on the bottom was an important city, too. But to be the patriarch of Constantinople and be Nestorius? That’s it, if you’re a bishop. And along comes this guy, Cyril, who’s down in Alexandria, if you saw that, and he’s the patriarch from 414 to 444, and these are our two nemeses, if you will.
And the problem came about because there was controversy in Nestorius’s area about who Mary was, but it wasn’t really about Mary. It was about who Mary was carrying. Some people called Jesus, or called her, the “theotokos,” if you will. “Theos” means God, “otokos” means bearer. She, Mary, was the God-bearer. Now, there were some people who thought that was overemphasizing the deity of Christ, and so they wanted her to be called the “anthrotokos,” man-bearer. And so there was this debate. And so, they go to Nestorius, and they say, “Hey, solve the debate for us.” And as often happens in churches, he came up with a compromise that satisfied nobody. He called Mary the “Christotokos,” the Christ-bearer, which they already believed anyway. So, it didn’t solve anything, and his intention was good. By the way, oftentimes these guys’ intentions are good. His intention was to guard against an overemphasis in either direction, to guard against overemphasizing Jesus’s deity to the exclusion of his humanity or the opposite problem. That’s what he came up with.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t interpreted that way. Many people interpreted — including Cyril, way down in Alexandria — they interpreted that instead of God becoming human, the human remains the human, the God remains the God. They’re kind of cohabitating, if you will. They’re hanging out together, but they’re not one. Jesus is not one … and so, the efffect that Jesus has kind of a split personality. And a couple of kind of disturbing pictures will kind of put this before you. So, on the left, you see Mary looking very serene with a twelve-year old Jesus with a big head in her womb. Not quite sure why they painted pictures like that. But the point is not his big head. The point is that there’s one. One. Nestorius was interpreted more on the right side. Those are conjoined twins. They’re joined. There’s some sort of connection between the humanity and the deity, but really two different persons. And that matters because … Which one dies on the cross?
Now part of the problem was that Nestorius didn’t really expand on his views. He didn’t write a lot about it. He didn’t preach a lot about it. And so many historians think that Nestorius wasn’t actually a Nestorian, which would make him the first heretic who wasn’t. But at 381, at the Council of Ephesus, they branded him as a heretic. Cyril got his buddies together. Cyril was kind of a propagandist, big kind of personality. They got together. They got the emperor on their side, and they kicked Nestorius out of the church, out of the ministry. He was sent into exile way down in Egypt, where Cyril could keep an eye on him, and that’s where he died and seventeen bishops who supported him.
Now, this is where it gets kind of nasty. Because in 381, they gathered this council, and Nestorius wasn’t there. He didn’t get a chance to speak for himself. In fact, the bishops who supported him were late. Cyril said, “We’re going to get him out. Let’s get this all taken care of. They’re not going to be able to be here to speak for him or understand or just even explain. So, let’s get this done with. He’s out.” Five days later, the bishops supporting Nestorius are show up, and they find out what’s happened. “We’ve already been kicked out. Well, we’re going to show you. We’re going to start our own council, and we’re going to brand you a heretic, and we’re going to kick you out.”
You ever been involved in a church fight? Some of you are like, “Yes. It’s amazing I still come to church.” Well, imagine this. It’s not new, unfortunately. The emperor sided with Cyril. Technically, Cyril was right. But it was a sad chapter. But why did this sad chapter take place? There’s one good reason and three bad ones. The one good reason is that there were real issues at stake. As Jesus said, “You get me wrong, it’s a problem eternally. You die in your sins if you get me wrong. You have to believe I am who I say I am.” So, eternity is at stake, but unfortunately, so are these personalities involved.
So, by all accounts, Cyril was kind of hard to get along with, shall we say? He was a hothead, and he would whip up his crowd in his favor. And Nestorius wasn’t much better. So, they’re 1700 miles apart, writing letters to each other, screaming at each other through the letters. Nobody’s listening. It was Facebook in the 4th century, right? Nobody’s listening, but everybody’s yelling. Nobody’s learning anything. It’s bad. Personalities got involved and politics and power. Because it had become fashionable to be a Christian, if you will, lots of people came in who weren’t. I’ve often wondered how many people would show up on Sunday if it was suddenly illegal to be here. That’s what was going on. It was finally legal. One historian said,
“Never have two theologians more completely misunderstood one another’s meaning.”
And so, what we can say about this is that there are four quick takeaways. Christians did a lot of things good in the first five centuries — orphanages, hospitals, schools. They rescued thousands of newborns out of the city dump when the Romans just threw them away. The status of women in the Roman Empire went up immensely from property, inanimate objects to be used by men, to great dignity. So, Christians did a lot of really good things in the first five centuries, but this wasn’t one of them.
So, quick takeaways. One (I’m not going to comment a lot), Christians must learn to listen as well as we speak. Christians must learn to listen better than we speak.
Two, churches sometimes do the right thing the wrong way, and that’s the wrong thing. They did the right thing. They did it the wrong way. And it was, in a sense, ultimately wrong because of that.
Three, historically, the church has thrived — listen — has thrived when it didn’t have access to political power. See China today. No political power. Growing like crazy. And so beware of longing for political power. Historically speaking, it’s been a very bad thing for the church because Jesus’s path to power is very, very different. It’s a cross. It’s not as the world sees power.
Four, a friend of mine used to say, “God makes straight lines with crooked sticks.” In other words, he uses crooked councils, crooked people like me, like you, to draw straight lines. And for those of us who know we’re a little crooked stick, that should be good news, that should give you some hope. So, that’s the historical problem briefly.
Let’s look briefly at the solution to the problem, and the solution is simple and yet completely difficult to understand, in fact, I would say impossible to understand. The solution is this: Jesus is now fully God; he is now fully human. 100% of each. And if you say, well, that doesn’t make sense, well, welcome to God. He’s under no obligation to make your six-inch-by-four-inch brain makes sense of him. How can how can the finite make sense of the infinite? But the key word is “unity.” 100% God, 100% man. And it matters! We could go through dozens of passages in the New Testament. I can make a long argument … I won’t. We’ll go through four.
The four biggie Christological passages in the New Testament. “Christological” just means the study of Christ, and there are four big ones. And they all do both things: they show the humanity and the deity of Christ. And I’m just going to run through them pretty quickly.
We’ve already looked at John 1 a couple of weeks ago — his deity. The Word was God. Jesus was always God. He made all things. So, if you believe that Jesus was a creation, here’s where that’s corrected. He created. He was with God in the beginning before the beginning. “Through Him all things have been made.” Jesus is not a creature. Always God, and became human. Verse 14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Those are familiar words to many of you, but think about it. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Philippians 2, his deity. He already existed as God in verse 6, “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” He already had it. In verse 7, “he took on the nature of a servant.” Unity of God and man.
Colossians 1, his deity. Verse 16, “All things were created through him.” There he is again, in the beginning creating all things. You know those words from Genesis 1 — “Let us make man in our image.” The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit creating. “All things were created through him … All the fullness of God dwells in him,” his humanity, “the firstborn from the dead.” He made “peace through his blood.” Hard to be raised from the dead and shed blood if you’re not human. And yet he was there, creating all things.
And finally Hebrews 1 that was read earlier — “He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, and he provided purification for sins.”
Now if you’re still wondering about this God-man thing, there are lots of studies and people you can ask who can help you understand this. The point is this: it’s very clear from the Gospels and from the New Testament that Jesus claimed that he was fully God and fully man. And so a couple of centuries after all of this, they came up with something called the Athanasian Creed that we’re going to read together, or I’m going to read it and you follow along in just a minute.
Now some people are like, “I don’t understand these creeds. Why are we doing this? Seems kind of wrong, maybe kind of weird.” And a creed is nothing more than hundreds of people over hundreds of years studying the Bible for thousands of hours and and wrestling and praying and talking and discussing and learning and teaching and finally coming up with, “Hey, here’s what we think the Bible teaches in a fairly concise form.” So, that’s what a creed is, and that’s why we sometimes read them. Maybe we should read them a little bit more.
But here’s the other thing. I want to challenge us because we just love things that are new, don’t we? Most of us, a week from today will have some new stuff, right? We love new stuff! And here’s something that’s very, very, very old. It connects us beyond 2021 and our little blip-of-a-life. It connects us to Moses and Isaiah and Paul and Peter and Athanasius and Augustine and Luther and Calvin and Spurgeon and Billy Graham and maybe your parents or your grandparents if you are blessed to have those. You are part of a long, rich, eternal history, and that should encourage us that we’re not just reinventing the wheel here. You’re part of something much, much bigger than 2021, and that’s good news. So, I’m going to read. You have your radar up for some of these issues as I read through the Athanasian Creed.
“We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and [man] equally. He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is human from the essence of his mother, born in time; completely God, completely human, with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity. Although he is God and human, yet Christ is not two, but one. [There’s Nestorianism.] He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself. He is one.”
So, the Creed helps us understand these issues. What it doesn’t help us understand is why. Why is this such a big deal? Why would all this time and energy be spent? And here’s why — perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world,” loved people like us. He gave his only Son to do these crazy, wild, unreal, un-understandable things.
What does that look like? Tim Keller uses a great illustration that I’m shamelessly stealing from him. He talks about Dorothy Sayers. Dorothy Sayers was an author in the early 20th century. She was one of the very first women to graduate from Oxford University, and she was single her entire life. She claimed faith in Christ, and she was known as a playwright and a poet. But what she was most widely known for was being a mystery writer. She wrote a series of mysteries called The Lord Wimsey Mysteries. And Lord Wimsey was this kind of odd inspector, like they all are, right? But very attractive in his personality, not necessarily in his looks, but in his personality. You kind of have a love-hate relationship with him. But she didn’t. She didn’t have a love-hate because about halfway through the series, there’s another character who shows up in the Lord Wimsey series. Her name is Harriet Vane. Harriet is single. Harriet was the first woman graduate of Oxford, and Harriet writes mystery stories. And Harriet falls in love with Peter Wimsey. And eventually, they marry. And all the biographers say, here’s what was going on: Dorothy Sayers created this character, Lord Peter Wimsey, and then she fell in love with him. And she did the only thing within her power: she wrote herself into the story so that they could be together, which is kind of weird and kind of amazing.
Because the gospel story says something even better than that: that God made this creation, this creation that really didn’t want much to do with him, and yet he did what was in his power. He wrote himself into the story. He became part of the story so that he could win a bride for himself, even if it cost him his whole life. “For God so loved the world” that he became one of us, that he might love us. That, my friends, is good news.
So, what does this do to us? That’s where I want to spend the rest of our time. If this is true, what should it do to us? If Jesus is fully human, if Jesus is fully God, what should it do? Let’s run through a couple. Because Jesus was human, it means he was the most human human who ever lived. All right, let me say that again. He was more human than you are. What? Well, think about it, we can be pretty inhuman, can’t we? You ever been petty? You ever pouted? You ever hurt someone? You ever hated someone? There are times when we act very, very inhuman. But he was more human even than Adam in the garden. He stayed human. Even today, he is human, right? “Put your hands in here. Let’s have breakfast together, guys.” He’s still human. Even now, he’s the God-man, and he was born, unlike Adam, into a world filled with lies and snakes.
And because Jesus is human, it means his trials were deeper. Let me say that again. Because some of you today are going through terrible trials, unspeakable things, things you never imagined. I’m here to tell you that his trials were actually deeper. Last week, Ryan looked at this verse from Hebrews 4.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses [that’s Jesus], but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Without sin. If you believe Jesus sinned, there it is. He didn’t. And yet he’s been tempted in every way that we are, the way we think about temptation. Some of us have temptations that feel so strong we can never say no to them. He knows what that feels like. He does. And the word that’s translated “tempted” is also the word that sometimes translated “tried, trial.” Temptations are trials, are they not? And trials are temptations, and so he was tried in a way that we’re not, or maybe that we are.
At some point he was separated from both of his parents and his cosmic Father. Separated. He almost certainly skinned his knee as a child and probably had acne as a teen. Pretty sure he got headaches, and he almost certainly hit his thumb with a hammer in his father’s workshop. He is and was human. His friends were not very good friends. His family rejected him. His church didn’t just exile him or hurt him. They murdered him. He was a victim of injustice, the greatest who ever lived, the worst who ever lived. He wept uncontrollably at his friend’s death. He was single, and he had a bride who was unfaithful. His entire ministry was suffering. He didn’t have any money. He was a homeless man. He was hungry, tired and often alone at the end of his life. He was cosmically alone, cosmically alone.
And here is one of the many things that makes Christianity different from every other religion that’s ever been. The God actually suffers, suffers in many ways much more deeply than we do. And because he’s human, it means he knows my sin. Now I just said he never sinned. The Bible just said that, right? Hebrews. He didn’t ever sin. So, he doesn’t know what it’s like to commit willful sin like most of us are experts at, right? He doesn’t know what that’s like.
But there’s this mystery that happens at the cross, this bizarre thing where Jesus becomes sin. That’s what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says — “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” He became sin. And so the things that we experience as “giving in, becoming sinners” … Does he understand what it feels like to commit a sin and you don’t want to look at yourself in the mirror? Some of you know what that feels like. I certainly do. Does he really know what failure feels like? He knows what the greatest sin feels like in some way that we can’t understand. The sin of humanity, the sin of his people became part of him on the cross. And so, what we think is kind of “normal” sin, he experiences like radioactive lava into his soul, something very foreign and abnormal. And though he never sinned, he understands it, maybe in ways that we can’t even imagine.
And here’s what that means: I’m a recovering alcoholic, many of you know, an addict. And many people were very kind to me, you know, early on and said, “Man, we’re praying for you. You mean a lot to us.” And that meant a lot, still does. But when someone came to me and said, “I’ve been there. I got one year clean. I got five years sober.” I’m going to listen to that person. You know why? They’ve been there.
Jesus has been there. And you know the difference. You’ve experienced when someone knows what you’re going through because they’ve gone through it. The incarnation means that Jesus came inside so that he could feel what we feel inside, not outside, not from a distance, not saying, “Hey, y’all do this.” He comes, and the Word becomes flesh. And if that’s true, can you take your sin to him today that he’s not shocked by? You ever think about that? God doesn’t say, “You did what?! I can’t believe you did that!” If it was a small problem, you wouldn’t need the death of God, right? It’s a big problem. So, can you take your sins to him, your sorrows, your hopes that don’t seem to be fulfilled, your exhaustion? He’s been there because he’s human. And because of that, it means his bodily sacrifice was accepted. Guilty humans cannot serve the sentence of other guilty humans. They have their own sentence to serve. But here in Jesus, you have a perfect human who is in the place of us imperfect, sinful beings.
So, here’s what that means. Adam was placed in a garden, right? You know that story. And God said to Adam, “Obey me about the tree, and you’ll live. Don’t eat that tree. It belongs to me. It’s not yours. You can have any of these other ones. Knock yourself out. That one belongs to me. Obey me about the tree, and you’ll live.” And what did Adam do? He didn’t obey, and he died spiritually, but he still got to live. Why?
God says to you and me, “Hey, obey me, and you’ll live.” And what do we say? “Eh. No.” And we still get to live. You know why? Because there was another garden and another man, the second Adam, who was in a garden praying, and God said to him, “Obey me about the tree. Obey me about the cross.” And by all rights, Jesus should have lived because he did obey. He did what Adam couldn’t. He did what you and I don’t. He obeyed God perfectly and said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He should have lived, but he died. Why? Because he was coming sin; he was becoming me on the cross. As the old hymn says this:
“Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood;
Sealed my pardon with his blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
‘Full atonement!’ can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
His blood was the blood of a human, and so it was effective. But because Jesus is God, it means the Bible story is utterly scandalous. For those of us who’ve heard this so much, I just want you to step outside yourself for a second and hear it for the first time that God, if there is such a being, became man to become the Way. You know what every philosophy, every religion says? Even now … Self-help books … “Here’s the Way. Here are the principles. There’s the path. Follow it. Follow this path, and you’ll be actualized, you’ll connect to whatever.” Every self-help book says that. Every religion says that: “Follow the way. Follow the path.” And Jesus shows up and says, “I am the Way. I am the Path.” “This is a person” is what Christianity is about, a person. And we lose the astronomical claim of what this is: that God suffered. Edward Shilito in his great poem, “Jesus of the Scars” says this.
“The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”
The blood of Jesus was the blood of God and so infinite.
And because he’s God, it means the problem must be serious, right? You don’t show up this week in Kentucky with a broom. Right? Much more serious than that. Those of you who don’t know, don’t watch the news … big tornadoes, lots of people, lots of houses. You don’t just show up, “Hey, I got my broom. Let’s fix this.” It’s a much bigger problem than that. And humanity’s problem must be pretty big if only God can solve it. And it wasn’t even easy for him. Think about it. Here’s what one writer says, A.W. Tozer,
“Our holy God, who told Moses ‘for man shall not see me and live,’ became incarnate. People saw him and lived. Our holy God, who struck down a man for touching the ark … became the ark, and was struck down himself. People spit upon him, and lived. Our holy God, whose throne was so magnificent that Ezekiel failed to find the words to describe it, became incarnate… Our holy God, who demanded blood sacrifices to atone for sin, became one. He allowed himself to be butchered on a cross. Our holy God who asked Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ became incarnate … Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them … Unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to man.”
Low views of God, low views of sin, which has to mean low views of Jesus. And he leaves the building, and we’re bored because we haven’t really understood, “Who do you say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Because I’m bigger than you think.”
I got a sense of this. I said we had just come back in. I don’t get to fly very often, very rarely, actually. But I did get to fly over the past few days. I had a business trip in California, and we were flying into California, and I had the window seat. And if you ever do get to fly, you probably have some experience kind of like what I had on Wednesday as we were going out. So, we’re flying over Nevada. There’s nothing in Nevada. Okay, Reno, Las Vegas on the west. There’s nothing there. For miles you can’t even see anything. There’s no town. There are no roads. I think only aliens live there, right? And the U.S. government. Maybe both. Who knows? I don’t know. And then you do come to a little town, and most of us have had this experience if you’ve you flown. You look down. You’re like, “it’s a little speck.” Well, it’s a hundred little specks or maybe a thousand little specks together, and yet if you stop and think about it, in that little speck is a family or a person just like me. And all of the problems that I experience, all the things that that take up my thoughts and my energy, they’re experiencing. And to them, it’s the biggest thing in the world, just like my stuff feels like the biggest thing in the world. But from up here? It looks so tiny; it’s almost insignificant. And when I look at Nevada, I begin to see this is a big state. This is a big country.
And I started thinking about God and a marble. Now, the state of Greenville is like a marble in his hand. Or rather South Carolina, Nevada are like a marble in his hand, or rather the United States … the earth with its seven billion people … no, the Milky Way with its tens of thousands, millions of planets … no, the universe, the entire universe that we don’t even know the extent of, it’s less than a marble in his hands. Do you understand how big he is? No, you don’t because our brains, this little brain, cannot fathom that. And so what should be God looking at us saying, “Your life is dust. It’s insignificant!” He doesn’t say that. He says, “You’re small in comparison but incredibly valuable!” And that infinite God squeezed himself into a six-pound baby in the middle of nowhere. That’s either the most amazingly true story or the silliest one because it’s true. It’s changed millions of lives. And so, let’s not lose who God is. He infinitely cares about very small, otherwise insignificant people because he’s God.
Because of that, it means (if you’ve been asleep) we must reorient our lives around him. We must reorient our lives around him. So, pause for just a second, she spoke about idols earlier. What is your life oriented around? Really. Making money? Making it through the day? Finding friends? None of those are bad things. Some of them, maybe a little more, some of the things our lives are oriented about we may not want to mention publicly. But the call to follow Jesus is a call to reorient everything about our lives. If it was illegal to be here, would you still be here? Even if it was going to cost you your life. That’s what changed the world, not political power. It did not change the world. And so, if sin is us putting our self in God’s place, which is what it is, the gospel is God putting himself in our place. So, here’s what that means. Tim Keller says this:
“When you come to Christ, you must drop your conditions. You have to give up the right to say, ‘I will obey you if … I will do this if …’ As soon as you say, ‘I will obey you if,’ that is not obedience at all. You are saying: ‘You are my adviser, not my [counselor] Lord. I’ll be happy to take your recommendations. I might even do some of them.’ No, if you want Jesus with you [Emmanuel], you have to give up the right to self-determination.”
And here’s what that looks like: Before you go to work, before you sit down at your desk or you start whatever your job is, even if your job is a student: “Hallowed be your name. May your name be honored right now.” As I turn on my computer, as I look at things on my computer, “Hallowed be your name.” My phone, the way I spend my time. “Hallowed be your name.” When you’re having to discipline your children, and I have some. I know how hard it is. I know how much I fail. “God, I want to hallow your name here.” I’m having a discussion with my wife, when I’m being disciplined because every child is disciplined, even as an adult, yes? “Hallowed be your name.” To reorient my life, “You are the king of my money. You are the king of my time, not Netflix. You are the king of my time.”
And so today, will you reorient your life? See, I don’t really care if you gave your life to Jesus when you were 14. I’m not sure that’s all that important unless you’re 14. Those of us who are older than 14, the question is, are you giving him your life today? Is he the king of your life right this moment, not back then? And so the gospel says — this beautiful picture, God fell in love with the people, and he wrote himself into the story. He loved them from the inside. He loves his people from the inside, and if that’s true, and all those Christmasy stories about warm feelings, there’s some truth to them. They should be putting us in our desires and in our hopes for the true Christ. There is truth there.
Let me pray for us. Jesus, it is a crazy good story, a crazy true story that you came for people like us, people like me. Why would you come for me? Why would you love me? I’m a sinner. I’ve rebelled against you tens of thousands of times and you have lived the life that I could not. So, Father, teach me to rest in your kindness and your grace, in your sacrifice as God and man on my behalf. Teach me to reorient my life around you day by day, moment by moment, minute by minute. Teach me that kind of following. And, Father, send your Spirit because we’re too weak. We need your Spirit to strengthen and enlighten us. Change lives even today for your name’s sake, amen.