Several weeks ago I started a short series talking about the overall purpose of God. I feel like this is important because if we’re ever going to understand what it is that God wants us to do, I think we need to understand what it is that he’s trying to do. The funny thing is (or maybe it’s sad, I’m not sure) I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what we think we’re supposed to do, but when we think about it, I’m not sure that we understand really where it came from.
If we’re talking about church we seem to know that we really need to get more people to come to church. We believe that it’s the right thing to do, especially if we call ourselves Christians. We know that we’re supposed to get people to come to church so they can get their lives turned around and live like they’re supposed to live. So we invite them to come so that maybe they can hear a message that would relate to them and hopefully their life might change. We even understand that it might be a long process so we dig in for the long haul and keep inviting them, certain that eventually they will hear a message and something will click in their minds and they might decide to change their lives.
This formula makes sense to us because, all too often, this is how we got involved in church. Perhaps it was when we were very young when we were invited to go to some event with our friends. The preacher that day (or evening) said something we can’t quite remember and we felt compelled that something needed to be different about our lives. Maybe there was something to this “church” thing. All we knew is that we’d never felt like this before and we wanted the feeling to stay. So we started going to church, and maybe we started living better. It was probably difficult to begin that lifestyle, but once we were in it, there was no going back. So we know that getting people to come to church is important so they can “get their lives right.” But doesn’t it feel like there should be more?
As with anything else, if we say we believe the Bible is true, perhaps we should see what it says about how our lives are supposed to be different, what it says about how we’re supposed to live.
A funny thing happens when you read the Bible. You start to realize what God’s desire really is for people. I think most of us grow up in this state of understanding where we trust that whatever someone deemed as “smarter than us” says. This is actually a good trait to have, especially when we’re young. (So students obey your parents. They really are smarter than you.) Somewhere along the way, though, we’re not taught how to think. We’re not taught how to reason or search for answers for ourselves. So we blindly accept what someone once told us God said we should do.
The problem is that we relinquish understanding of the Bible to those we deem as scholars and never read it for ourselves. We pretend that this book is full of hidden answers to life’s greatest mysteries and only those who study it exclusively actually know what it is saying. Interestingly, the Bible was written in the language of the people. It was written so that regular people could understand it. How could a document originally written so that regular people could understand it suddenly be filled with hidden secret knowledge that only a select few can comprehend? We can understand the Bible. But we don’t read it.
There have been times at home and at staff meeting when I’ll start to talk about what I want not only for Cornerstone, but for this community and for the world. I’ll get going and wish I had a tape recorder because there are things that I seem able to say in those informal settings that I can’t quite put into words when I get on this stage. If I can, I’d like to perhaps let you into those conversations for just a moment and see if I can’t articulate what comes out of those times.
If we really look at the Bible, and I mean the whole thing, we start to see patterns emerge. Throughout the whole Old Testament God was pursuing his people. Over and over and over again he went after them, trying to draw them back to him. When we read the Old Testament as Christians, we tend to look at everything through the lens of the New Testament, through the grace of Jesus, so we often see God as angry and mean. When you give the Bible to someone who has never read it, however, and they start in Genesis and read straight through, they don’t see God as mean. In fact, they view God as patient and longsuffering, enduring endless rebellions in order to be merciful to Israel.
Indeed, when we read the Bible through from start to finish, we start to see that everything in the Old Testament is pointing towards Jesus. We said when we started this series a couple of weeks ago that God was trying to accomplish something in the world. God’s overall desire I think can be encapsulated by 2 Peter 3:9 where the apostle says that God is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance. God’s goal is to reconcile all of the bad stuff in the world. God wants to make everything right. So we’re given his son.
Jesus changes everything we’ve ever thought about life.
This past week Cassie, Luke, and I started a reading plan that takes us through the gospels. In yesterday’s reading was this chapter in Matthew. I think it absolutely sets everything we’ve ever thought about life right on its head.
Let me try to paint the picture for you by giving you some back story. In Matthew 1 we’re given the genealogy of Jesus, going all the way back to Adam. In reading this chapter I was struck by the sheer amount of time that had passed since Creation. It had been that long already that the world had been broken. You think your life is hard? This was a nation that had endured thousands of years of anticipation. Each new generation thought that perhaps theirs was the one who would see the Messiah. Each generation was wrong.
The prophets continued to tell the people that they were wrong and they needed to repent, but the people continued to not listen. They were, after all, God’s chosen people. Of course they would be taken care of. The Messiah would come and make everything right and they would rule the world as God’s Kingdom on earth. Then, for some reason, the nation fell. Not only that, but many Israelites were taken captive by two very ruthless countries, Assyria and Babylon. They were in captivity for years and then, the few who were left, were give the right to return home and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Then there were 400 years of silence.
So when I read Matthew 1 I don’t see a tedious list of names of who begat who. Instead I see a long history of waiting. Years and years of waiting, knowing the promise, but no longer confident that it would be fulfilled. It’s estimated that between the book of Malachi and the book of Matthew there was roughly 400 years of time where Judaism developed in a large part to what it is today.
When Jesus arrived you can imagine that perhaps it was hard for the Jews of the day to believe that the promise had finally come true. Then when Jesus began to teach you could perhaps understand why it drew so much ire from the religious leaders. After all, they were the nation of Israel. They were the children of Abraham. Moses himself had given them the law and told them how to live. They had a way of doing things and it was passed down from God to Moses on the mountain. They knew how things were supposed to be.
Jesus changes everything about life.
Look at what he says about people in the opening verses of this chapter:
• Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven
• Blessed are those who mourn, they will be comforted
• Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth
• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied
• Blessed are the merciful, they will receive mercy
• Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God
• Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called sons of God
• Blessed are the persecuted, theirs is the kingdom of heaven, their reward is great
In a world that so often rewards power, ambition, and might, Jesus lists the people who are truly blessed: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the merciful, the pure, those who long for righteousness, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Remember that the Jews were looking for a Messiah who would set all things right in the world and who would restore their earthly kingdom. Little did they realize that even when they were at their strongest, the world took little note of them.
The empire of Israel never really extended very far. At its height, it was simply one of many Mediterranean nations. It probably never achieved the size it could have because they were so disobedient. Perhaps God never allowed them to grow beyond that because they couldn’t keep it all together. There were certainly no other reasons they didn’t grow. Solomon is widely recognized as one of the wealthier kings ever. The Bible even calls him the wisest man to have ever lived. Maybe there really is something to what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5. Maybe it really is the meek who will be exalted.
Jesus changes everything.
If you look at verses 13-16 of chapter 5 you get another glimpse at what Jesus was getting at. Perhaps the people of God aren’t a secular nation with a human king, but instead a people who point out who God is, where he is at work, who bring life and light into the world, not death and darkness. “In the same way” he says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Help people to see. The Messiah had come and this was what he was talking about? This was madness.
In verses 21-48, Jesus, the Messiah who had come to make all things right, turned everything upside down once more. In this group of verses he said these 6 things:
• Not only should you not murder, don’t be angry
• Not only should you not commit adultery, don’t lust
• Just because the law allows divorce doesn’t make it right
• A promise is a promise, no matter what words you use
• Don’t respond to violence with more violence
• Love. Not only your friends, but your enemies
Even today we can see how these things simply don’t make much sense. “I shouldn’t be angry? What’s wrong with a little fantasy, if I don’t act on it? If someone punches me in the face, I’m going to beat him until he can’t see!”
Why would Jesus say these things? Remember what God is trying to do. The story of the Bible is the story of redemption and reconciliation. God has set out to make all things right. God sent us his son, Jesus not only to make that possible through his sacrifice, but to set an example of what it looks like when all things are right.
Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ life? We say and scripture tells us that he lived a perfect life and we know it was so he could be the spotless lamb as a sacrifice, but what about his teachings? He could have lived a perfect, sinless life and been crucified without leaving all of the teachings he gave us. He could have paid for our sins without healing anyone or feeding a single person. He could have provided us a way to be reconciled to the Father without talking to a Samaritan woman, touching a leper, or ever speaking a parable. Why, then, did he do all these things?
It is my belief that Jesus was giving us an example for how we can be reconcilers ourselves. Think about it: If God had simply needed a perfect sacrifice, he could have beamed down a fully grown Jesus, announced his arrival in the hearts and minds of all men, killed him on the cross, resurrected him from the tomb, and be done with it. It could have taken a couple of hours. Instead we have the example of a man who lived for 33 years and taught us how to live.
Imagine what the world would look like if there was absolute peace. Imagine what the world would look like if there was no financial crisis. Think about the world if no one was full of anxiety and stress. Now look back at Matthew 5:13-16. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Look at verses 21-48. Don’t be angry. Don’t respond to hatred with more hatred. Love your enemies. Look at the Beatitudes. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who long for righteousness. Jesus is telling us how to live.
Can I tell you some more about Jesus? There are some great stories about him.
Matthew 9:18-26 – Jesus raised to life a little girl who had died and healed a woman who simply touched the hem of his robe.
Mark 6:30-44 – Jesus miraculously fed over 5000 people who had listened to him preach all day with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Luke 5:17-26 – Jesus healed a man who was let down through the roof of a house by his friends. He was healed because they believed Jesus could heal. The man was healed because of his friends’ faith.
John 8:1-11 – Jesus refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery.
This is Jesus. He is the Messiah. He is God’s chosen way to reconcile all things, to make everything right. As I think about what it is that God is trying to accomplish in the world, as I think about 2 Peter 3:9, then I look at Jesus and realize that this is the way God chose to bring this about, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve missed it. If we, then, go back to thinking about what we’re supposed to be doing as a church and we make it only about getting people to come to church so they can start “living right” then we’ve gotten something terribly wrong.
Church isn’t about us getting more people to come so they can get their lives together. Church isn’t about anyone getting their life “together.” It’s about being Jesus in the world. If it was just about “getting saved” then we could end at conversion. Far too often, though, we’ve done that and we’ve been left with people who aren’t disciples and thus don’t know how they’re supposed to live. Jesus is drawing all people to himself. Jesus was the answer to thousands of years’ worth of questions. The Messiah has come! When you end with Malachi and then you wait 400 years for something new, what’s the first thing you get but a homeless man living in the desert eating bugs who begins his message with “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven has come!” What’s John the Baptist’s message? The Messiah is here! The Kingdom has come!
When we read the story of Jesus we immediately are drawn to two places: his birth and his death. We talk about the miracle of his birth and the sacrifice of his death. If we neglect the message of his life, though, we miss out on what it is we’re supposed to be doing. Jesus didn’t teach his disciples just because he thought it would be fun to mess with their lives. He taught them so they would know how to live when he was gone. He taught them so they would pass it on. He taught so that 2000 years later we might know how we’re supposed to live.
So we do this thing called “church” (which, in the Greek, actually means “the called out ones”). Specifically, we do this thing called “Cornerstone Fellowship.” We paint the walls warm colors and the ceiling black so you’ll feel that it’s an intimate environment. We have music provided by young people in blue jeans so you’ll feel that it’s relevant. We’re taught by a 30-something pastor with too much gray in his beard who also wears jeans because he wants you to feel comfortable in whatever you’re wearing. Why? We want you to come. We want you to feel like we have something to say. Sadly, though, I feel like we miss the mark.
Our real goal is not to make you feel good about coming to church. It’s not even to provide something new and fresh. Our goal is that your life would be different. We call ourselves “Christians,” which means that we claim to follow Christ’s teachings. We are “called out ones” who are supposed to be living lives of reconciliation, drawing attention to the fact that it is Jesus who saves, Jesus who makes all things new. But are our lives really different? Are we really drawing attention to Jesus, or to ourselves? Don’t get me wrong. I like the walls this color. I like the stage. I like the music. I even like myself. I want you to keep coming. I want us to grow as a church. But more than that, I want your life to change. I’m not talking about you starting to “live right.” I’m talking about real change. Jesus gave us an example to follow with his life. That’s what I’m talking about.
Next week Cornerstone is participating in an event called iServe. It will be the third time we’ve done it. It’s an opportunity for us to partner with other churches in the area to actually make a difference in our community. We believe it is a good and righteous thing to do. Please come next week to iServe. But don’t let iServe be the only thing you do. It’s an event that happens four times a year, but I pray it doesn’t only happen four times in your year. I hope that because of iServe you become empowered to live your life that way every day. Jesus gave us an example to follow.
In the coming weeks we’re going to take this idea a step further. I hope you’ll be here. As we walk down this path you’ll see that what we’re doing is taking the all-encompassing scope of God’s vision, made incarnate in Jesus, and applying it to the universal church, Cornerstone, and us as individuals. God has a plan to make all things new, to reconcile all things to him. You are a part of that plan.
Jesus changes everything.
- Check out Cornerstone Fellowship's calendar wp.me/P14HZv-36 /via @wordpressdotcom 5 years ago
- New series starts today! Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower? 6 years ago
- iServe Sunday! 6 years ago
- Great morning yesterday with our brothers and sisters at New Birth Fellowship. Looking forward to May 29! 6 years ago
- Is Jesus your all-consuming passion? Your one pursuit and desire? 6 years ago