Andy Stanley - Wide Open
Today, we're wrapping up our series, "Investigating Jesus". It's been a lot of fun. It's been a lot of fun for me to prepare this series. I actually started a year and a half ago, then we postponed, because of the pandemic. So it was so much fun for me personally to spend so much time in this particular gospel. And we've said throughout this series that the subtitle, how we know and why we follow, is so important, because we're asking the question, how do we know there's anything to the story of Jesus? And then we're asking a more fundamental, a deeper, a more practical question, why follow? I mean, why would anyone in the 21st century commit their lives or kind of like, as we're gonna talk about today, sort of write a blank check with our lives to a first century rabbi? How do we know there's anything to it, and why in the world should we choose to follow? How do we know that Jesus is even worth following?
But this is important to know, because Christianity or the credibility of Christianity rises and falls really specifically on the identity or the supposed identity of one individual, Jesus of Nazareth. The whole thing rises and falls on this, which means, as we've said throughout, and this is such an important part, and it's why I've repeated it throughout the series, which means that if you're considering Christianity or you're reconsidering Christianity, because you walked away and you're thinking about coming back, or if you are unconsidering Christianity, there's really just one question to wrestle to the ground. And the question isn't, does God exist? I mean, that's a lot of fun. We talk about that kind of thing from time to time, lots of books written. That's fun to talk about. It's an important question. And the question isn't, is the Bible true or do you like everything in the Bible, or do you believe everything in the Bible?
Those are interesting things to talk about as well, and we do, but that's not the fundamental question. When it comes to Christianity, when it comes to the Christian faith, there's really just one question you have to wrestle with. And unfortunately, the church hasn't always done a great job pointing people who are considering Christianity to this question. And the question is really this, is Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, a reliable account of actual events? These are the four first century documents that document the life of Jesus from different angles, different perspectives with different stories, different parables, and different approach. But if even if just one of these is a reliable account, or even mostly reliable account of actual events, then everybody needs to sit up straight and pay attention, because it means that what Jesus said about his himself is true, and if what Jesus said about himself is true, then he is in fact worth following and worth devoting our entire lives to.
So in this series, we're exploring, if you've been along the journey with us, we're exploring one of those first century documents that's called the Gospel of Luke named after its author. And right up front, Luke lets us know he's not writing religious material. He's not writing. He's not attempting to write sacred material. Don't picture Luke sitting at a desk with parchment and a pen staring up waiting for God to tell him something, to write it down, so future generations would know what God told him to write. That's not the picture at all. Luke does not claim that. Luke basically says, no, I'm documenting events that happened in my lifetime. I'm documenting a life. I'm documenting something that happened. And Luke was quick to tell us right up front, he's very honest. And he says, I'm not the only one. I'm not in some corner somewhere just making stuff up.
Many, many, how many is many? I don't know, is many just four? Four doesn't sound like many to me, but, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled or the things that happened among us," not long ago somewhere far, far away, the things that have happened right here among us, "Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first," were actually part of this story, "Were eyewitnesses". So Luke, in his mind, he's not writing the Bible, but Luke's extraordinary document, because who wrote it when it was written and what it says about Jesus was so precious to the early church that it was collected and it was copied, and eventually it became part of the New Testament, which eventually became part of what we call and what we respect as the Bible. But Luke's not writing the Bible. Luke's just telling us what happened. And what happened at the end is why the story was worth telling in the first place.
In fact, Luke would be quick to tell us if the story didn't end the way the story ended, there was no story to tell, because Jesus was just another wannabe prophet, wannabe rabbi, wannabe Messiah who went the way of all the wannabe, hope to be Messiahs in Judea. What happened at the end of the story actually makes sense of and creates the context for everything that happened in the story. And here's how the end of the story begins. "When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left". It's so interesting in the gospels, none of the gospel writers give us any details about the crucifixion of Jesus, and the reason there are no details is because in the first century no details were needed. Everybody'd seen one. Everybody'd seen the aftermath of one. Parents had turned their children the other way as they walked by one.
It would be like you telling me, hey, Andy, I'm gonna go get my teeth cleaned. I wouldn't ask any question like, what's that like, what happens, what's the procedure? Why? Because everybody knows what it means to get your teeth cleaned. So in first century Judea and Galilee and that whole region, in fact, all over the Roman Empire, all you needed to hear was he was crucified. He was crucified. No details needed. Crucifixion was created, we think, by the Persians. The Greeks improved on it, but the Romans perfected it. It was a way to keep a man alive as long as possible. It was not just a punishment. It was a deterrent. It was terror on display reserved mostly for criminals, political rebels, but never a Roman citizen.
Luke says this is the surprise ending. This is the surprise beginning of the end of the story. "When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with criminals, one on his right and the other on his left". And Jesus said the most remarkable, unsettling thing imaginable. In fact, what comes next? What Jesus said next, what comes next is actually end to which Jesus invites all of us to follow. And I would imagine, I don't know, but I imagine that when Luke who wrote this was told what Jesus said, perhaps he didn't believe the first person who told him, but we know that Luke knew Peter. We know that Luke knew James, the brother of Jesus. We know that Luke John and James, the apostles. We know that Luke knew Mary.
And I imagine when Luke first heard what Jesus said from the cross, he said, wait, wait, wait, are you sure you heard that correctly? And everyone who was there and were about to meet at the end of the story said a lot of people who were there. They said, no, no, we were not confused. We're not confused. We know exactly what he said, but it was stunning. But then again, what Jesus said at the end from the cross makes perfect sense in light of everything else Jesus said and everything else Jesus did, because all along the way, this was what he invited his followers to follow him to, that Jesus lived the way he died. And he invites us to live that same way.
And it's so disturbing. And it's so liberating. He invites us to refuse to be like the people who don't like us. He invites us to refuse to be threatened by the people who attempt to threaten us. He invites us not to be like the people who take their insecurity out on us. He invites us not to be like the people who mistreat us and power up on us, that if we understand what Jesus taught, when someone considers you their enemy, Jesus invites you not to return the favor. And right up to the very end he did exactly that.
Now, if you've ever seen someone live this out in a much smaller, less dramatic way, if you've ever seen someone respond or react this way, it's breathtaking. And if you've ever been on the receiving end of what Jesus is about to say, if you've ever been on the receiving end, it is so humbling. It makes you feel small. It makes you feel less than. It makes the other person seem larger than you, certainly larger, in some cases, larger than life. And when this sort of thing, when this sort of dynamic is played out on a public stage, everybody who hears about it, they stop and they stare. It's noteworthy. It's huh? It's I'm not sure I would do that. It's that is remarkable.
And so what did Jesus say that was so remarkable that I think caused Luke to say, are you sure that's what he said? From the cross he said, "Father, forgive them. Forgive them, because they don't really know what they're doing". They thought they did, but they did not. And the evidence is the evidence that they didn't know what they're doing is because they just kept on doing exactly what they were doing. Listen to this, this next callous line that Luke adds, because this is what happened. And while Jesus is dying and while Jesus is forgiving, Luke says while this is going on, "And they divided up his clothes" right at his feet, "By casting lots". What did he say? I don't know, who cares. It's your role. Forgive them? Come on, how weak is that? How passive. How spineless. What a loser.
In fact, this is the story by first century standards by 21st century standards. Jesus lost. His enemies won and worse than that. When they came to arrest him, you know the story. When they came to arrest him, he didn't even resist. And when his followers who were with him in the garden that night tried to resist, he said, "No more of this, no more of this, stop this, put away your sword. This is not my way. This is not the way. That's so kingdoms of this world one on one, and I have come to pave a new way. I've come to demonstrate a different way to resist. I've come to demonstrate a different way to respond and to react". And when his followers realize he's not even going to resist, you know the story, they all unfollowed and they all fled, but they shouldn't have been surprised at Jesus' response to his arrest, because this is how he had lived his entire life.
This has been his posture all along. And this was the posture that he insisted they take if they were going to be his follower. But it's so disturbing. It's so uneverything in us for most of us. And it's why most of us would rather just believe than choose to follow, because following Jesus will cost you something. It's why Jesus has so many admirers and so few followers. So here's the question. Which one are you? Which one am I? Which one are we? The way of Jesus, it's disturbing. It's unnerving. It's really unAmerican. It's really kind of, if I could be honest, it's kind of unmanly, but when you see it played out, when you see it rolled out in real time with a real person in the 21st century, somebody who understands what it means to really follow Jesus, and they're up against the wall and suddenly things aren't going their way, because, see, our actions, we're gonna talk about this later, our actions only tell part of the story. Our reactions tell the whole story.
And when you have seen a man or a woman react in such a way that reflects the posture of Jesus, it's jaw dropping. It's show stopping. Their reaction slices through the darkness, and that's the effect that the way of Jesus has when it's lived out in this imperfect world. It stirs something in us. It doesn't look weak. In fact, for example, you should look up the story of Rachael Denhollander. She was the person who addressed... She actually addressed Larry Nassar during the sentencing phase of his trial for years and years and years of sexual assault. As you may know, Rachael was the first person to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former USA gymnast doctor of sexual abusing over 200 little girls and young women. And you should look up her statement in the courtroom. I was gonna read part of it. It's so emotional, I can't even get through the first line.
Some of you know what that first line was. It's so powerful. It's so disarming. And I know for so many people, even in our audience, it's so close to the reality of your experience that I just don't want to go there, but you should look it up. And then you should ask yourself the question, is following Jesus weak? Is following Jesus passive? Is following Jesus a way to simply lose and to lose and to lose and to lose? But when you read her words, when you read what she says publicly to the man that did more damage to her than anyone that'll ever do damage to her, you just stop and stare. It's suddenly a little light cuts through, and it's amazing. Or look up the story of Anthony Thompson, 2015. We all are all familiar with this story. 2015, Anthony Thompson's wife, Myra, and eight of his dear friends were gunned down by a white supremacist, not white nationalist, supremacist after the Bible study. You remember this in Mother Emmanuel AME church, Charleston. And 48 hours later, 48 hours after his wife is murdered, he goes to the bond hearing.
Now, Thompson, Anthony Thompson is a Navy veteran. He's a man's man. And he walks in and he forgives out loud in court. He forgives his wife's murderer. And then he promises, remember this part, you look it up, and he promises to pray for his wife's murderer's salvation. And he even goes on to say, "So that you would spend eternity". And as you read this, you're like, wait a minute. You're hoping your wife's murderer spends eternity in the same place you hope your wife is spending? I mean, how weak. How pathetic. What a loser. But when you read that story, when you heard that story, we know better, don't we? We all know better.
And here's the point. Jesus invites all of us to be that better. And in the end, he died that better. Luke actually documents Jesus' specific invitation to his followers to live that kind of life and to demonstrate that posture and to demonstrate that kind of reaction when life goes in the opposite direction, Luke chapter nine, here was Jesus' invitation. And again, when they heard these words, they could not possibly have understood exactly what he was talking about. That's why Luke's like, I'm telling you, the end of the story is what makes sense of the entire story. The end of the story is what makes everybody say, oh, so that's why and that's why and that's what he meant and that's what he was intending, because on one afternoon, again, as they're listening and trying to figure this out, Jesus says, okay, let me put it out there for you this way. "If any one of you desires to come after me," literally, if any of you desire to line up behind me, be a part of my movement and move along with me.
Yeah, that's what we wanna do, Jesus. He said, okay, then here's what you're gonna have to do. "They're going to have to deny themselves". It's require that you say no to you. It's gonna require that you are not ruled by your appetite, you're not ruled by your ambition, and you're not ruled by the rules of the day. You will neither have the opportunity to act or react like everybody else around you. And then he said something that means almost nothing to us, but it meant everything to the people in his audience. And to be specific, you're gonna deny yourself and you're gonna, "Take up a cross". We'll take up his cross.
Now, in the first century, if you were carrying a cross, you know what that meant? It meant that your independence had come to an end. To take up a cross was to signify my independent life, my independence, me living life the way I wanna live and calling my own shots, it has come to an end. And then Jesus adds a very disturbing, but very important word to what he says. This is the challenge. This honestly is the differentiator. This is the difference between a believer and a follower. This is a difference between somebody who has internalized their Christianity, because they hope it will serve them well and someone who is following Jesus and wants to make a difference in the world, daily. You can pray a sinner's prayer, pray a salvation prayer once, but this is different. And Luke would say, and I'm telling you, this is what makes the difference.
And this is what made the difference. And this is why the message of Jesus survived the Empire and survived the temple, because his followers were difference makers and they actually did this stuff. And it caught on. This is a daily decision. This is every single morning. Thy kingdom come, not my kingdom. Every single morning, thy will be done, not my will be done. This is every single morning in my life as it is in heaven, because you not just my savior, not just the forgiver of my sins. You are my Lord and you are my king, and I submit all I am to all of you, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears, my thoughts, my resources. I am 100% yours. I am carrying a cross. I am abandoning my independence. And follow me, because that's what it means. To follow Jesus, to get in line behind him, to move along with his movement means I say no to me and you say no to you, that I submit to him, that I literally follow.
So again, if you're a Christian, if you're a believer, do you do that? Do I do that? Is that what characterizes us? Or have we fallen into the average Christian experience of forgive me of my sin, bless my family, and thank you for the food, and if there's a problem, I'll let you know. Those aren't the people that changed the world. Those aren't the people that changed anything. And Luke's like, I know it sounds like a lot. And when he said it, it sounded like a lot. And people withdrew and people didn't get it. And at the very end, I mean, Luke documents it. The gospel writers document it. I think Peter's like, yeah, just put it in there. We all ran away. It was too much for us. We didn't wanna lose, because we didn't understand. We didn't understand that the alternative to what Jesus was inviting us to do was to be small, to be independent and small, and to live small little lives that was gonna be just all about us, appetite driven, consumer driven, closed handed, striving, clinging to things.
I hope that you haven't, but have you ever been to a funeral where they had to just make stuff up about the person, 'cause there just wasn't a lot to say? And we do ceremony, that sort of thing all the time. It's like, would anybody in the family like to say something? No, you take it, Pastor. Does anybody wanna say... No, probably no. You ever been to a funeral where people had to pretend? Jesus covers that next. He says here's how to ensure that that's not the situation with you. "For whoever wants to save their life is gonna lose it". Don't miss this. Whatever you cling to diminishes over time, loses its value. If you hoard seed, they don't produce a crop. If you hoard seed, they eventually rot.
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me," that is for my kingdom, for my adventure, for my movement, ultimately, you, "Save it," or as we say around here all the time, if you live for yourself, you're only gonna have yourself to show for yourself. Live for yourself, you're only gonna have yourself to show for yourself. And Jesus is inviting us to sow our lives, our time, our talent, our resources, so that there's something more to show, to give our lives away to something other than us that's bigger than us, so we'll have something other than us to show for us. Come on, if this sounds threatening, if this sounds terrible, it's because we don't understand it.
And if this sounds threatening and terrible, it's because we've never seen it lived out or we haven't recognized it, and we have, because when you see it, it is amazing. And when you see it, it is attractive. And when you see it, you stand at a distance and you think I would like to be more like that, and I hope I would have responded like that. And I hope I would've reacted like that. And I hope I could come through on the other end and look like him and look like her and have the confidence they have and the contentment they have. I hope, I hope, I hope. And Jesus is saying this is what I'm inviting you to do, because whatever it is you're clinging to, you're gonna lose anyway, and whatever you're clinging to and hoping it never slips out of your hands, it's just going to diminish. And I am inviting you to something bigger and something better and something far more significant. It is the invitation. It really is the invitation of a lifetime, an invitation to do something noticeable and noteworthy that's not about you.
And then he end with this question, "What good is it..." He's like, okay, let's go to the end. Let's turn this whole thing around. "What good is it if somebody gains the whole world," that is whatever you wanted, whatever you were chasing you, you got it. And yet in the end, they, "Lose or forfeit their very self"? And in other words, he says, what good is it to think the whole time you're winning only to discover that when the clock runs out, you weren't even playing the right game. You didn't lose your game. You lost, because you weren't even in the game. "What good is that"? he says. It's like, well, if that's the way the world works, well, I'll tell you what good that is. That's no good. And Luke's like, okay, this is the point. This is why you gotta go back and reread everything he said and did now that you have the end of mind, because he is inviting us not to a better version of the way that you're currently living. He's not inviting us to current culture, current pace, current priorities 201. Luke's like, no, no.
We finally understood. He was inviting us to something entirely different. He really was the king that came to reverse the order of things that when he said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for ransom for many," that wasn't a metaphor. That wasn't a word picture. That was literal. And in the end, it all came into focus, and we finally understood that if we are not careful, we're gonna live little itty bitty lives consumed on ourselves, and he was inviting us to something grand, bigger, something that would have fruit that would last and remain beyond our lifetime, beyond our generation, He was playing a completely different game, and he was playing to lose, and he won.
And I know this is hard, but he invites us to play that loser's game as well. A game that results in joy, peace, contentment, an invitation. I mean, at some point it just sounds foolish. It's an invitation to give what we can't keep anyway. And he played that out and lived that out to the very end. "Father, forgive them," because they think they know, but they don't really know. They don't know what they're doing, because they're not in the game. Just forgive them. Then Luke got the following from the folks who were there, the rulers, the people who are kind of responsible for Jesus being crucified. "The rulers sneered at him" while he is dying. They said, "He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ, if he is the Messiah, if he is the chosen one".
Come on, if he is the king, come on. If he's the king, didn't he say he was a king? If he's the king, he should act like a king. Kings don't allow themselves to be taken without a fight. He is no king. The soldiers join in. "The soldiers came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar". These are auxiliaries. These are men who've been hired by Rome to serve in the legions who aren't Roman citizens. They're not even Rome. They've never been to Italy. They're from the surrounding regions, and they hate the Galileans, and they hate the Judeans anyway. And they're allowed to crucify one. This is their celebrating. They don't know who he is. They don't care who he is. They're just celebrating the end of another Galilean. "They offered him wine vinegar and they said, 'If you're the king of the Jews, save yourself.'"
Come on, if you're a king, do what kings do. Do something for you. We know how it works. Remember this part? And then, "One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself.'" Come on, do you not know how the world works? If you are a king, save yourself. That's what kings do. And while you're at it, "And us". What they did not know, what they did not understand, and what Luke is... He's like he just wants to reach off the page and grab us again behind the collar, put his hand behind our neck and say, do you understand what happened? Do you understand what we experienced? Do you understand this isn't for my generation? This is for every generation. Luke would say what they did not know, because they weren't at the end of the end of the story yet. What they did not know is if he had saved himself, he would have forfeited his ability to save them. If he had saved himself, he would've forfeited his ability, his opportunity to save you. He was others first to the bloody, bitter, painful, shameful end. Quiz, little history quiz.
Okay, I'm gonna ask you to raise your hand, 'cause I feel like we all need to take a break. This is so intense, right? But it should be. Luke's like, I know. I'm gonna ask you to raise your hand. If you know the name of the emperor of Rome on the day that Jesus was crucified, now it's not Nero, so that's not Nero, and it's not Caesar. That's a title, not a name. If know the name of the most powerful person, the most well known name in the Roman Empire on the day Jesus was crucified, would you raise your hand? I see two hands. But everybody who walked in here and everybody who's listening and everybody everywhere in the world has heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Tiberius Caesar, the most powerful man in the world. He is a footnote in the crucifixion in the story of a Galilean day laborer, Kingdoms of this world, kingdom of God.
So who? Who are you gonna follow? Who am I gonna follow? What am I gonna follow? What are you gonna follow? Who's gonna rule me, me? Who's gonna rule you, you? Who's gonna be the boss of you, the king of you, your appetites, your ambition, your goals, and your subset of goals and all those things that we should all do, because all those things are important? But at the end of the day, who has the final say in your life? Who has the final say in my life? So we all have a decision to make, every single one of us. Are you an admirer? I mean, pretty much everybody on planet Earth admires Jesus, right? Even people of other religions, because they extract certain parts of the message. They like all the one liners, the punch lines, the parables.
Luke's like, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, you can't admire this guy. You haven't read my account. If you just admire him, you don't get it. Admirer or follower? This is a daily decision. And the people who choose wisely daily are the people who change the world. And if I could just twist the knife just a little bit, isn't there something a little bit duplicitous or disingenuous about accepting Jesus' forgiveness, but resisting his invitation to follow? I don't want any broccoli. I'll just have ice cream. I don't like this. I just like... Luke's like, whoa, you can't do that. He isn't just invited you to get forgiven. He's invited us to follow, and it is a good invitation. It is a good decision. It is a better way to live. And Christians, if I can just say something to all of us Christians for a minute, why should anyone outside of our faith take our faith seriously if we don't? And that the epicenter of the Christian experience, isn't a sinner's prayer, so we can go to heaven when we die?
At the epicenter of the Christian experience is a daily decision to submit to our king. "It was about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon for the sun stopped shining". And nobody saw this coming. There was no prophecy. This was like what? "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two". Now, there were two giant curtains in the temple. We don't know which one Luke's referring to, but two other gospel writers say, hey, the curtain was ripped in two, and it wasn't ripped in two from the bottom to the top like two folks got hold of it, slit it and just ripped it open. Plus the thing about 12 inches thick. It was ripped from the top to the bottom.
And one of these curtains separated the holy of Holies from everything outside, that most holy place. And the other one just separated the temple from the outer court. We don't know which one was torn. It doesn't matter. But do you know what it symbolized? It symbolized that God, in some sort of first century understanding way, was leaving the temple to seek and to find and to reclaim his rebel race, his lost sheep, his lost coin, his lost son, his lost daughter, and that the era of the temple had come to an end, that everybody was invited, because if everybody participated, the world would certainly change. "And Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' And when he had said this, he breathed this last".
And this is where Luke got the information. When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight, saw what took place, they beat their breasts, and they went away. They were overcome with grief and sorrow and frustration and perhaps anger. This doesn't make any sense. This cannot possibly be the way this ends, but I love this. "But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him all the way from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching all of these things". And so Jesus died the way he lived, with his arms wide open. The cross took his breath away, but his death took our son away. And Luke's like, oh my goodness. We haven't even got to the best part, because his resurrection took all of our excuses away. But that's a story for another day. The question for you today and for me today is this. Luke would tell you follow. Following makes all the difference. And his followers changed the world.