Andy Stanley - What God is Like
Empathy is, it's such a powerful thing. Sympathy, not so much, but empathy. When you meet someone, and they can't solve your problem, but they have walked through similar, a similar path, experience what you've experienced, and when they go, ah, I know, you know, wow, yeah, they really know. That they actually feel what you feel. The other side of that or another aspect of that is, here's something we've all experienced and really probably in every season, that we've run into someone who was able, or we heard about someone who was able to put words around what we were feeling. And sometimes you don't even know what you're feeling. You just, you know you're feeling something, and you're frustrated, or you're afraid, or you have questions.
And then somebody says something, you read something. For most of us, I know for me, it's often song lyrics. Then you hear a song ,and you're like, oh, I love that song. And it may not even be your genre. It may not even be your, people are like, that's not my favorite, but there's like one or two lines sometimes in a song when a lyricist just expresses perfectly what you're feeling. And in some ways it becomes like a soundtrack for your life. And some of us, we've lived long enough, you can think back to different soundtracks for different seasons where some lyricists just captured what you were feeling. And there was something about knowing that you're not the only one feeling it, you're not the only one wondering.
And the other interesting thing about that is that the song, the lyrics of a song, or are poetry if you're into poetry, they don't ever resolve the tension. They don't solve the problem, but it's just good to know that we're not alone, that we're not the only one asking. We're not the only one wondering. We're not the only one hurt by that. We're not the only one missing someone. We're not the only one that's fearing something specifically, that somebody else felt and experienced exactly what we experienced, and they were able to put words around it maybe in a way that we weren't. So with that in mind, I thought I would share one of mine. And as strange as it is, this song's almost 20 years old. I couldn't believe it. It's from, it's the second verse of the song "Calling All Angels" by Train.
And I don't know if I should tell you this or not, but these lyrics leak into my prayers. I find myself praying these lyrics from this song because when I first heard this song all those years ago, it just captured, for me anyway, just something very powerful that kind of, I don't know, it's kind of woven into the fabric of my life and my thinking, and specifically things I feel. Here's the lyrics. Says, "I need a sign to let me know you're here". I mean, sometimes it's like, God, I just need to know you're paying attention, right? "'Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear". When I see everything going on in the world, it's like, is anyone listening? Is anyone paying attention? Are you paying attention? And then this next line, I think because of the way I'm kinda wired, I want a reason. I want an explanation. I want a formula. "I want a reason for the way things have to be. I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me".
Ever feel that way? Better question, ever not feel that way, right? Like, God, I just need to know you're here. I just need to know you're paying attention. I just need some assurance you know my name. I just need some assurance that you know what I'm walking through, that it is distant. And as mysterious as you are, I need some kind of personal connection. The interesting thing is, I'm not the first person to feel that. You're not the first person to feel that. In fact, you may not even be a person of faith. In fact, you may have walked away from faith a long time ago. And yet, every once in a while something happens, and you find yourself, and I've told you this before.
I have a friend who's an atheist, and he used to be a pastor. And I said to him one time, and I wasn't being facetious. We were just having an honest conversation. I said, "Do you ever accidentally pray"? I mean, he grew up in church, and he was a pastor. And I'm like, and he's an atheist, and he's kind of made a career around it. "Do you ever accidentally pray"? And he's like, "Yeah, because there's something in us that when things are breaking down, or breaking up, going away, it's like, help". To whom it may concern, right? So this is interesting. Philip, who is one of Jesus' disciples, has a moment like this. It's the end of Jesus' ministry, they're about to celebrate Passover. Jesus is hours away from being arrested. And he's going, Jesus is trying to explain some things to him, and things are spinning outta control the best the disciples can tell. And Jesus is trying to patch it all back to together.
And from their perspective, what Jesus is saying is kind of nonsense. We're gonna look at it in just a minute. And Philip interrupts, and he says what everybody in the room was thinking, and he puts words maybe around something you have felt, something I know I have felt. He's like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, look, look". Whatever, okay. "Just show us the Father, and that will be enough for us". Just assure us that things aren't spinning outta control. Assure us that God is a part of this whole thing that we thought God was a part of, and now we're not so sure. Just show us the Father. I need a sign to let us know he's here, that he's paying attention, right?
And for us, like Philip, if we knew that with certainty, if we had that kind of confidence, we'll be fine. If you knew that with certainty that God was paying attention, that God was enough in the details of your life that he was watching, then you would be fine. I would be fine, or at least we would be finer. And maybe the reason you lost faith, and maybe the reason you're kinda reaching for the door is you're looking for that sign, and it just hasn't happened. And you just wonder.
Today we're in part two of our series, Reasons for the Season. Reasons for the Season. And we've said at the beginning last time we were together when we started this, that no doubt by now you have seen the billboards, or the signs, or the clings, or maybe you have a Christmas tree ornament at home that says, Jesus is the reason for the season. And the sentiment being, of course we need to keep Christ in Christmas, and Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas. And I get all of that. But if Jesus is correct, and I always think Jesus is correct, by the way, if Jesus is correct, and if the authors of the New Testament are correct, Jesus isn't actually the reason for the season. You are actually the reason for the season, and I'm the reason for the season. Because if you weren't such a mess, no offense, and if I wasn't such a mess, no offense, and if the world wasn't such a mess, there would've been no need for Christmas.
But the messiness of the world is what paved the way and created the context for God to do something extraordinary, as we talked about last time, to bring about the birth of Messiah, the birth of a King. And the birth of Jesus was for your benefit. And the birth of Jesus was for my benefit. It benefited us in many ways. And in this series, we're talking specifically about three, three specific reasons for the season. We looked at the first one last time. We said that Jesus came to bless the world. That as a result of Jesus, the world would be better off, and people would be better off. And we talked about that last time. We talked about the fact, and I said to you, because of you, and what you do in our communities, and what you do around the world, the world is better off simply because of you as a group of Jesus followers. The world is better off because of Jesus. We talked about that.
Today we're gonna talk about the second reason. It's a little bit more personal, a little bit more gritty. Something that's easy to miss, even if you consider yourself a Christian and have been a Christian for a long time. But one of the reasons that Jesus came, that he was born on Christmas, the reason we celebrate Christmas is that Jesus came to demonstrate what God is like, to demonstrate what God is like. This was a theme of his teaching and a theme of his ministry. But I'm telling you, I know for me at times, I forget this. I feel like as I listen to Christians and read what Christians say, what they complain about and how they respond to things, I think, wait, have you not been paying attention to Jesus? Because the reason he came was to demonstrate and to illustrate what God is like. And it's easy to have all kinds of ideas about what God is like, and Jesus came to clarify that for us.
In fact, the truth is, we all have some concept of what God is like. In fact, you may be of a different Christian, or a different, excuse me, a different religious tradition, and you have some concept of God, and when you picture God, something comes to mind, but here's what you already know is you can be wrong about what you think God is like. And the reason you know that is because you have changed your mind about what you think God is like. And you can't, both things you thought can't be right. You have changed the way you've thought about God. So it's possible to have an idea of what God is like and to be wrong. Case in point, the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul actually wrote half the New Testament. But as you know, he steps onto the pages of history, not as the apostle Paul, but as Saul of Tarsus who hated Christians.
And here's the interesting thing. Before he met Jesus, before he met Jesus, he was sure he was right about God, and he was sure he was right with God, absolutely sure. If you said, because he was a Pharisee, you'd say, "Saul, do you know what God is like"? "Of course I know what God is like. I've been trained by the best". "And Saul, do you feel like you're right with God"? "Of course I'm right with God". And then so of Tarsus came to the sudden realization in the course of a half of an afternoon, came to the sudden realization that he did not know what God was like, and he was not right with God. He was neither right about God nor right with God. And what changed his mind was not some intangible thing that happened out there as it related to this mystery of God. It all changed when he met and had an encounter with the person of Jesus.
Now this is amazing. I don't wanna rush by it. After years of theological training, one encounter with Jesus, and the whole thing gets turned upside down and turned inside out. And he would say, "You know what? For all my life since I was a little boy, I thought I was right about God, and I thought I was right with God, and I was wrong on both accounts". He went from this description of himself. Before he met Jesus he said this. "As for righteousness". In other words, as for doing the right stuff and being the right kind of person. "Based on the law, faultless". Faultless. He said, "Yeah, if you'd met me before Jesus, I would've told you I was faultless. I was as perfect as you could possibly be. I kept the law better than anybody. I was right about God and right with God".
And then he met Jesus. And this is his new biography. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I'm the worst". He's like, wait, what happened? I thought you were the most righteous person on the planet. You were the most righteous Hebrew in Palestine at the time, and now you're telling us like you're the worst among sinners. And he would tell you, "I'll tell you what happened. I thought I was right about God. I thought I was right with God. And then I met and encountered the person of Jesus". He summarizes it in this little line in one of his letters that is so powerful, it is so packed, it is so median. I'm just gonna touch on it briefly, but it's amazing.
Here's what he said. He's referring to, he's referring to the old covenant, the relationship that God established through a covenant with ancient Israel, and all the traditions, and all the things that went along with it. And then along with that he's also referring to basically all the world's religions that were looking up trying to figure out God, and had all these customs, and practices, and dietary laws, and sacrificial, ways they did sacrifice, and referring kind of to all of that. Here's what he writes after encountering Jesus. "These," talking about all of these, "These are a shadow of the things that were to come". These were just a shadow.
Now, you can tell a lot about something by the shadow that it cast, right? But you can't tell everything about something by the shadow that it cast because shadows can be deceiving. I brought a picture of a shadow. This is Sandra and me walking. She has long legs. They are not that long. And our arms are not that short. Because shadows distort. Shadows leave too much to the imagination. So Paul says, all that came before, it wasn't wrong, it was just incomplete. It was like signs that were pointing to something, but it wasn't the something. It was the shadow that was being cast by something, but it wasn't the something. And then Paul would say, tell you. And that's why I thought I was right about God and right with God.
And then I had an encounter with the shadow caster, and everything changed for me. The reality, he says. The reality, however, "These are a shadow of the things that were to come, but the reality, however," this is so amazing, the truth about the thing that cast the shadow is found in a person that's found in Christ. Until the arrival of Jesus, and this is the reason for the season. Until the arrival of Jesus, everybody guessed. There was so much mystery. There were hints and shadows. Every world religion, every religion, every ancient pagan religion, all of them were trying to figure out something because they knew there was something beyond them, but they had to guess. They had to strive for. They had to try to figure it out, but they all fell short because all they had were shadows. And then on the first Christmas, God came. The shadow castor came to dwell with us, to demonstrate for us what God is really like, who God likes, what God likes, and how to be right with God the Father.
Now, there will always be mystery. And the reason there will always be mystery is this, that God always has to accommodate to our capacity. God is like a good Father. He always accommodates to our capacity. For example, where do babies come from? Depends on who's asking. Is it a five-year-old? Is it a 15-year-old? Is it a 25-year-old H? How is it, how do you get 600 plus tons of Airbus airborne? Who's asking, a five-year-old, the 15-year-old, a 25-year-old, right? That we accommodate the people's capacity. And God and his wisdom and mercy, and this will explain so much of the Old Testament, especially God accommodated to the capacity of people. And then on Christmas, at Christmas, the reason it became Christmas, God decided to reveal himself in the clearest way possible. He entered the world, and he entered the world because he wanted you to know what he is like, and he wanted me to know what he was like. More importantly, he wanted the world to know what he's like. He sent us the best version of himself. He sent us himself.
Here's how Jesus explained it. This is at the end of his ministry. As I said a few minutes ago, hours from this particular incident, this conversation, Jesus is gonna be arrested, falsely accused, and crucified. He's gathered with his apostles, the the 12th for their final Passover meal. They're in Jerusalem. And these guys thought they were coming to Jerusalem, and he was gonna throw off the rabbi robe and proclaim himself Messiah and King, and they're gonna expel the Romans, and life is gonna be great. And they're close to the King, so things are gonna go well with them. And Jesus begins talking, again, seemed like nonsense. It's like if things are as bad as you're making them sound, why did we come to Jerusalem? We should have stayed in Galilee where it's safe. He announces that he's about to be betrayed. They're like, well, if you knew that already, why did you lead us here?
Whereas he says, "I'm gonna be betrayed, and I'm gonna leave you, and you can't go with me". And Peter says, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, I'm going with you, and I'm willing to die for you". And Jesus says, "No, no, no, no, you can't go with me, and I hate to tell you you're not willing to die for me". So much tension in the room. And Jesus smiles in the midst of all of this. And he says, "Guys, don't let your hearts be troubled". They're like, "Are you kidding? We are completely confused as to why we're here and what you're talking about". Then he says this, "You believe in God, don't you"? They're like, "Yeah, since we were little boys, we've believed in God". He says, "Believe also in me". Trust me like you trust God. That's crazy. He is equating himself with God.
And John who was there and wrote all this down, would lean out of history out the window, history window, and say to us, "I know, I was there. It was crazy". But here's the thing, four chapters earlier, he raised a man from the dead, not freshly dead, four days dead. And so when he would say these things, as crazy as it was, as blasphemous as it was, as impossible as it was for us to get our minds around and our hearts around, we just stayed, and we listened. And Jesus says, "My Father's house has many rooms".
Now I grew up, the King James version of this says, "Tn my Father's house are many mansions". So when I'm a kid, I'm like a mansion? I mean, I'd seen a mansion. Like there's a lot of mansions, and we get to, in heaven's a bunch of mansions, streets of gold. And unfortunately, or maybe fortunately and better, the word really, it should not be translated to mansions. It's really rooms, which is kind of a bummer. I mean, you go from a mansion to a room. I got a room already. I was hoping, anyway. So Jesus says, "In my Father's house, in my Father's abode are all these smaller, smaller abodes". And he says, "If that were not so, I would've told you that I would not, would I have told you that I'm going there to prepare a place for you"? I'm gonna go there.
And again, he says, "And eventually when I go there, you're gonna join me". But Peter, not now. And then he goes on. He says, and this is, you can see why this was confusing. They're like, "Wait a minute, we just got to Jerusalem. I thought you were gonna be Messiah. Now you're gonna leave, and you're going to your Father's house". "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I'll come back, and I'll take you to be with me". Not yet, Peter. "That you also may be where I am".
He's talking about his death. He's talking about his resurrection. He's talking about like, I'm gonna go see my dad. Then I'm gonna come back and get you. We'll all go see my dad. And they're like, "What are you talking about? How could you pos, if you're talking about your death, how is it you talk so casually about going and coming"? And then he says, "You know, guys. You've been with me for three, three and a half years. You know the way to the place where I'm going, right"? Thomas, it's like the rest of 'em. It's like, is anybody gonna say anything? "Hey, No, we don't know where you're going. And since we don't know where you're going, we couldn't possibly know the way".
Now, pause right here for a moment. This is so important. One of the reasons that we believe the gospels, one of the reasons we believe the gospels reflect actual accounts of actual events. they are reliable account of actual events and actual conversations, is because the authors of the New Testament do not write themselves into the story looking very good. They write themselves into the story as confused constantly right up to the end because they were confused constantly right up to the end. And you would've been too, and I would've been too.
And even with hindsight and with the context for all this, we miss this extraordinary point that Jesus is about to make, that changes everything once we embrace it with our hearts, and in our minds, and our thinking, and our approach to life. And Jesus answered. Hey, we don't know the way. How can we know the way? And Jesus answers, famous verse alert. Famous verse alert. "I am the way". I am the way. They're like, "You're talking about going to the Father". And Jesus is like, "Look, this isn't complicated. Just focus. I am the way. I'm the way to God, and I'm the truth about God, and I'm the life of God. No one understands, no one gets to, no one figures out, no one reasons their way, that no one gets God unless they come through me".
Here's what he was saying. Guys, you'll miss the Father if you attempt to find the Father anyway other than me. I'm not just the way. And again, we read these verses, and these have been contextualized in terms of you get to go to heaven when you die. And certainly there are salvific themes here, but within the context, here's what Jesus is saying. Don't look past me. Don't stop short of me. This is as good as it gets. Which leads to what he says next, which is the reason for the season. It's the reason that you should consider or reconsider following Jesus.
He says this, "If you know me". This is either blasphemy on a scale that there's no words for or it must be true. "If you know me, you will know my Father as well. And from now on," he says to them in the room, "And from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him". And they're like, "We do? We have"? Jesus is like, "Yes, why do you think I stuck around? Why do you think I dragged you boys around"? The implication he's saying is this, you know what the Father is like. You know what the Father is like because you know what I'm like. I'm as good as it gets. I'm as close as it gets. I'm as clear as it gets. I came to reduce the mystery, and I came to add some personality because God who loves you wants you to know what he is like. And from this point forward, the world will know because God came to dwell among you. He became one of you so you could know what he's like, who he likes, what he likes, what he values, and how much he loves you. And they still don't get it. And I don't think we would either.
I think we still have a hard time getting this. I get confused, and I get discouraged, and I wanna give up when I lose sight of this. When I try to figure out what is God up to out there somewhere, what is God up to in the circumstances of life, what's God up to in my heart, what's God up to in relationships, what's God up to, what's God up to? The moment I depart from the person of Jesus that we discover in the gospels, and I try to figure God out apart from Jesus, it gets confusing, and I get confused. It's why he came and lived among us. If you're looking anywhere other than Jesus, this is bold. and I wouldn't say this if Jesus hadn't said it 20 different ways.
If you're looking anywhere other than Jesus in an attempt to understand God, you're looking in the wrong place. And that's why there's never any peace, and that's why there's always more confusion, and that's why you try to factor your circumstances into your little bitty understanding of God, and it never seems to fit. For some of you, look up here, for some of you, it's why you lost your faith, and I understand that. Because somebody gave you God about this big with four or five adjectives and a whole bunch of different names. And then there was life. And the rigors of adulthood squashed that childlike faith because it was built around concepts. And Jesus says, "No, look at me. Listen to me. Watch me. And you'll see God, your Father in action". To which the response is, Andy, but that's so exclusive. No, it's clarifying. It's clarifying.
Well, at this point in the conversation, Phillip's head is just spinning. It's like, okay, we believe you, but we have no idea what you're talking about. We believe you, but we don't understand you. And this is the moment in the conversation where he just interrupts and blurts out. The text says that Phillip said, "Lord, okay, okay, okay, you're coming. You're going. We can't go. We're gonna show up later. Why are we here? Look, just show us the Father, and that will be enough for us. We don't need you to keep talking and explaining. We've heard all the stories and the parables".
I mean John and Matthew, you wrote most of those down. "But we, look, we just wanna know the Father is with us. Just show us the Father. We need a sign to know he's here". And Jesus is like, "Show you the Father? What do you think I've been doing for three years? It's the reason I came". And he looks at Philip. I think he smiles. He understands. "Philip, don't you know me, Philip, after I've been among you such a long time"? Philip, look at me eye to eye. "Anyone who has seen me," this is so bold. What if this is true? What if what he's about is about to say is true? If what Jesus is about to say is true, we should wake up every day and just stay in the gospels.
I wanna know what God is like. I wanna know what God is like. I wanna know what God is like. "If anyone who has seen me has seen the Father". And there's no place else you can look to see the Father. "How can you say, show us the Father"? Then he says this, "Don't you," come on. "Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me"? After all you guys have seen. The words that I say to you, the words that I say to you, "I do not speak on my own authority". I didn't come here so it's all about me. "The words that I speak to you, I don't speak on my own authority. It is the Father living in me who is doing his work".
If you've seen me, you've seen God in action. If you've been watching me, you've been watching God in action. If you've been listening to me, you have heard the words of God. Earlier he would say, "I do nothing on my own initiative because I am here to reveal the Father in the most clarifying certain terms imaginable. I came as one of you to live among you". What if that is true? He says, "Believe me when I say, I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves". So what's the reason for this season? It's to remove some mystery. It's to add some personality. It's to bring clarity. It's to reduce the distance. You wanna know what God is like, what God likes, who God likes, how God would respond? Jesus would say, "Don't look out there, and don't look in there. Look at Jesus".
Now, it may help to know after all that, they still don't get it. They didn't buy it. I mean, how could they? They're in the room with a person, a human being who claims to be God in a body, and they just can't get it. And Judas, who was there for most of this, betrays him that very night. And later they're in the garden, and Jesus is pouring out his heart, praying. And when Judas and the temple guard show up to arrest Jesus, what do they do? Stand by their man, guide and abide. No, they all run because they do not believe. And I bet we wouldn't either. But here's the interesting thing. Here's the undeniable thing. These are the same men who would ensure that these claims, the claims of Jesus, would survive the first century.
These men along with the female, the women followers of Jesus in the first century, those men and women were the ones who would assure that the teaching of Jesus, the words of Jesus, the behavior, the words and works of Jesus would survive the first century and be documented in a way that we would receive them in a future generation. They were the ones that assured that happened. Why? Because after the resurrection, they were convinced Jesus and the Father are one. Like Father, like Son. They were convinced, this is important. They were convinced that Jesus didn't simply have the best explanation of God. They were convinced that Jesus is the best explanation of God our Father.
And the boys in the room that night, if they could speak today, you know what they would tell us? They would say, "Hey, don't draw conclusions about God. Do not draw conclusions about God based on your circumstances. That's what we did. We looked at circumstances, and the puzzle pieces just didn't fit. That's a mistake. Don't draw conclusions about the love of God, the compassion of God, the mercy of God. Don't draw conclusions about the wisdom of God and especially about the unconditional love of God from your circumstances. That is a mistake. It's why we abandoned him in the end".
And don't depend on your traditions. Traditions are like signs. They point to something. Traditions are things that kind of cast a shadow. They're hints. But don't lean so hard on your traditions that you missed the thing behind the tradition. Don't lean so hard on the shadows and the hints that you missed the thing that cast the shadow, because the reality is not a concept. The reality is not theology. The reality is a person, God in flesh, who came to dwell among men who entered this world just like we did as a baby. And they would say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, one other thing. Don't look within". Because your wounded experience shaped heart doesn't always tell you the truth. Your wounded limited experience shaped heart is easily misled.
If you wanna know what God is like, if you wanna know what God likes, if you wanna know how much God loves you, he says, you look to Jesus because God is like Jesus. The reason he came, what if this is true? The reason he came was to illustrate, and then demonstrate, and then communicate what God is like, who God is. And all those men and women in the first century who got it all wrong and then eventually got it all right, would assure you that he loves you, that you are the reason, at the end of the day, that you are the reason for this season.
One of the best things you could do in this Christmas season, I wanna challenge you to do it. If you have a Bible, to find your Bible. If you don't have a Bible, you can download a Bible. There are Bible apps. To find a Bible and go to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the fourth Gospel, and read the Gospel of John with this question in mind, with this question in mind. What do I learn about the Father from the Son? What do I learn about the Father from the Son?
If Jesus came to reveal the Father, if Jesus came to add personality to God, if Jesus came to disclose to us in the best possible way and the way that we would best understand what God is like, then as I read this gospel, what do I learn about the Father from the Son? And while you will learn a lot of things, one thing you will be assured of is that he was the sign to assure you that he's here, and he is the sign to assure you that he cares and that he knows the details of your life, and he cares about you.
It's John, who later on would pin those powerful words that most of us memorized or heard his children. For God so loved you that he gave to the world his one and only Son, that whoever trust in him would never be lost to God and God would never be lost to him or her because Jesus came to explain the Father. So however that strikes you, believable or unbelievable, I wanna challenge you. Find the Gospel of John and read it with this question in mind, what do I learn about the Father from the Son? Because he is the perfect representation of God our Father, God our Father who loves you. I'd love to pray for us as we close:
Heavenly Father, thank you for this reminder. It's so clear that we walk right by it or stop short of it. So give us eyes to see. Give us ears to hear. I pray that we would dispense with the shadows, dispense with the errant theology, the bits and pieces we picked up here or there that we just kinda globbed onto God the Father, that we'd strip all of that away, and that we would look as deeply as we can into the life, and the teaching, and the works of Jesus to discover who it is who has invited us to address him as God our Father. So do that thing that only you can do and bring us to the place where we are even more sincere, even more passionate, and our desire to follow Jesus who said it's through him that we will ultimately understand God. And We pray all of that in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen.