Andy Stanley - Shattering Our Excuses
So, like many of you, hopefully, most of you, I absolutely love Christmas. And one of the reasons that I love Christmas and this season is because my immediate family isn't complicated, and that makes it more enjoyable, right? Hopefully you have a lot of immediate family that isn't complicated. My family of origin not so much. In fact, I counted it up. I don't know if I got this exactly right, and this is such a downer, but it helps me. So anyway, so for about, I think 20 years, for about 20 years, the four of us, were never together on Christmas.
You know, I have my two parents and my sister and I, and there were different combinations of twos that could get together on Christmas and maybe one combination of some threes, but never all four of us for Christmas, or really for anything, for almost for like 20 years. And then my mom got sick. And in her final days, guess what we did? We got together, but not around a Christmas tree. We got together in an ICU. And the thing is, if you had stopped any one of us during those seasons of, you know, here comes Christmas, are you gonna get together with your family for Christmas? Well, you know, and if you'd said, well, what's up? I mean, it's Christmas. I mean, come on. You know, we would've said this, we would've kind of waved you off and said, well, it's complicated. It's complicated. It's complicated. But actually it wasn't complicated. It was uncomfortable. And of course, looking back, you know, hindsight, it just seems all seems so unnecessary.
So here's my happy question for you as we begin our time together. Got any complicated and uncomfortable in your family? You got any uncomfortable? And maybe you would even say it is unnecessary, but we can't seem to get around it in your family because for some of us, not all of us, but for some of us, Christmas is a reminder that there are problems we can't solve. I mean, you've been trying to solve the same problem for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, and you just, it just doesn't get solved. It's a reminder because it's so emotional and it's so family oriented that there are just people we can't control. In fact, you finally realize, I can't even, I can't control any people, but you tried for years to just, if we could just manage everybody to behave or act a certain way, and there are expectations that, you know, we can't meet.
This is a real tough one because the closer you get to that meal or that Christmas or that morning or whatever it is, you just feel more and more expectations. And no matter what you do, no matter what you wear, no matter what you wrap, no matter how the kids behave, or no matter, you know, there's just, you just feel like you're being evaluated and judged and you walk out and walk away, and you just feel like you know, the expectations are unspoken, but they're so real and you feel 'em. But worse than any of that is that if I'm honest, I'm a problem I can't solve, and I'm the person that oftentimes I can't seem to control. And I'm probably the one laying expectations on other people, and I don't even know I'm doing it.
The point is simply this, at Christmas, at Christmas, we celebrate an event that if we take it seriously, and that's what these next few minutes are about. At Christmas, we celebrate a single event that if we were to take it seriously, and when I say seriously, our problem is this. We all know the Christmas story, the birth narratives of Jesus, and we so romanticize them and we shave off the rough edges, and we don't spend enough time sitting in the middle of the significance of what happened. But we're gonna do that for the next few minutes. But if we took seriously the significance of what happened at Christmas, it has the potential to move all of us past complicated and uncomfortable. That if we take the birth of Jesus, the Christmas story seriously, what it does, and this is the challenging part, it actually removes our excuses not to move in the direction of complicated and uncomfortable. More on that in just a minute.
Today we are wrapping up our three part Christmas series entitled, "Reasons for the Season". And no doubt you've seen the signs and the clings and the bumper stickers that say Jesus is the reason for the season. The sentiment being Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas. But if you follow Jesus through the gospels, one thing becomes very, very clear. And that's this, that Jesus isn't the reason for the season. We are the reason for the season. Because if we weren't such a mess, there would be no Christmas. If you weren't such a mess, there would be no Christmas. If your boss wasn't such a mess, there would be no Christmas. We don't have to look far to see enough messes to know. No wonder Jesus came because we were in a mess. The world was a mess, for God so loved this messy, messed up world that he showed up, that the birth of Jesus was for, well, it was for our benefit. And in this series, we looked at three primary ways that we've benefited through the birth of Jesus.
Three reasons for the season. We looked at the first two, we said that Jesus came to bless the world, that the world will be better off because Jesus came. We talked about that than last time. To demonstrate what God is like to, to illustrate what God is like, to communicate what God is like, because there's so much mystery surrounding what is God like. And God wanted you to know what God is like. And he sent his son into the world to demonstrate and illustrate and communicate what God is like. And last time we were together, we said this, if you look past Jesus, you're gonna miss God. If you stop short of Jesus, you're gonna miss God. Because Jesus came and said, I'm as close as you'll ever get to understanding the Father. But the Father wanted to be understood. So he sent me into the world as one of you. And today, the third reason that Jesus came, the third reason for the season is to remove our excuses.
Now, think about this. At Christmas, we celebrate God coming or drawing near. In fact, in Matthew, when Matthew recounts the angel's message to Mary that she's gonna have a child, he quotes from the book of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah, and you're familiar with some of this, these words. And here's what the prophet Isaiah said, and again, Matthew capitalizes on this, the angel, you know, contextualizes this for Mary, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means anyone? Yes, God with us, right? God with us, we, we know that, God with us. More precisely, here's what the text means, God is with us.
Now, this is important. Whenever God renamed someone or gave someone a nickname, it pointed to the purposes of God that would be fulfilled through that person. So whenever God gave someone a new name or associated a name or a nickname, it was because in the future, that person was gonna fulfill the purposes of God that God had outlined and assigned to that particular person. And as the story of Jesus unfolds, what you find is that Jesus was an illustration, the living illustration of God with us, that God's purposes and values would be demonstrated and illustrated and communicated through Jesus. And if that's the case, and I believe it's the case, most of us do, if that's the case, what becomes awkwardly and uncomfortably clear is this. If God, in fact, and this is why I asked, have you taken the story seriously? Do we take the story seriously?
If in fact, God came to be with us in spite of us, we lose our excuse to remain distant from people simply because it's complicated, because it's awkward, because it's uncomfortable to state it personally. What excuse do I have? What excuse do I have to just dismiss and to judge and to distance myself from people whose dysfunction, whose insecurity, and to use a Bible term whose sin differs from mine? Philip Yancey put it this way, this is so compelling. He writes, Christians, Christians, we get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do, that Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently then they and let me tell you something about you. And this is, you know, this is disturbing, but it's true of all of us.
You get, if you're like most, and I'm just talking to Christians for a minute, in fact, if you're not a Christian, if you're not a Jesus follower, you're gonna love this because you already believe this about us. You may be encouraged to know at least a few of us recognize it about ourself. And that's this, we get, come on, let's face it, you get more jacked up and you get more amped up and you get more riled up about other people's sin than you do your own. Not a single amen. That's right. It's like, oh my gosh. I mean, you think, come on, come on. You think about they, they, they, they, they. And you are so right, I mean, you look pointing at the television. You don't even know these people, they, they, they, and this party and that party and this group and that group, or my boss or my aunt, you know, my grandfather, you know, they, they, they, they, they come on.
Have you ever... don't answer out loud. Have you ever gotten as passionate about disgust around your own sin as you have around the sin of other people's sins that you don't think you're guilty of or don't commit? And the answer is no, and the same is true of me. And I'm a professional Christian, okay? I should at least, they should at least be even I should be at least evenly as upset about my sin as other people's sin. But it is so much more fun to get all riled up about the sin of other people.
Now, that's what Philip Yancey says, but here's something that's even stranger still. And again, if you're not a a Jesus follower, you're gonna love this as well. Because again, this is what's so baffling about Christians and about church people to you. We get angry. We get angry at non-Christians whose sin differs than our sin, but they never even subscribe to our definition of sin to begin with. And we're absolutely sure they are wrong. And they shouldn't, they're wrong and they should. And they look at you and they look at me like, wait a minute, I don't subscribe to your worldview. I don't see the world the way that you do.
How dare you judge me and tell me that I'm awful or bad or a sinner when we don't even see the world the same way. But we all go there. That's always the temptation, Emmanuel, God with us, to remove our excuses from us. I mean, think about this again, you don't even have to be a church person to know this. I mean, Jesus is famous for this. Jesus' most, I don't know, caustic stringent criticism would be reserved for the self-righteous. That Jesus had no patience with patience with self-righteous people. He had all kind of patience with sinners, especially people who recognize, oh my goodness, I fall short, I need forgiveness, I need mercy. I mean, he was all about that. But the group of people, and in the first century, the ones he dealt with were all men.
The self-righteous men that he interfaced with. He had no patience with them. It's like, seriously, you can get so amped up about other people's sin, but you can't see your own heart and won't acknowledge what's going on inside of you. His most, his, again, his criticism was reserved for the self-righteous because he knew the self-righteous lack self-awareness. Now, here's where this interfaces intersects with your life and with my life, the birth of Jesus, the fact that God came to dwell with us should make all of us painfully, and I know we don't like this word, but I'll use it anyway,painfully, shamefully, humbly self-aware. We should all wake up every single day and be amazingly self-aware of the fact that we have so much in common, even with the people we dislike and we don't think are anything like us, that we should be overwhelmingly self-aware of the fact that we all need the same things.
We all desire the same things, and we all fear the same things. That there is no room for self-righteousness. And the self-righteousness that's in us is a reflection of a lack of self-awareness of what's going on around us. Awareness that in fact, the reasons, the reasons I decide not to move in that direction because it's uncomfortable. The reasons I decide not to move toward him or her because you know, it's a little bit awkward. The reasons aren't really reasons because at Christmas, all those reasons get ripped out from underneath us. They're not reasons, they're excuses. They're paper walls, paper walls that wall us in and wall other people out. Because the truth is, again, if I can be personal for a minute, the more aware I am of God's grace and mercy toward me.
And isn't that what Christmas is about? That God, as we talked about last time, that God wanted to be known, that God did not wanna remain a mystery. So he took on personhood, he took on personality. That God, through Jesus has invited me to recall God, my heavenly Father, that God, the more aware I am of God's grace and mercy towards me, I should be more inclined to extend grace and mercy to you because God's grace to me through the birth of Jesus, removes my excuses not to extend grace and mercy to you. Even though your sin and your insecurity has different expressions than mine, the more aware I am of the things God has yet to change in me, my insecurity, dysfunction, prejudice, arrogance, sin, the less offended by right and uncomfortable I should be with what God has yet to change. And you, and when it surfaces in me, why I can't move in that direction because it's uncomfortable and because it's complicated.
Isn't that the moment that I'm to remember the birth of Jesus who came to be with us in spite of us? Christmas shatters our excuses for avoiding complicated and uncomfortable. John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the author of the fourth Gospel, John, who was with Jesus from the beginning. And I know every time I mention John or Peter, any of these people, I tell you the same thing over and over. And the reason is, is because when these men wrote, they weren't writing the Bible. These men were documenting their experiences. These were real people. And John who was with Jesus from the beginning, who saw it all, felt it all, smelt it all. Who stood in the back of a crowd with his arm around Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she watched her son bleed to death, real person, John who lost all hope.
If you've ever lost all hope, John's your guy, who lost all faith, he became faithless. If you've ever been been faithless, we were struggling with, I don't know if I can hang onto my faith, John is your guy, John, who raced Peter to Jesus' tomb because the women had said, somebody's taken the body and he beats Peter there, but he's afraid to go in because, well, it's a tomb. And then John, whose faith came back to life when he met his resurrected rabbi and had lunch with him, breakfast with him on the beach, and then he goes on to become an old man. He survives Vespasian's march through Galilee, destroying the Jews all the way to the city of Jerusalem. He survived Titus as he placed siege walls all around the city and starved the city, burned the temple down. He finds out that Peter has been executed, Paul has been executed. He's an old man. He's experienced all of this.
And in spite of, we can't even begin to imagine unimaginable horror. It was John. It was John who first pinned or dictated these words that is become a phrase that so many people latch onto. But we have lost sight of, or maybe you've never known where it originated in the midst of all that horror, John is the one who condenses God down to a single word. Love. Even though there was nothing lovely going on in his world at the time. So now he's an old man and they're saying, John, you've told these stories hundreds of times, you've traveled from, you know, what we would consider the Middle East to what we would consider Europe. And you've taken care of Mary.
In fact, church tradition says that he took care of Mary until she passed away. And he's an old man and he's told these stories hundreds of times. And now he's gonna document these. And he begins to dictate and somebody begins to write this down. And when he begins his narrative of Jesus' life, he doesn't begin with the birth narrative. He doesn't begin with mangers and shepherds and angels and voices and you know, straw and no room in the inn, he skips all of that, although he knew that story backward and forward, he took care of Mary throughout the rest of her adult life.
Can you imagine the conversations they had? Can you imagine the questions he asked, the same questions you would ask? And yet having heard all of that, when he begins his gospel, he doesn't begin there. He begins with what I think he considered the greater miracle. But just in time when things could not possibly get any worse, when it did not seem like God was going to answer their prayers, God acted. But John would say he did not act the way we expected him to. He did not act the way we prayed for him to, because we had prayed, actually our people had prayed for decades and decades and centuries that God send a king, that God would send a warrior king.
And instead it's as if, it's as if God took two stones and pounded them together until there was a spark in the midst of a howling windstorm. And that little spark became a fragile flame. And then John would smile and say, and that little flame became the light of the world. And it was amazing. Okay, John, that's interesting. But we gotta, let's get started. How do we start this thing? The word became flesh. Wait, you mean like God, the logos, the information, the invisible, the uncreated creator, he said, it's the only way I know how to describe it. God became one of us. Although he had nothing in common with any of us, he was superior to all of us. He continues, the Word became flesh and stuck around just long enough to say hello to everybody. Get his gift, check his watch, and then excuse himself. After all, we're not, we're not really his people. It's complicated. This is amazing. The Word became flesh John says, then he dictates this. He says, and write this down. And he made, God made his dwelling among us. He stuck around. He did not rush off.
Now this is very important, okay? When John says us, he's not talking about us, us, all right? He's talking about his guys, his friends. He's talking about Peter and James and Andrew. He's talking about the women that traveled with him. He's talking about something that happened in history. This is, come on, this isn't figurative, this isn't. And God is among us, John's like, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about like he was like literally with us. He lived with us, he traveled with us. He got bruises with us, he got callouses with us, he rode with us, he fished with us, he camped with us. He smelled like smoke like the rest of us did after a night sitting by a fire, he dressed with us. He laughed with us, he wept with us.
And I'm telling you, in those three years, if anything was clear, he did all of that with us. And he was nothing like us and we were nothing like him. In fact, John would tell you, I gotta tell you one embarrassing story. At the very end, John would tell you we're on our way to Jerusalem. We did not wanna go to Jerusalem. It was not gonna end well. He kept telling us it's not gonna end well. And we're like, well then why are we going? And not only are we going to Jerusalem, he decides to take the direct route and go through Samaria. And we're like, this never goes well either. Why are we going through Samaria? But he was in, it was the only time we ever saw Jesus in a hurry. Really. He was just like this, he was on his way to Jerusalem.
And so as it turns out, we gotta spend the night in Samaria, and we're like, no. And he sends a couple of us ahead to this Samaritan village and we're making our way. And they come back and they're waving their arms like, no, we can't go there. They won't allow us to spend the night in their village. They know we're headed to Jerusalem to sacrifice. They know we're Galileans, and you know, they know we're gonna celebrate Passover. And they're like, we are not welcome in their village.
Now, the first century hospitality was the supreme value. If somebody needed a place to stay, 'cause there weren't hotels and inns, these little villages everywhere, you, I mean, it's just a thing to do. You offered hospitality and now this entire village is shutting their doors to Jesus and his crew. They gotta spend the night somewhere on their way to Jerusalem. And John, if he told us this story, you would say:
"This is embarrassing. But my brother James and I went to Jesus and said, all right, if that's the way they're gonna treat us, would you like for us to call down fire from heaven and incinerate every man, woman, and child in that village? Because we'll do that. John's like, I know, but that's just who we were. That's just how we thought. That's how we'd always thought. And Jesus rebuked us. And then we get to Jerusalem and a few days later we discover that he had come here to die for the sins of the Samaritans who would not offer him hospitality. I'm telling you, he was nothing like us and we were nothing like him. And it was amazing. There was no space, there was no privacy, there was no distance, God came that near. And his point was, and he, Jesus was comfortable among us. People who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus."
And when I read this, when I consider this, I wanna be more like that. Now, confess something to you. And I don't want this to leave the room, okay? But I'll tell you this, I'm not comfortable around everybody. There are groups of people I'm just not comfortable around. They're environments, I'm just, I'm not comfortable in those environments. Now I know what to say, I'm an adult. I know how to act. I know how to smile. I know how to get through it, but I can't wait to leave. And I hate that in me. And I ask myself the question, what's wrong with you? Why can't you just relax? Why can't you just be comfortable? What is wrong with you? And the story of Christmas, if I take it seriously and the story of Christmas, if you take it seriously, should surface that in all of us. And we ask that question, what is it in me? What makes me think I'm better than? What makes me think there's distance between? Well, what makes lose sight of the fact that I have far more in common with every single human being I ever meet than not?
And Christmas forces me to address that because Jesus wasn't like that. And he invites me to follow, he invites me to follow into uncomfortable, complicated, awkward. And if you're a Jesus follower or you're trying to be, or you claim to be, he invites you to do the same, think about it this way. If perfection didn't keep its distance, if perfection didn't keep its distance, who am I? And who are you to refuse to draw near?
Now, John gives us a clue as to why Jesus did this. This is one of my favorite statements in the whole Bible. I think it's so rich, I don't even understand it. I just think it's amazing. Again, you wonder, you know, all you know who wrote the Bible? The these statements are so brilliant. Here's what he says. "We", now remember, he's not talking about us, "we", this isn't we, we, this is he, we, he had different "we". Okay, just think, don't think about that too long, anyway, he says, here's what he says, here's what he says. "We", talking about him and the guys and the women who travel with Jesus. "We have seen not like you know, in the sky, no. Like up close and personal, we've seen his glory. We were eyewitnesses, the glory. Here he goes, the glory of the one and only son who came from the Father".
And John would say: I know, I know, I know. How in the world can God have a son? How God can God have an only one and only Son?" John would say, "look, don't ask me to explain this. I'm just trying to put into words this amazing thing we experienced firsthand for three or three and a half years. In the beginning we weren't sure either. He made these audacious claims, he would claim to have the power to forgive sin. And we're like, oh, don't say that. You can't forgive sin, only God can forgive sin. And then he raises a kid up who's never walked before. I'm like, well, only God could do that too. So over time, it began to dawn on us. This might be, this might be God in a body. God might actually, literally have come to earth to dwell with us. What if that's true? Then all my excuses go away. But we were convinced. And if he in fact reflected the Father, that's good news. Because if the Father is anything like the son, and if the son is anything like the Father, that's really good news because of this next statement.
This is the statement I love. He says, who came from the Father full of grace and truth. Now, lemme tell you where we get this wrong. Not the balance of that's what we do, no, no, no. Not too much grace. Not too much truth. You know, we got the truth church, they just judge everybody. The Grace Church each do anything you want, honey. God loves you. Okay?
And John's going, "no, no, no, don't, don't go to those ditches. Jesus wasn't the balance of, he wasn't even a mix. He was full on grace and full on truth. He never dumbed down the truth. He never dialed back the grace". It was amazing. And John would tell us, "not only was it amazing, it took all of our excuses away. And the next thing I know after the resurrection, I find myself in circles with men I would never even speak to before this. Gentiles, women, rich, poor, slaves, people who used to be slaves, people who bought their way out of slavery, people who sold themselves into slavery, people with terrible reputations, people that would never even give me the time of day. And now we find ourselves huddled up in circles, worshiping together and singing a hymn as unto God and giving and pledging our lives to each other. It was amazing. Because Emmanuel, God with us and all my excuses vanished."
So for Christmas, for some of us, it's a reminder that there are people we can't, problems we can't solve and people we can't control and expectations we can't meet. But Christmas, if we take it seriously, is also a reminder that problems and the people and the expectations are not excuses to withdraw even when it's complicated and even when it's uncomfortable. So are you facing some complicated, some awkward, some uncomfortable this season? Then you know what that means? This is the perfect time. This is the perfect season to do for someone in spite of that someone, to do for someone. This is the, this is Jesus. This is the law of Christ. We talk about it all the time to do for someone what God through Christ has done for you. And the more uncomfortable, the better. And the more awkward, the better. The more uncomfortable, the more Christ like, the more awkward, the more noticeable.
Remember Jesus said this, let your light shine in such a way that people see your good deeds and go, what? What? You did what? You forgave. You showed up. You went anyway. You what? That they might see your good deeds and connect the dots between who you worship and how you behave. Or here's how John said it. This is so great. We love, he wrote, I'll wrap up. We love because people are lovable. We love because well, we'll get something in return, we love because, well, it's just a nice thing to do. This is the differentiator.
In fact, look here a second. If you're not a Christian or not a Jesus follower, this is where we have failed you. This might have made all the difference if you had a bad church experience. This was the issue. We love because he first loved us. John would say it was amazing. He took away all of our excuses. This is how God showed. He goes on, this is how God showed his love among us Christmas. This is how God showed his love among us, Christmas, not simply the cross. This is how God show and telled his love for us. He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.
Dear friends, he says, dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Sometimes in spite of one another. And before you get all bowed up, there's somebody in the world today that's gonna have to love you in spite of you. But what if we did that? What if that characterized Jesus followers? What if that characterized the church? What if that caught on, that changed the world once.
That rocked an empire once and it has the power to do the same again. We love in spite of one another, because God loved us in spite of us. After all, if it weren't for us, and if we weren't such a mess, he would've never needed to come. If it weren't for us, there would be no Christmas. So application this Christmas, when you open the door and there stands that mess, that person who sins, insecurity and insensitivity is different than your sin, insecurity, and insensitivity. When you look at that mess or when you open their door and they come in or they open their door and you walk in or you find yourself sitting across the dinner table or at the, or at the lunch table with them, when they give you that fake smile and you give them your fake smile and you give them that gift that you didn't wanna buy, and they give you something you don't need and you think to yourself, here it goes again. It's just deja vu. It's Groundhog Day. You know, what time is it? Oh no, we've only been here. Whoa, my gosh.
In those moments, I just want you to remember what you have in common with that man or that woman or that group or that family or that relative or that cousin. You have a lot in common. Both of you are the reason for the season. Both of you are the reason for Emmanuel God with us. God came near. You're the reason God came here through Christ and you're the reason He stuck around. And if you're a Jesus follower, you're so glad He did, for God so loved the messy messed up world. Daddy showed up as one of us and lived among us and took away all of our excuses to do anything less for the people around us. And that doesn't mean there's gonna be a bow on it. It just means you have taken the challenge to follow Jesus into the uncomfortable, the awkward, and the complicated, just like he did for you.