Andy Stanley - The Way of Love
Now at on Christmas, we, we do our best. All of us who are parents, grandparents, we, our uncles, aunts, anybody who's got kids, you know, involved in their life. We all do our best during the Christmas season to engage the imagination of our children. Again, whether they're our, you know, our nieces or nephews or grandchildren, our kids or, or maybe even the friends of, of, of, of children or friends of ours. We, you know, this is really all about engaging the imagination of children. And we all remember as children having our Ima imaginations lit up specifically during the season of Christmas. But the interesting thing is, for, for us adults, for us grownups, I think it's easy for us to forget. In fact, I think we're quick to forget that everything surrounding the first Christmas, everything surrounding the birth of Jesus was, was literally unimaginable. Which is not a word, but I think it should be. It's unimaginable. In other words, it's, it's really, it's UniMas unimaginable. No one imagine, no one was looking forward to. No one was thinking it was gonna happen. No one was praying for her. Nobody was wishing for a Virgin Galilee peasant girl to give birth to a son. I mean, this was completely a hundred percent unexpected. It was, it was unimaginable.
And then once it happened, no one, no one imagined that, that her baby son would grow up to be the most famous rabbi who ever lived. Not necessarily the most popular one, but certainly the most remembered one, the most famous one. And no one, no one would've imagined the storyline of his life, that he would grow up and gather a small following right there in the heart of, of, of Israel during a time of Roman occupation. That he would start a new movement, a new gathering, and then that he would have the audacity. And again, this, we read this in the New Testament, it just goes right by us because we don't live in that culture. But he would, he would, nobody would imagine that any rabbi, much less this one would claim to be greater than Moses, to be greater than the temple, to be greater than, or his, his term, the Lord of the Sabbath. All these things were so offensive. And no one would imagine that her son would become such a threat to the temple and ultimately a threat to the Roman Empire, at least regionally, that he'd be arrested, crucified, and buried.
And seriously, no one, not even his closest followers, not even his mother imagined that he would be raised from the dead or that his movement would actually outlast the temple in the empire, the, the, and that the empire that crucified him. Again, we, this is just, you know, we're so accustomed to this, it just, we yawned. But this was unimaginable that the, the empire that crucified him would eventually turn around and embrace the son of this Nazarene peasant girl would embrace her son as a God. And no one could imagine that the icon for her son, this Rabbi Jesus, that the icon would be a Roman cross and that it would be recognized all over the world for generations to follow the entire story. The entire narrative was impossible. It was unimaginable. It was definitely unimaginable. But here's the thing, and here's the thing I don't want us to miss. We don't have to imagine any of that because here we are. We are here because of all of that.
And regardless of what you believe about the different parts of the story, what's undeniable is here we are and the church is all over the world, small and large and different languages and different traditions and different customs. But during this season, men and women all over the world since that time have worshiped and recognized Jesus as the son of God, a God who came to earth to live among us, to show us the way forward. It's unimaginable that it happened, but it happened in here we are, but, and here's what we're gonna talk about for the next few minutes. There is something we should imagine. And Christmas is the perfect time to do so because the story of Christmas reminds us that sometimes, sometimes the unimaginable is in fact possible. And if you're a Christian in the next few minutes, I'm gonna ask you to loan me your imagination as we imagine something together. If you're not a Christian or maybe you used to be a Christian, I, if what we're about to imagine together actually came to pass, you might consider joining us or maybe rejoining us because what we're about to imagine that is not a reality is part of the reason you have refused to join us.
Today we're wrapping up our series The Way in a Manger, as we said for the last couple of times we've been together, one of Jesus' most controversial and offensive statements is also one of his most quoted statements. Even if you're not a church person, you have heard this before, and if you've heard this before, perhaps it was offensive to you. And that's understandable. At one point in Jesus' ministry, he made this audacious claim. I mean, who would even say this? He said, I speaking of himself, he said, I am the way and the truth and the life. And nobody, no one of any generation, no one comes to the Father speaking of God the Father. No one comes to the Father except through me who would say such a thing. Of course, there are many things that Jesus said that when you read him, you're like, who would say such a thing?
In fact, it's one of the reasons that his followers eventually abandoned him. It was just, it was just too much. It wasn't that what Jesus taught was offensive, it was what he said about himself that was so offensive and ultimately got him crucified. And this is one of those statements, and it is on the surface offensive I am the way, the truth in the life. No one comes to the Father through me. But the problem is, while this statement is usually interpreted as an attempt to exclude people, when you follow Jesus through the gospels, clearly that was not his intent. He wasn't drawing a smaller circle. He wasn't trying to be so exclusive that it left more and more people out. He was being in inclusive, he was expanding the circle, I mean the most famous verse in the entire Bible. For God so loved the entire world.
And that was Jesus' point, that God has always loved the entire world, all the people in the world, not just the sons and daughters of Abraham, but he chose the sons and daughters of Abraham through which to bring himself into the world so the entire world could know how much God loved them. And then Jesus claimed to be the way to God first by explaining God because it was a mystery. And then by demonstrating what God was like and who God liked and how God acted and how God reacted. And then ultimately, he literally became the way to God by removing the primary obstacle between you and your Heavenly Father, between me and my Heavenly Father, specifically my sin and your sin. But as we discovered last time, there is something else embedded in this claim. There's something else baked into the idea of him being the way that Jesus came to actually model and call us to not simply believing something but modeling and calling us to a way of life, a way to live the way of Jesus.
And if you're a Christian, it's to this way of life that I want us to try to wrap our imaginations around for just a moment. So here we go. Imagine a world, imagine your world. Imagine our world where people are skeptical of what we believe that a man was raised from the dead, who was sent from God to illustrate God, to be God, to be worshiped as a God. Imagine a world, our world, your world, where people rightly so are skeptical of some of the things we believe, but are amazed at how well we treat. Talk about care for support and show up for one another. A a world where Christians don't worship the same way where Christians don't interpret the Bible the same way where Christians don't approach worship and communion and baptism the same way. A worlds where Christians don't vote the same way, but that those differences never, ever, ever divide us from one another.
Imagine a world, imagine your world, imagine your community. Imagine our community where people outside of our faith tradition, who were part of another faith tradition or no faith tradition at all, are moved by impressed, by amazed, by taken aback, by astounded by our no strings attached concerned care and love for people who are nothing like us and who may not even like us. Imagine a world where people outside of our faith tradition who are skeptical of what we believe are anxious to hire us, work for us, live next door to us, marry their sons and daughters off to us because we're Christians, because of our predictable and our extraordinary character, because of our work ethic, because of our self-control, because of our reliability, because of because of our honesty.
Imagine a world where those traits define the reputation of Christians, both individually and corporately and collectively. A world where people drove by churches and thought to themselves, I'm glad they are in our community. They drive by churches and they think, you know what? Our community is better off because they're here. Our community is safer because they're here. Our children are better off because the Christians are here. That when they hear there's gonna be a new church, that even those outside our faith tradition are relieved. There are more Christians moving into their community because of our reputation. Imagine a world where we were known for protecting the rights of others rather than protecting our own rights where we were known for protecting and safeguarding the rights of others rather than demanding Our own.
In short, imagine a world where Christians embraced the way of Christ, the way of Jesus, the ways of Jesus, the the posture and the tone and the humility of Jesus. A world where it was evident that we were as committed to behaving correctly as we are believing correctly. Maybe it's just me, is is that too much for us to imagine, especially at Christmas when we celebrate God became one of us, To show us the way forward, the way to live, the way to be better people, to create a better world, to create a safer world, to create a culture where everyone feels the dignity of being made and the image of God should, should that be hard for us to imagine with as many Christians as there are in our communities, for as many Christians as there are in our nation, is it too much to imagine Christians reminding people of Christ? Isn't it strange that I would even have to say that?
Now, if you're not a Christian, this is why, right? I mean, if you're not a Christian, this is why you push back. It's not that you don't believe what we believe. It's worse than that. You are not convinced. We believe what we say we believe. And you have every right not to. We're so divided. If we can't come on, if we can't get along with ourselves, why in the world would you want to be a part of that? You're not convinced we believe it. And honestly, at times, I'm not convinced that we really do either. But what if we did? What if our behavior, what if we wrapped our behavior and our priorities? It's so simple. It's so out there. We have Matthew, mark, Luke, and John. We have the apostle who comes along, the apostles who come along after Jesus, Paul in particular, and says, this is what it looks like. This is what it acts like. This is what it reacts like. But this, what makes it even stranger than that is that this unimaginable world that I've described, it shouldn't be unimaginable because it happened.
And as I've reminded you over and over, and as I will continue to remind you, once upon a time, once upon a time, not the beginning of a fairytale, the beginning of history, once upon a time, the others first culture of the church stood in sharp contrast to the me first bite and devour culture that the church was birthed in. Where, where might determine what was right, where women were considered property, where children were disposable and had no value and no honor. They didn't even name children sometimes until later to make sure they were the children that they ultimately wanted to have. Where compassion, this is hard for us to imagine because we still have the leftovers, the the shadow of Christianity in our culture where compassion and generosity were actually considered character flaws. And along comes a group of people that says, no, they're not character flaws, they're virtues.
And somehow that took hold once upon a time there were communities of Jesus followers who literally, and this is our problem, because we look at it, it's too much, it demands too much. There's some way to kind of navigate away from that or exegete that away. Surely we can't take that literally, surely just Jesus didn't mean that. Surely if we actually did this stuff, you know, the, it just, the world wouldn't work. Our lives wouldn't work. But once upon on time, there were communities of Jesus followers who literally embraced the inconvenient counter-cultural camp, possibly work way of Jesus. And this Nazarene cult, that's what it was called, a Nazarene cult. Because it was a knockoff religion of Judaism. These were Jewish people who had abandoned, you know, traditional Judaism had decided to kind of do their own thing. That's how it was perceived. A Nazarene sect or a Nazarene cult.
And these, this members of this Nazarene cult were initially viewed with suspicion. What's the catch? What are they up to? What are they doing behind closed doors? What do they want? And over time, suspicion, turn to curiosity. And then eventually the peacemakers were outnumbered by the peacekeepers who came to worship and follow the prince of peace. And, and this is the other part we can't imagine because we're so segmented in our society, and that's just the way it is. That's not a problem to solve. That's just an an is. But in that culture where people live close together, people from every s segment, every echelon of society came and began to gather in these small groups early on the first day of the week, which was a workday before the sun rose slaves and slave owners and freedmen and citizens and men and women and children, these little lac as these gatherings of Jesus followers.
And it grew and it grew and it grew. And it grew not primarily because of what Christians believed. They had no literature, there's no Bible, there's fragments, and there's a little bit of this. And somebody had a copy of a copy of the gospel of Matthew. There's no literature, there's no bible study. What brought these people together wasn't what they believed at first. It was the way the Christians behaved. They were the best citizens. When Roman governors were told to round up Christians and test them and execute them. If they wouldn't make, you know, make peace with Caesar and and sacrifice to Caesar. Some of the governors are like, but wait a minute, okay, they're not lawbreakers. In fact, they're more faithful to their wives than the other people. They're the best citizens. They pay their taxes. They submit to our authority why it there was such, there was such a difference because they took the teaching of Jesus literally, and they lived it out. And consequently they stood out.
And the church grew and grew and grew. And what became started off as suspicious, became curious. And then it was like an avalanche. People from every segment of life flocked to the eccle of Jesus. Again, not primarily because of what Christians believed, but because of the way, but they lived their lives. Now. They had a little bit of an advantage. They had mostly disadvantages. In fact, it was almost, it was 99% disadvantage. They had one small advantage, something that alludes us. And again, this, because we live in a different world, they understood the world of kings and kingdoms. And once they acknowledge that Jesus was a literal physical king, they submitted to his rule, they submitted to his authority. They understood if you're devoted to a king, you obey the laws of the king. If you recognize someone as your king, you're devoted to the rules of the king. And so they submitted, they also understood that if you disregard the rules of the king, you're a traitor. To disregard the, the rules of the king is to portray the ruler.
And this is why we've talked about it before. This is why the early followers of Jesus were eventually dubbed or called or branded Christian. It, it was a slur. It wasn't, it wasn't a word that the Jesus followers adopted for themselves. This is what they were called by the outside world. And it was 100% a political term. It was not a religious term. Christian was actually Latin political terminology. A follower of Caesar was a ani. That was what it meant to be a follower of Caesar. And the, the Gentiles and Antioch looked at this strange group of people who lived a different kind of life. And clearly when they were tested, that was because they were devoted to a different kind of king and invisible king who had actually come to earth and left this earth crucified by Rome, resurrected from the dead. But they believe he reigned in a different realm. And they were to be as devoted to him in their behavior as they would be a Caesar or a governor or any kind of ruler placed over them.
So they were dedicated and they were called chrisi. This was Latin political language. But this was a problem. It was a problem for the Roman Empire. It was a problem for the Roman empire because Rome didn't care, which God's people worship every time Rome conquered a region. They didn't make people worship the Roman gods and they didn't take away the local gods. You can worship any God you want to, anything you want for your local Gods. Rome's concern was 100% political. They allowed for many gods, but they only had one king. One Caesar Rome's mandate was this, worship your Christ, we don't care, but you obey Caesar, worship your Christ. We don't care. We don't care what your religious traditions are. You can do any, you can burn incense, you can burn animals. We don't care. You worship your Christ any way you want to. You have freedom of worship. But at the end of the day, your ultimate allegiance is to Caesar.
And this was a problem for the early Christians because Jesus wasn't like the pagan gods. The pagan gods did not demand obedience. The pagan gods didn't have any rules. The pagan God simply wanted to sacrifice. And most of the sacrifice was a good luck charm. We want the blessing of the gods. And no one knows how many gods there are for the Christians, this was different because their God had come to earth and he was a king and he ruled in the kingdom of heaven. But he had left his kingdom on earth and his kingdom required submission and obedience. So in the first century, no one ever asked a Christian if they were a Christian, they were accused of it. It was evident the way they lived their lives was testimony to who they followed. Their king had modeled the way. And in modeling the way at the end, he left them with a single overarching command. Their governing ethic, a governing ethic that was the standard against which all of their behavior, all of their actions and all of their reactions would be measured and evaluated.
And then after Jesus left, the apostles went into the gentile world, our world and said, this is what it looks like to live out this one overarching command as husbands and wives and as children, and as as citizens. This is how, this is how you live out this overarching command under the authority of earthly rulers and even how you respond to your enemies. And as we all know, but so easily, forget the way of Jesus this way, this overarching command that was to instruct the followers of Jesus as we know it was characterized, defined, and summarized by a single term that was, that appeared in that culture and in our culture at times as weak and passive, effeminate virtue, less Agape Love. So naive, so simplistic. It's, it's not how the game is played, it's not how the game was played then. It's not how the game is played now, right? It, it, it's, it's not how the world works. Y it's it's not how progress is made, right? Love, come on love. Love is not a winning strategy.
In fact, love isn't even a strategy. If it is, if it's a strategy, it's a strategy for losing. And if this sounds impractical, I understand the pushback. If this sounds impractical to us, if this sounds inconsequential to us, imagine how it sounded to Jesus. 12 disciples tonight, he gathers with them at the end of his earthly ministry for their final Passover, the night he's gonna be arrested. And he basically says, everything I've taught you, everything you've seen, all of my actions, all of my reactions, all of my messages, all of my sermons, all of the, you've heard. But I say all of that comes down to this one new command. I'm giving you one new rule and it's this new rule that should rule over you. When you're not sure what to do, you just come back to this one simple idea. And they're in the lion's den. They're in the city of Jerusalem that Passover, the religious leaders in Rome hold all the cards and control the crowd. And the best Jesus could do, the only thing he had is final marching orders.
As I've loved you, you're to love one another. Seriously. Jesus. That's it. That's all you got love. Come on. If, if, if this subversive empire threatening idea reaches Rome, Tiberius Caesar won't sleep for weeks. If, if, if the high priest down the street catches wind of this, he'll probably pack up and flee the city. We're doomed. We're doomed. Escape. While you can't, they're gonna love one another. What kind of rule is that? What kind of king is that? What kind of kingdom is that? The reason this should not be hard for us to imagine is because the Roman Forum is a tourist attraction. Herod's magnificent temple, the epicenter of power in that region. You can visit it today. The temple, the leftover, the remains are scattered around the base of the walls inherited Tiberius Caesar, you only know their names because they are footnotes in the story of the sun of a peasant girl who became a king.
The king to whom the modern church has never fully submitted to the king, to whom perhaps you've never submitted your life Because you think he demands too much, because you think he allows too little. And yet he came to show you and to show me the way to live, the ways of the father, the way you were created to live. And when we live against the grain, we pay. And when we do marriage against the grain, we suffer. And when we approach life against the grain instead of with the grain of how we were created to live it, it, it creates, we recreate, we create our own regret. And this is why he's a king and not a counselor and not an advisor and not simply a rabbi, but come on, he is the king in whose name you pray when your child is sick, right? He is the king in whose name you pray when your marriage is in jeopardy, right? He is the king in whose name you pray when your heart is broken, the king whose kingdom you claim to be a part of when tragedy strikes and come on in those moments, right In those moments, your king has your undivided attention. He has your unwavering loyalty until the danger passes.
But imagine, Imagine a world where believers chose to live as followers every single day, followers of the way, the way and the ways of Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve, give his life for you. For me, a ransom for many. The apostle Paul who thought all of this was nonsense. Are you kidding me? This is nonsense. This is a cult. It's a sect. It's it's deluding Judaism. It's deluding the ways of the our forefathers. It it must be stamped out. And he gets himself deputized. It's a fascinating story. He's a pharisee, a great pharisee. He, he says he is the best pharisee he's ever met. And he decides to singlehandedly stamp out the way because it's in the way and it's causing a disruption. And Rome is wondering whether or not they can still give the temple leaders the, the permission that they have to do things a little bit different than every other conquered nation.
And so the so Saul of Tarsus decides, I'm gonna do away with this and gets himself deputized, right? And heads the Damascus to arrest members of the way. And then he runs into the way God in his way and he meets the resurrected Jesus. And he doesn't just change what he believes, he changes his entire way of living. And then he travels around the Mediterranean basin. It's, his job was impossible. It, his job was completely unimaginable, impossible to walk into pagan cultures and not just say, Hey, I've got a different kind of religious belief. He's like, no, you have to jettison your entire worldview. There are no gods. You are wrong. Your parents were wrong, your grandparents were wrong. But God has been patient because he's been waiting for this day to reveal himself to you for your sake and your benefit.
And this message began to take root and ence and Corinth and Thessalonica and Colossi and all these port cities, these major cities, and back at home, he decides to write one of these churches, the church in Ephesus. And here's what he says to them. And here's what he says to me. Here's what he says to you. And what, just imagine: What if we did this? He says, I want you to follow God's example. What? Yes, I want you to follow God's example. Why? Well, this is not new news. You're made in the image of God. And when we think about being made in the image of God, that means I have dignity and you have dignity and you have worth. And it doesn't matter what language a person speaks or what they look like, or if they're male or female, everybody who's born as worth were made in the image of God.
And Paul's like, okay, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fact you, you should follow God's example because being made in the image of God means you are a picture of God. You are a reflection of God. What God values you're to value and how God responds you're to respond. And you know what God is like and what God likes and what God values because he sent his son to live it out in front of you. So follow God's example as dearly loved children, you're to be like your Heavenly Father, but then listen to how he summarizes this and walk or live and walk in the way of love. When you're not sure what to do, you just ask the question, what does love require of you when you're not sure what to say or do, it's okay.
Back to the starting point, back to the one command, back to the thing that is to characterize me and characterize us. What does love require of me? That idea changed a civilization once. It can't be improved upon. And, and I know it sounds soft, but consider this the way of love culminated in a king, surrendering himself to his enemies to be crucified for their sin. And the only reason we know the names of some of his enemies is because they too are footnotes in the story of our king. But imagine, imagine a world where the Christians followed God's example as Jesus has illustrated what God's example looks like. And imagine a world, imagine a community. Imagine our community, imagine your community.
We're the Christians, regardless of their brand, regardless of when they worship, how they worship, or the music they listen to or don't miss, listen to Rega. Imagine if the Christians in our community decided we are gonna walk in the way of love because that is the way of God. And that is God's example for us. And it's why he sent the way the way in a manger. Why is this hard to imagine? Why not let's do that?
And it starts with somebody. It starts with some, some bodies. That's how this whole thing started. A handful of people who decided we are going to take seriously the way and the ways of Jesus, the way of God our father, the way Of love. So while they were still there marrying Joseph, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and she wrapped him in cloths and she placed him in a manger. Imagine that the way that once upon a time change the world, the way in a manger, the way that has the potential to change the world. Again, if I choose, and if you choose, and if we choose the way of love, the way of Jesus, the way of Jesus, the Christ our king, maybe someday we will do more than just imagine.