Andy Stanley - Don't Do The Math
Today we're in part two of this series, The Unsettling Solution for Just About Everything. And as I said last week, and I'll say it again this week and I'll say it again next time we gather, and I know this is naive, so you can criticize me for being naive; I get that. But I genuinely don't know why, I genuinely don't know why everybody wouldn't want the message or the story of Christianity or the message or the story of Jesus to be true. Maybe not the version that you grew up with, maybe not what maybe we've made it or what your church or your denomination has made it, but the original version.
When you track with Jesus through the gospels and you hear Him teach, and you see how He treats people, I don't know why everybody wouldn't want that to be true, why they wouldn't want to wish that perhaps Jesus, in fact, came from God, and that there is a God who has invited us to call Him Father, and that our Heavenly Father, in some way, reflects the personality and the character and the love and the compassion of Jesus. The irresistible version, that's the version I just don't know why everybody wouldn't wish is true.
And I get this, there's a difference. There's a difference between I don't believe it's true, which I get, and I don't want it to be true. And I understand why you don't believe it's true. If I had heard what you'd heard, read what you'd read, been to school where you went to school, experienced maybe what you experienced as a result of church or religious education, I understand why you don't believe it's true. What I don't completely get and what I want to help you get is I don't know why you wouldn't want it to be true because, in the first century, people, all kinds of people, religious and unreligious people, Jews and Gentiles, were actually attracted to Jesus. They found Jesus attractive.
So consequently, if we get it right, they should find Christianity in modern times attractive. People who were nothing like Jesus, as you've heard me say, people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus. And Jesus liked people who were nothing like Him. And the reason were attracted to Jesus was really a single word, the word that makes me want it to be true, but perhaps a word that was never in the equation for you. And the word is grace, grace. Undeserved, unearned, unearnable favor.
Favor from God not based on anything you did. In fact, in spite of everything you've done. It's what you crave, even though you may not have had the word, it's what you crave and it's what you crave when you hurt someone you love, and it's what you crave when you hurt someone or offend someone that you need. Because in that moment, you can't take back what you've done and you can't erase the past, but in that moment, you want them to treat you, you want them to accept you, you want them to feel about you, you want them to see you in a way as if whatever you had done as if it never even happened. That somehow they could remember what you've done, and yet the relationship would be completely restored in spite of what you've done.
Undeserved, unmerited, undeservable favor. And that's why, as we said last weekend, we're really gonna dig into this next week. Don't miss part three of this series. That when correctly applied, grace really does solve just about everything. When it comes to a man and a woman in a relationship, when it comes to parents and their kids, when it comes to kids and their parents, when it comes to what's going on at work or a broken friendship or any kind of broken relationship, that grace really is the solution, when properly applied, for just about everything. But there's something interesting and mysterious about grace. There's a sense in which grace doesn't even exist until it is first experienced. Grace is just a word until it's experienced. There's no emotion around it, there's no story to tell until it's experienced, because the experience, the experience of grace, requires a relationship.
Where there is no relationship, there can be no transfer or experience of grace. And this is why, this is so important, this is why God had to show up among us as one of us. This is why God had to show up. We would have never known, we would have never known the grace of God without the presence of God. It would've just been a word, a term, a category that nobody experienced until they experience the presence of God. And this is why what John writes in the gospel of John that we looked at quickly last weekend, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. John, who is an old man, who finally, the people around him say, John we gotta get your story. We don't know your story. You are somebody who spent time with Jesus from the moment He steps onto the banks of the Jordan River as an adult till the time He was taken up from us. We need to get your story.
And so when John begins to dictate his story as an old man, he begins like this, it's so interesting. He gives us the Christian creation account. He says in the beginning, and of course His scribe is thinking, I know, in the beginning God created... And John says, no, no, not that beginning. Same beginning, different words. In the beginning was the word. And instead of saying God, he reaches into this Greek idea to say that the Logos, everything that was, everything that existed, everything that was important, all the information, in the beginning was the word. And then he says this. "The word," or God, "became flesh and made His dwelling among us".
And I'm sure the scribe and the people around John wanna say okay, tell us more about that. How in the world, how in the world did God take on a body? How in the world did God squeeze Himself into a body? What do you mean that the word became flesh? And I think John would say I can't explain it any further than that, all I know is this. After my time with Jesus, I'm convinced of this, that Jesus was God in a body, that somehow God became flesh and He dwelt among us. And we, not you guys and not us, "we have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father full of grace and truth". That Jesus was all grace and all truth all the time. That Jesus was all truth and all grace all the time. He wasn't the balance of, that's what we try. He was all grace and all truth all the time. But it was the grace part of Jesus that was so unsettling.
For example, one day, Jesus and His guys are traveling, and they go into through the city of Jericho. In fact, the text says this. Luke, who thoroughly investigated all of these things and talked to eyewitnesses. That's why the gospel of Luke has so many details, so many names, so many places, tides, all kinds of stuff. "Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through". Not planning to stay, not planning to stop for a meal, not planning to spend the night, just passing through. And a man lived there whose name was Zacchaeus, and "he was a chief tax collector and he was wealthy". And the reason he was wealthy is because he was a chief tax collector.
And as a chief tax collector, he had gone to Rome or he had contacted the Roman representative, probably the governor, and he had purchased the right to collect taxes. And as a chief tax collector, he basically had a pyramid scheme. He would then hire other tax gatherers who would hire other tax gatherers. They were called tax farmers. And they would set up at different stations on the riverbanks and port cities and crossroads, all kind of places. And they would collect a variety of different kinds of taxes, and it would all funnel up to Zacchaeus, and he was very, very wealthy because Rome, as long as Rome got their money, they didn't care how much what kind of surcharge or what kind of extra they charge, the tax gatherers charge the people. As long as Rome got Rome wanted.
So Zacchaeus was hated. Everybody in the community knew him, and pretty much everybody hated him. But Luke, who apparently talked to someone who was there that day, perhaps he talked to Zacchaeus, we don't know, that he says that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. See, "he wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd". Now, he didn't want to meet Jesus. The odds of that were slim anyway. He didn't want to get too close. But, like a lot of us, he was curious. Besides, Jesus was just passing through. So Luke goes on to tell us, "So he ran ahead" of Jesus and His posse, and he "climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him, since Jesus was coming that way".
So here's a man, I don't know, men climbing trees, that's awkward, okay? Men climbing trees in what they wore back then is really awkward, but anyway, Zacchaeus is desperate. He wants to see Jesus, and he knows where the parade's headed. So he goes ahead of the parade, climbs up in a sycamore tree, and waits for Jesus to get there so he can see what Jesus looked like. And sure enough, "when Jesus reached that spot," and by the way, how many of you know the Zacchaeus song from childhood, Zacchaeus was a what? Wee little man. No one would ever write that lyric in modern times. But anyway, yes, Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to... See. And as the Savior passed that... Way.
Look at you guys, see, that's great. Our friends in different parts of the country or parts of the world are like, what are they talking about? I know, it's strange music. But anyway, we're not gonna sing it. So "when Jesus reached the spot, He looked up and said to Zacchaeus, come down immediately". And here's what I think; this is not in the text. Luke doesn't say this. When Jesus stopped, the whole group stopped, He turns and there is a man, a grown man, in a tree. And He says, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately".
I think that there was a hush that fell over the crowd, and here's what they thought. Finally, finally, finally, somebody's gonna call this guy out. Finally, somebody has the courage to face this guy down. Finally, somebody's not intimidated, and finally, he's gonna get what he deserves. And the crowd probably spread out and created a circle. And then talk about the most awkward moment of his life. The entire town watches a grown man climb down from a tree. Awkward moment. And they're thinking this is it. And as he makes His way down, and as he pushes his way through the crowd, Jesus shocks everybody listening and everybody in the first or second century who would read this story by saying, "I must stay at your house today".
And the disciples groan. Can't we just pass through? Are you not even paying attention to your own story, Jesus? We are passing through, and now you wanna stop and have lunch. And all the people, all the people who are on this parade side "saw this and began to mutter," which is a word we should bring back, right? They "began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.'" It's like what? This isn't how it works, right? We got here early, we got the curb, right? I got the kids up and dressed early, we got here early. We made signs, I love Jesus, yes I do, I love Jesus.
And the other side of the street says how 'bout you? We got a chant, we got songs, we had T shirts printed, okay? We got here early, we're prepared, we are Jesus fans, and then this basically this traitor to the nation, an outcast from society who has ripped all of us off, gets to meet Him? We didn't even get to meet Him, and Zacchaeus gets to have a meal with Him. So unsettling, so upside down, so backwards, so unexpected. Everything about it's wrong. And it was unsettling to Jesus' original audience, and it was unsettling to people for the next several hundred years who would read this account, and it's unsettling to you to the degree that you understand the context of the story because they and because we don't necessarily understand the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, God's economy, the way that God sees the world, the way that God sees you, the way that God sees me.
So over and over in the form of parables, Jesus would try to explain this upside down kingdom that He had come to inaugurate, this brand new set of ethics, this brand new way of seeing the world. So on one particular occasion, He attempted to explain this upside down kingdom, this new value system, this grace that the people seem to be so unfamiliar with in the ancient world and in the world today. When in front of another crowd, He said, let me try to explain it to you this way. "For the kingdom of heaven is like," which meant he was about to tell a fictitious story in order to make a true point.
This is a parable. And in every parable, anybody who followed Jesus knew this. In every parable, there are two things to look for. There's the God figure, and there's the you figure. Somewhere in the parables, you find yourself, and somewhere in the parables, you find God. So they're all excited. It's like another story that we won't understand, but they're interesting, right? Another story that's gonna leave us scratching our heads and wondering why He doesn't just answer questions directly. But they're always so fascinating.
So Jesus says, to the best of My ability, let Me try to explain what the kingdom of heaven, what the kingdom of God, is like, this kingdom you've been invited to step into, this new way of living that I'm inviting you to. "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner," rich guy, "who went out early in the morning," about 6:00 AM, "to hire workers for his vineyard". So the rich landowner would go to the public square where the day laborers gathered, hoping to be chosen in order to have a job for the day. And you usually hired everybody you needed for the day all at once. And the primary concern of a landowner was getting the work done, not the ones that did the work. The primary concern of the landowner was getting the work done, not the men who did the work.
So, as they would expect, "he agreed to pay them a Denarius for the day, and then he sent them into his vineyard". He said okay, this is the day, you're day laborers, and everybody knows what you get paid for a day's wages. It's one Denarius, so you, you, you, you, you, you, you, take off, and you know where my vineyard is, go work for me. Then, about three hours later, "about nine in the morning, he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.'" We'll figure it out at the end of the day. "So they went".
Now, maybe you've heard this one before, and maybe you haven't. But if you've heard this parable before, you already know where this goes, and it's so unsettling. It's unsettling because it seems so unfair. And one of the reasons that I believe that these are the actual words of Jesus and that these weren't written decades later by the church is because they're so brilliant, they hold together so well, and besides, anybody who could write this well would've taken credit for it. They wouldn't have put it in the mouth of Jesus. Besides, Paul didn't write this way, Peter didn't write this way, the church fathers didn't write this way.
This is so extraordinarily, extraordinarily unique and brilliant. And the other reason I think this is genuine is we're about to discover what Jesus is about to say. This isn't how you build a following. This isn't how you build a movement. It's the opposite of everything that everybody grew up with and everybody had experienced, but it is the way you introduce the upside down kingdom of God. So this fictitious landowner who owned this vineyard that he'd sent these fictitious workers to work in, the text says, "he went out again about noon". So it's lunchtime. He goes back out to the marketplace, to the square, and he found some other people standing around. He said, hey, I want you to go work in my vineyard. Then he came back at three in the afternoon, and he said hey, I found some other folks. I want you to go work in my vineyard.
Now one of the things that Jesus did, because He was the most brilliant storyteller, is He always took things to an extreme. He took things to such an extreme that everybody in His audience would lean in and try to imagine where in the world is He going with this. Nobody would do this. And they're thinking, okay, which one's God, which one's me? Which one's God, which one's me? And then Jesus takes it to the extreme. "About five in the afternoon". There's only one hour of daylight, working daylight, left, basically. "About five in the afternoon," he goes out to the marketplace again, and he "found still others standing around. And he asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'"
And he knows the answer to this, and everybody in Jesus' audience knows the answer to this. "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered". And he says to them, at 5:00 PM, "'You also go and work in my vineyard.'" And then I think Jesus pauses to let this settle in on His audience because they're thinking, this is gonna be a disaster. How are you gonna sort all this out? What happens when all these people come back and expect to get paid? Okay, we need all the 12-hour guys and all the nine-hour guys, how is this gonna work? So Jesus builds it even more. He says, "When evening came," when evening came, and the audience is thinking, yeah, this is gonna be interesting. "When evening came," that Luke tells us that Jesus said, "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going to the first.'"
So start with the people who basically worked an hour. They probably didn't even work that long. By the time they got to the vineyard, it was time to come back and get paid. So start with the folks who maybe worked 30, 45 minutes. And here's the twist, and here's the gist, and here's the value system that Jesus is trying to introduce to the world. Here is Jesus's way of saying this is what God is like. And what He's about to unfold, if you don't know where this parable goes, is so unsettling to some people, but it is so hopeful for others.
And I'll be honest, the way this parable ends is unsettling for people like me. So perhaps Jesus was addressing people like me, the early birds that got there first. The I made the T shirt and I made the sign, I got there at 5:30 knowing I wouldn't be hired till six, but that's okay, and when quitting time came, I stayed 15 minutes later. I'm the person that grew up and tried to do it right from the very beginning. And no, I'm not perfect, but I tried to stay on the straight and narrow. God, have You been watching me? I've been reading my Bible since I was about 15 years old. I used to have a quiet time. I used to skip PE in high school to have my quiet time. Now, I shouldn't have skipped class, but I was having my quiet time. Come on, right? I'm the got there first, I'm the behaved myself, I'm the did my part people.
The text goes on, the story goes on. "The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came, and each" of these men, these are all men, "received a denarius". They received what the original group was promised. And everybody in line behind them went wild with joy, why? Because this can only mean one thing. We're not getting paid a denarius a day. We're getting paid a denarius an hour, right? "So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them," actually, "also received a Denarius". And what did they do when they received exactly what they had agreed to receive based on the number of hours they agreed to work? "When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner".
Just like the religious people outside of Matthew's house that we talked about last week. Just like the people in Jericho who got there early for the parade and didn't get to meet Jesus because He put His arm around Zacchaeus and headed to Zacchaeus' home. And so the laborers in the parable respond to the man who hired them. They said this, "'These who are hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us.'" And they are not equal to us. They are... Well, they're not equal to us, I'll just leave it at that, right? Not by our standards, they're not equal to us by our standards. We spent more hours, we worked right through lunch, we worked through the hottest part of the day, we got there early, we stayed late, we exerted more energy, more time, and more effort, and they are not equal to us.
But the landowner "answered one of them," and he said, "'I'm not being unfair to you, friend,'" to which everybody in Jesus' audience, because they could so identify with the 12-hour workday guys, what do you mean not fair? By what standard is that fair? And the vineyard owner says, "'Didn't you agree to work for a Denarius? Take your pay and go.'" And then Jesus, through the voice and the words of the vineyard owner, gives us a really big clue about the way of life that we are invited into. Ready for this? "I want," says the vineyard owner, "I want". Oh, so this is about what you want, not what we want, right. "'I want to give the one who was hired last," well, it's a gift all right because they certainly didn't earn it, "'I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.'"
Oh, oh, wait, wait, wait. You didn't give us anything, we got out there and earned it. You didn't give us anything, we worked for it. You didn't give us anything, we earned it. Right after you gave us a job... Well, there is that. This is so brilliant. Still in the parable. "'Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?'" And then this, this is the punch line. This is the crowd goes silent. This is the convicting part. This is the moment that, if nobody had figured out who they were in the parable, they're about to figure it out, this is so amazing.
In this next statement, Jesus illustrates, or Jesus really, a better word, Jesus illuminates the absurdity of my resistance to grace. In this next statement, Jesus illuminates the absurdity of your resistance to grace, either extending grace or your willingness to receive it. In this next instant, with a single line, Jesus puts the spotlight right on my hypocrisy when it comes to the subject and the nature of grace. You ready for this? Still in the parable. "'Or'", He says through the vineyard owner to the fictitious person in the vineyard, and through that person to us, "'Or are you resentful because I am generous?'"
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait, wait. Hang on, hang on, wait, resentful of generosity? Who would be resentful of generosity? How childish, how immature, how narrow minded. No, I'm not resentful of your generosity. I just think, since I worked harder... You're not resentful because of my generosity, are you? It's so brilliant, and in this moment, Jesus outs all of us because we see the way the 12-hour laborers see the world. And in this parable and through many other parables and throughout His ministry, Jesus invites you and Jesus invites me, Jesus invites all of us to see the world differently and to see people differently and to see the people around us differently and to see our relationship to God differently.
Because the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, is characterized by unsettling generosity. And Jesus, through this parable, is asking me, and Jesus, through this parable, is asking you, can you handle that? Can you handle that? Will you participate in that? Will you step into a system where the undeserving get exactly what they don't deserve? Would you be willing to extend to others exactly what they don't deserve because my Heavenly Father has extended to you exactly what you don't deserve? Will you participate? And, of course, all the prodigal sons go, hallelujah, yes, right? And all the prodigal daughters are like hallelujah, yes!
And all the prodigal husbands, who blew up their marriages and blew up their families and thought God's never gonna hear another prayer of mine, says absolutely yes! And all the prodigal wives and mothers, who just ditched their responsibility and ran off and did something irresponsible and woke up three or four years later thinking, I'll never put my family back together, and I can't imagine that God would ever hear my prayers, says absolutely yes! Well, what about people like me? And if you're like me, what about people like you, the early to the parade people? What do we say?
So Jesus pulls out of the parable, and He says to people like me and He says to people like you, He says to everybody, He says look, when you begin to understand what My Father's kingdom is like, when you begin to understand the value system I've come to introduce to the world, when you step into this and fully embrace it, every single day of your life it may feel like that the last are actually first and the first are actually last. And it will feel unfair because of how you were raised to measure fair. And how do we measure fair? We compare to determine what's fair.
And here's the takeaway maybe for somebody who's listening or watching. Grace doesn't compare. Grace doesn't compare because grace in Jesus is always married to truth. And the truth is we have all fallen short of God's standard. Now the amazing thing, this is why, again, I can understand why you may not believe this is true, but this is the part where I just think surely there's something on the inside of you that thinks what if that were true? Because the system that Jesus leaves us with at the end of His ministry, the system that the apostle Paul and Peter and others would come along behind Jesus and tease out and explain and document for us is fairer than fair.
It's beyond fair because, in the kingdom of heaven, in the kingdom of God, over and over Jesus emphasized this, everybody is invited, everybody. The people who showed up at six, the people who showed up at noon, the people who showed up at three, the people who showed up at five, everybody's invited. The know betters and did betters, maybe like people a little bit like me, the didn't know betters, so I didn't know to do different than I did, maybe people like you, and even the knew betters but did it anyway people.
I won't ask you to raise your hand, why? Because we've all done that. I know it's right; I'm just not gonna do it. I know it's not best for her, but I think it's best for me. I'm gonna do it anyway. All those people. Everybody's invited. The people with baggage, the people with regret, the people with a past, along with, and this is the kicker, along with all the arrogant people who judge people with a past and with baggage and regret. Everybody, everybody is invited to the kingdom of God. And everybody gets in through the same door.
Jesus, Jesus, grace and truth personified. Jesus, who called sin sin, called sinners sinners, and then died for all the sinners. Jesus, who called sin a sin, He never backed down, sinners sinners, and then laid down His life for the sin of the sinners. And everybody comes through the same door the same way, by placing their personal faith in Christ as their Savior. Trusting, this is it, ready? Trusting that what He did on our behalf made us right with God, regardless of how unright we've been and regardless of how unsettling that might sound.