Andy Stanley - Better than True
For a lot of people, resistance to Christianity, revolves around this question, is it true? Is this true? Maybe that's you, and if you don't believe the story of Jesus and the story of Christianity is true, you have good reason not to believe and the reason I say that is because you're a smart person and if you don't believe, you have reasons that you don't believe. For a lot of people this is kind of the question they wrestle with. Is it even true? Did Jesus even exist, or did he do all those things?
I really love talking about this and if you've attended for very long or watched very long, you know this is one of my favorite things to talk about, especially this word, the it part. Is it true? Because the question that you have to wrestle to the ground is what is the it? What is the it that you think you have to embrace in order to be a Christian? For many people the it is the bible, and that's unfortunate, because there were tens of thousands of Christians before there was the B-I-B-L-E, right? I mean there were tens of thousands of Christians before there was a bible. So the it that you should wrestle with is not is the bible true? It's a different it.
So I hope that's not your it, because just so you know, and then we've gotta move on, the bible, and this is a big deal, especially if you walked away from faith, the bible did not create Christianity. The bible did not create Christianity. It's the other way around, but that's a subject for another day. More and more in our culture, the question isn't so much is it true, but this question, is it good? Even if it's true, is it good? Even if it's partially true, is it good? Is Christianity good for society? Is Christianity good for humanity? Is Christianity good for children? Is Christianity good for you? Is it good for me? Is it dangerous? Is it harmful? Should we dispense with all religion, because all religion is harmful, including the message of Jesus and including the message of Christianity?
Now to kind of get us focused in on where we're going, this is true. When we hear news that's not good, when you hear news that's not good, don't you hope it's not true? I mean this is just human nature. When you hear something that's not true, you hope it's not. I mean you hear something that's not good, you hope it's not true. So you find out that Netflix is doubling their monthly subscription rate, and that is like I hope that's not true! Then you gotta find out if it's true.
Or if we hear that Amazon is going to go back to just selling books, which means we have to go back to the mall. Okay, so that's you hear Amazon's going. They're just gonna sell books. That's not good news for most of us, unless you have a retail store. Then it's like the best news ever, right, but for most of us that's not good news, so we hope it's not true.
When you hear news that's not good news, you hope it's not true, but the opposite is true as well, right? When you hear good news, you hope it's true, right? When you hear good news, you hope it's true. I mean, imagine this. What if we found out processed sugar extends life expectancy? I mean is this not like the best news ever! We can go back to sugar Frosted Flakes and I can eat those again and we can put the word sugar back on the cereal boxes. I mean, I made this up, but I think this might be the best click bait ever in the history of click bait because you would click that, right? I would click that. Processed sugar extends life expectancy, and when you saw that, most of us, not all of us, but most of us, all of us if we were honest, right? That would be good news!
What? I can eat whatever I want. You would hope it's true. It wouldn't necessarily be true, and the fact that you hope it's true doesn't make it true, and to be clear, the fact that it's good news doesn't make it true. My point is simply this. When you hear something that's good, or you hear about something that's good, you hope it's true. You lean in. That's human nature. So when the announcement of Jesus' birth was first announced, or when the announcement that Jesus was being born was first announced, it was actually described on day one, this is so interesting, it was described on day one as good news! Of great joy, and then here's the surprise!
Here's the part that I don't think anybody would have made up because the world was too divided. Especially in Judea and Galilee and that particular part of the world, but the angel announced that there would be something. It was good news, of great joy, and then here's the kicker. Here's the surprise. For all people. That the message of Jesus, and they didn't know what the message was yet, would be good news. It would spark joy for all people! The Jews, the Gentiles, the Romans, the Samaritans, the Sumerians, the anybody who'd ever lived and would ever live, that this message was so good. It would be good news of great joy for all people!
Here's the question. Is it? Was it? And if so, why the resistance? Because back to what I said originally. When you hear good news, you hope it's true. You may find out it's not true, but you hope it's true. When you hear good news, you lean in, and if people lean into good news, why isn't everybody in the world, why isn't everybody in our community, why isn't everybody in our nation, leaning in, hoping it's true, even if they decide at the end of the day, it's not true?
In fact, the original version, the original version was not called the bible. The original version of the good news was actually called the gospel. The gospel comes from two Old English words that mean. The word is Godspell. Some of you know about this. Godspell means good story. That when they decided what do we call this? We call it good news. What else do we call it? We call it the gospel. A good story, and then in the Greek New Testaments it's. Is the Greek word, and it's translated in our English bible, good news. So from the very beginning and don't miss this. Even if you've walked away, and you're thinking about walking away or you're reaching for the door knob, this is amazing!
In the first century, at the epicenter of the action, at the epicenter of the activity, when this whole idea first touched down on planet Earth and intersected with human beings, it was considered such good news for all people, they named it good news! It's not very original. It's not very original. It's the best we can come up with and it's the best descriptor.
This is good news of great joy for all people and the message of Jesus and the teaching of Jesus and the claims of Jesus caught on. Sandwiched between the Roman Empire and the Temple, it caught on anyway, and here's why. Because when you hear something you consider good news, you lean in before you know it's true, or before you determine it's false, but initially you lean in and people leaned in, and one of the things, in fact, maybe the thing that breaks my heart more than anything about this generation is that so many people are leaning away from the message of Christianity because somehow, they've come to the conclusion, it's not good news, and it's not their fault.
In fact, if you're one of those people, it is not your fault, because you bumped into, ran into, did business with, went to school with, were raised by some people, who carried a version of the faith, a version of Christianity, a version of the message of Jesus, and you determined somewhere along the way this is not good news. I don't even care if it's true. This is not good news! I don't want to live my life this way, but you should know, because you have to decide for yourself. The original news, the initial news, it was so good that it was compelling.
In fact, Luke who recorded the message and the life of Jesus. We're gonna talk about Luke in just a minute. Luke records Jesus saying something so interesting. I've shared this with you before, but it's become one of my favorite things that Jesus said. Here's what Jesus said. He said, the Law and the Prophets, the Law and the Prophets, and that's what we call the Old Testament. The Law and the Prophets. In the first century they didn't call it the Old Testament, because it wasn't old anything. It was the Hebrew bible. It was the Jewish text. It was their sacred scripture, but they called it The Law and the Prophets.
Jesus said, The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Speaking of John the Baptist. He says The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John, but the Law and the prophets were not good news of great joy for all people. The Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament was good news for the ancient Hebrew people who had just come out of slavery and they needed a moral and civil and judicial and ceremonial law to live by. They needed something that helped them understand who Yahweh was, and the Law and the Prophets was great news of great joy for the ancient Hebrew people but it was not good news of great joy for the entire world.
So with the coming of Jesus, there's this amazing transition, and unfortunately, part of the reason sometimes the good news doesn't sound like such good news is that we mix the old and the new inappropriately so listen to what Jesus said. He said the Law and the Prophets have been proclaimed up until the time of John the Baptist when Jesus stepped on to the pages of history as a grown up. He said, but since that time. In other words, since the time that I have stepped into this world and have begun to teach, the good news of the kingdom of God, the good news of the universal kingdom of God, the values of the kingdom of God, what God is truly like, how God truly loves, how God views mankind, how God wants to be viewed by mankind, how God wants the human race to treat each other.
These brand new values, this brand new world system, the kingdom of God is being preached and everyone is leaning toward, leaning into, fighting to get in, forcing their way in to it. His point was simply this. That when people understand what I'm saying, he would say, when people understand what God is offering, they may not be convinced it's true, but when they hear the message the way the message should be preached, when they understand what I've come to offer, when they understand what God is like, when they understand that I am as close to understanding what God is like as they'll ever get close to, that I'm the perfect, the most perfect possible picture of God, when people understand this, they are going to lean in! They're going to want it to be true!
So if the life and the teaching and the message of Jesus doesn't strike you as good news, perhaps, it's because the version you grew up with, the version you walked away from the version you're thinking about walking away from, wasn't the original version. It wasn't the good news. It wasn't the good news version, because the original version was compelling. The original version was worth telling and so it was told. Now this is amazing, and again, we don't think in these terms because sometimes the way the bible's presented to us or the way we were brought up with the bible, this is amazing.
In the first century, very few people had their stories told. In the first century, second century, third century, and previous centuries, very few people had their stories documented, because most people couldn't read and writing was expensive, and writing utensils were expensive. The only way you got your story told was you had to be wealthy and you had to hire a scribe to record the events of your life. Consequently in ancient times the only stories of people we know are famous rich people because they paid to have somebody write their story and then they would edit it and made sure it made them look good.
The fact, this is amazing. The fact that we have an account, one account of the life of Jesus is amazing because he was a nobody! He was a day laborer from Galilee and when his story was written he was gone! He wasn't around to pay someone to write his story, and Luke at the very beginning of his account of the life of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, the third gospel writer. With the very first word, he says something that is so historically significant. So easily overlooked. In the very first word of his gospel, he says something that should stop everybody in their tracks, and here's what he says. He says, many. Many. This is the very first word in the gospel of Luke. Many.
Now quick question. Don't answer out loud. How many is many? The answer is it depends on what you're counting, right? If children, that's one thing. Stars in the sky, that's something else, right? Baseball collection, that's something else, but how many is many? But no matter what you're counting, for the most part unless it's your children, four isn't really many. Is 40 many? I don't know. Listen to what Luke says. From the first century. He says, many. Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. This is astounding.
Luke says, look. I'm about to give you an account of the life of Jesus, but you need to know, my account is not the only one, and neither is Mark and neither is John and neither is Matthew. We're not the only four. Many people have endeavored to draw up an account of the things that have happened or been fulfilled among us. Now quick question. I'm not trying to make you feel bad about yourself. We live in modern times. Everybody can write a novel. Everybody can write a story. It is cheap to write. We don't even write, right? Creating a novel or a story or recording somebody's life, it is so easy. It is so inexpensive, but let me ask you this. How many? Do you know how many? Do you know how many people will undertake to draw up an account of your life? I do. Not. Not many.
Okay. It's cheap. It'd be so easy to draw up an account of your life and you're wonderful people and I'm a wonderful people but there aren't gonna be a whole bunch of people trying to make sure they get all the details of our life right, so this is the question to wrestle to the ground. This is where faith begins. This is the thing that maybe it's easy to overlook. Why? Why so many? Why did so many people try to document the life of a dead man? Why did they try to document? Why did they spend so much time and energy and money documenting the life of somebody that had come and gone who was a nobody from nowhere, who traveled maybe 25, 30 miles from home. Didn't write anything. Was only in the public eye for three or maybe four years.
And the answer is this: because in the first century, in the land of Judea, something significant happened and the reason it was documented by so many is because something good happened. I don't know what your version of Christianity is, but the original version, it was good. It was all good. It was so good that people wanted it to be true, before they were convinced it's true. Here's what Luke goes on to say. He says, like so many people have attempted to write down these events that have taken place or been fulfilled among us. Just as they were handed down to us, by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.
Now the account I'm about to give you, there are eyewitness accounts. This isn't me just trying to cobble together some stories I've heard, and these were eyewitnesses and they were servants of Jesus. With this in mind, this is the introduction to his gospel, with this in mind, I myself, have carefully investigated. In other words, I'm not just doing this from memory. I'm talking to everybody I can talk to who is an eyewitness or a friend of an eyewitness who was there, who knew somebody who was there. I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning. The beginning, meaning the beginning of Jesus' life and then he says this.
Luke says, and I too. Why I too? Because I'm not the only one he says. To understand. I'm not the only one who tried to do this. I too decided in addition to all these other people to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, and we don't know who Theophilus was, but our best guess is he was a wealthy curious Christian and that he had heard these teachings of Jesus. He had become a Jesus follower. He knew somebody who had seen the resurrected Jesus perhaps, so he was all in, but he wanted to understand the story and he wanted to know the story from the beginning all the way up to the end, and so he said to Luke.
Luke, would you spend your time, and use your skills to investigate and to put together an orderly account but listen to what Luke says next to Theophilus. He says the reason I'm doing this for you and the reason he did this for you and for me, was so that, this is wonderful. So that you may know the certainty. So that you would be secure in your knowledge of the things that you have been taught. You have been taught the life and the message of Jesus, but I want you to have confidence in what you've been taught, so I'm gonna put together an orderly account for you. Little did he know, this is amazing. Little did he know. Little did Luke know, that his account that he was writing for a single individual, would be one of the four accounts of the life of Jesus that would survive antiquity. Isn't that amazing?
Many, many, many. Why was this story worth telling? This story was worth telling, because it was good. Because people leaned in. Now the angels were the first ones to announce that it was good, but it wasn't until Jesus stepped on to the banks of the Jordan River as a full grown adult, that the message became good for the people who knew Jesus. That's when people experienced the goodness of this message for the very first time and how good was this message?
It was real good. It was so good that forgiveness and perhaps this is what first intersects with most of our lives, if you're a Jesus follower, that forgiveness of sin would be announced ahead of time. That you could ask God for forgiveness and be forgiven. You didn't have to sacrifice anymore animals and you didn't have to work for it, and you didn't have to work through it and not only was this good news. This was brand new news. This was disturbing news. This made the entire temple system in Jerusalem antiquated. Suddenly, there was no need for the things that they had given their lives to and built their entire lives around.
In fact, it's Luke that tells us the story that perhaps you heard if you grew up in church, that Jesus is teaching one day and he's in a wealthy person's house. It's a big home, and the living room, or whatever the biggest room in the house was full of people, and there were people in the next rooms and there were people in the windows, and people outside straining to hear, because wherever Jesus went and wherever Jesus taught, crowds. There are crowds in almost every chapter in the book of Mark. There are crowds everywhere Jesus goes, because his teaching was so unique and it was so new, and people wanted to believe that he was who he claimed to be, and people wanted to believe that God was the way that Jesus presented God to be and while he's teaching, they hear a noise on the roof. Remember this story?
They look up and then he keeps teaching and there's more noise and more noise and then there's mortar falling down and then suddenly there's a ray of light that pierces the dark room where he's teaching and then another ray of light and another ray of light and they look up, and there's a face, and Jesus looks up and he says, do you not know that we have an 11:00 service? Come back in an hour. No, there's a face and suddenly, there's more than one person up there and they're taking the tiles off the roof of the house. I mean and of course the homeowner's like, good grief. I knew I shouldn't have hosted this party. They're tearing my house up.
Next thing you know it's dark again, and they look up and it looks like they have some sort of hammock and they're lowering a hammock down and it's not lunch. It gets to the floor and they make space and there's a guy lying there. Remember this story, and it's quiet and in this crowd in the living room are some pharisees and some teachers of the law that have come from Jerusalem because they're shadowing Jesus to listen to what this strange rabbi has to say because he's teaching things no one has ever taught before and he's making promises about God that are in conflict with the way that they viewed God and the way they had taught that God really was.
In fact, one of the reasons you walked away from faith, is because somebody presented a God to you that's very different than the God that Jesus presented to his first century followers, and Jesus looks down at this man and he smiles, and then he says the strangest thing. He says, sir, your sins are forgiven. To which the guy looked up at Jesus and thought that's not why I'm here. Sir, your sins are forgiven. He hadn't even asked, and the pharisees and the teachers of the law, they go berserk.
It's like wait, wait, wait! You can teach fun stories and cool parables that none of us really understand. I mean that's fine and blessed are all these people. That's great, but you can't forgive sin! Only God has the power to forgive sin! Only God can forgive sin to which Jesus says, that's true, but who can heal a paralyzed man other than God, and then Jesus says this to you, and he says this to me, and he says this to his audience and Luke records this for all generations. He said, but I want you to know. I want you to know, that the son of man has authority on Earth to forgive sin. To which the pharisees and the teachers of the law responded but we have a whole system for that. We have an entire temple built for that. We have a ceremonial law for that. We have a sophisticated system that people have to work through in order to get forgiveness. You can't just announce that someone is forgiven, but he did, and to punctuate his authority he said to the young man, pick up your mat and walk and people were in awe.
This was good news. This was new news, and this is good news for you, and this is good news for me. See when it comes to sin, I have a friend who says he doesn't do guilt and he doesn't do shame and he doesn't do sin. I'll tell you a little bit about him next week. Don't miss next week. He goes I don't do guilt. I don't do sin. I don't do that. To which confirms to me that he's a guilty sinner but anyway, that's just, and I understand. I know what he's saying and maybe you've said the same thing and I'm really not being critical. I'm not even trying to be sarcastic. It's just that there's a mentality that's like I just reject those categories.
I just reject those categories, and I understand that, but the reason you reject those categories is perhaps, because you've never understood what Jesus said sin is, and sin isn't offending an almighty invisible God that's got a standard you can't meet. Jesus was so specific that when you hurt another person that God loves which would be everyone you've ever met, that when you sin against people who are made in the image of God that you sin against God and all of us have sinned. All of us have hurt other people. All of us have lied. All of us have betrayed. All of us have stolen. All of us have taken credit for things we shouldn't take credit for. All of us have dishonored. All of us have disrespected. All of us fall short.
Get this, all of us fall short of our own standard. Much less the standard of other people. Much less the standard of a God who loves the people that you've offended and Jesus had claimed the ability to forgive your sin and make you right with God. That's good news, but it got even better. How good? This good. Get this. According to Jesus, anybody, I mean no other world religion offers this, nobody offers this, according to Jesus, anybody, regardless of their starting point, regardless of what they know, get this, regardless of what they believe and regardless of what they believe about Jesus, anybody can make a step and choose to take a step to follow Jesus from where they are right now. Everyone is invited to take a step to follow Jesus. This is incredible news.
We know this because Luke once again records this event, this encounter, that most of us, many of us are familiar with. Jesus and his guys come to a big intersection of what they would consider a highway. Wasn't really a highway like we think of highway and there was a toll booth. We know what those are, but instead of a plastic arm, it was a Roman spear. Everybody had to stop and pay the toll and the guy collecting the toll in Luke's account is named Levi. He's a tax collector, and you know the reputation of tax collectors in the first century. They didn't have any friends other than other tax collectors and other people who weren't allowed into the temple or anywhere close to the temple. They were ceremonial unclean and God has put them on the outskirts of anything that God would ever bless or say yes to or love.
They were, it was over. They better enjoy this life because if there was a next life it's not gonna be good for them. That's Levi, and Jesus walks up to Levi, and he says, you know this story, and maybe its for your sake and my sake that Luke records this story.
He says, Levi, follow me. "Follow me"? - And Levi is staring in disbelief like, "You want me to follow you? You're a rabbi. I see your robe. I see your followers. In fact, I see that your followers are giving me an evil look like you're kidding. He's not gonna be part of our thing is he? You want me to follow you? Come on Jesus. No rabbi has ever invited me to follow. In fact, you know how the rabbis talk about me. They use me in their sermons. I'm the negative sermon illustration. Be careful, you'll grow up and be like Levi. Gotta be careful or you'll grow up and be a tax collector. I'm the worst of the worst and besides, you know what I'm up to because look I'm up to it. It's not like you met me at the grocery store and said follow me, and I said by the way I'm a tax guy. Oh, I didn't know that. I mean everybody knows what I do. I'm doing it, and you want me to follow you"?
Isn't that good news? That regardless of how low you go, or how far you wander, or how deep a pit you've dug and you dug your own pit. You become your own worst enemy that Jesus says you can start there and follow me and then the real surprise in this story according to Luke and the other gospel writers is that Levi gets up and says, all right I'll follow you. Where are we going? Remember what Jesus said? He said we're gonna go to your house, and all the other apostles are like, I'm not going to his house. His house has tax gatherer cooties, and we can't go in there.
If we go to his house, we're gonna be so unclean, we'll never be able to go to the temple again and Jesus is like just come on, we're going to his house and they get to his house and it's a bunch of other people like Levi and the pharisees are out in the cul de sac because they won't even step on the yard and they send a message into Jesus like, "What in the world are you doing? You're disrupting everything. You say you're a man sent from God but this isn't how God operates"!
Jesus smiled and he sent them a message out and he said go out there and tell them this. "I have not come for the self-righteous. I have not come for the people that think they never fall short of even their own standard. I have not come for the perfect people. I have not come for the people that get it right every time. I have not come for the people that don't do guilt and don't do shame, and don't do sin. I've come for the honest people. The people that know there's a standard out there that they don't live up to and they don't even know where the standard came from and the reason they know there's a standard out there that they're accountable to is even though they don't live up to that standard they hold everybody else up to that standard". We're gonna talk about that next week.
Isn't it interesting that thieves hate to be stolen from, and unfaithful people hate to be cheated on and liars hate to be lied to, because we know, and Jesus said, "I've come for the people who know that they're not all that good. That they could be better". That's good news. But listen to this next part. "I've come to call sinners to repentance". Do you know what this means? This may be the best news of all. "I've come to call them to see the entire world in a different way. To change their thinking about themselves. To change their thinking as we'll see in a minute about God. To change their thinking about the people around them. To change their thinking about everything and to see themselves in a way that allows them to connect with God their heavenly father and to change from the inside out".
That's good news, because here's what I know about you and we've never met. You've tried to change yourself, right? It's virtually impossible. This was the invitation of Jesus the savior and this is why people leaned in because they hoped there was something behind these words that was good. How good was it? It just kept getting better. It was toward the end, a whole new level of good. A stop and stare good because Jesus followers were not only invited to be good and unfortunately, this is where the message of Christianity stops for way too many people.
We just need to be good. I can't be that good and the people that claim to be that good they're not even that good. They're hypocrites and I can't be a part of that but Jesus didn't stop there. In fact, Jesus didn't even start there. That's why Levi could follow him. He called his followers not to simply be good but to do good. But not in the usual way because everybody does good.
Here's what he said. "If you're gonna follow me, if you're gonna be like me, if you're gonna be someone that lives their lives in a way that embraces these kingdom values because I've come to introduce the kingdom of God to Earth. It's a brand new kind of kingdom. It's not a geographical kingdom. It's a kingdom of conscience. It's a kingdom of the heart. It's a kingdom of the soul. It's a kingdom of the spirit, and here's how it operates. I want you to do good but I want you to do good to those who hate you and I want you to pray for those that mistreat you".
Who does that they would say to which Jesus would say, hang on, you're about to learn something about God, your father, that no one ever told you before. If you do good to those who are good to you, that's just average. Everybody does that. That is so unremarkable. He says what credit is that to you? That brand of good has been around since the very beginning of time, right? Then he leans in and he says, come on, love your enemies, and do good to them, and lend to them, without expecting to get anything in return and are you ready for this next part?
This is when people put down their quills. This is when people gaff. This is when people are like okay, this can't possibly be true, but if this is true, this changes everything. He said, if you are that good, if you embrace this level of good, if you choose to be good to those who mistreat you and those who cheat on you and those who aren't good in return, if you choose to be good to those who can't offer anything in return you will be called children of the most high, because that's what your father in Heaven is like. That he is good to those who hate him and he is good to those who mistreat even those that he loves because you ready for this? This was brand new for them. This may be brand new for you.
This may not be the God you were presented with as a child. Because he, God, is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Wait, wait, Jesus, okay. You're telling me, that you're representing God, and you're telling me that God is kind to ungrateful people and wicked people. See that's good news, because I've been ungrateful. That's good news, because you. Okay, because I have been wicked. You see, if your view of the Christian God, whether you think any of this is true or not, I mean you may continue to walk away and reject it and go ahead and turn the knob and walk out of faith but you just need to understand the God that you're walking away from as presented by Jesus, was extraordinarily, and is extraordinarily merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked.
This comes from the lips of Jesus, but this is confusing to us and the reason this is confusing to us is because this is not how most Christians act. Why aren't? We're gonna talk about this in week three so don't miss week three. Why is it, that our reputation isn't like the reputation of the God that Jesus presented 2,000 years ago? Why aren't we known for being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked? Why are we not known for being merciful to the merciless? Why are we not known for serving the people who don't want to have anything to do with us? Why isn't our reputation so pristine that people are like you know what?
They're crazy. I'm telling you, they are crazy. Just try to offend them. Just try to make them mad. Just try to make them angry. It's like they live in some other alternate universe. It's like there's some other kind of kingdom or something with completely different values and I'll tell you why, because too many Christians, and I hope we're not those kinds of Christians, too many Christians for generations have been content to believe but not follow, because believing doesn't make any difference in this life. It's following. It's doing that makes all the difference in the world.
This is why Jesus' initial invitation was "Follow me, because if you follow me, you'll discover that following me will make your life better and make you better at life and you'll follow me because of who I claim to be and even if at the outset you're not sure it's all true you will know it's all good".
Let's know what he said next. Be merciful. Just as your father is merciful. What is not to love about that? If you grew up on a version of Christianity where God was anything but merciful, I'm sorry. It wasn't the original version. That's not good news. Jesus' message was good news for the unrighteous, but it was threatening news to the self righteous and just so you know, there are no self righteous Jesus followers because the original version, the original presentation, the original announcement, Jesus on planet Earth preaching and teaching removed this option. Jesus' message leveled the playing field. There are no self righteous Jesus followers.
You cannot follow Jesus and hang on to a shred of self righteousness, because at the very beginning here's the announcement. Today, the angel said, today in the town of David, a savior has been born to you. Which means God is addressing our fundamental need. You need a savior and I need a savior, and your sins may be different than mine and mine might be different from somebody else's but we all need a savior, and in that moment the playing field is leveled. There are no righteous. No, not one.
For we have all fallen short of our own standard. We've certainly fallen short of the standards of the people around us. We have fallen short of that standard that we hold other people accountable to and God says, and here's the good and the bad news, you've fallen short of my standard but I have good news of great joy for all people. I'm not sending a second chance and I'm not sending five commandments rather than 10. I'm sending you a savior. He's been born to you and he is the Messiah, the deliverer. He is God in a body, and the end of the story is foreshadowed at the outset. The personification of good did not come, this is amazing. The Personification of good did not come for his own good. He came for your good and mine.
I love this when Jesus said this. For the son of man, for the son of man talking about himself, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life, a ransom for many. For all the fall shorters. A ransom for many. That's good news. He introduced and modeled a new version of good. Then he told us that God is good and then he took all our ungood on him to create an on ramp to good God and then he says to you, he says to me, follow. Follow.
Is Christianity good? Good for society? Good for the world? Good for your family? Good for you? Good for me? Luke thought so. Matthew thought so. Mark thought so. John thought so. Peter thought so. The apostle Paul eventually thought so. James, the brother of Jesus thought so. Many many others thought so, because the original version was good news. Compelling news, and when it's presented in its rawest form when it's presented in its clearest and most uncluttered form, I'm convinced, because Jesus said so, because this is what the first century teaches us that people will want the message of Jesus to be true before they're convinced it's true.
So if you don't buy it, because it never sounded good, maybe you never heard the original it. Maybe you grew up with the wrong it and maybe somebody misused it and if that's the case I'm so sorry because you need to know the people who are closest to Jesus were convinced they met good in a body, because they had seen God in a body and so they documented the story, because they were convinced this was not a story, this was not a life that was lived for a single generation, but for all generations. Not for one group of people, but for all people. All nations, every generation. It was in fact, good news of great joy for everybody, but perhaps especially for those of us who aren't and who haven't been all that good and we will pick it up there next week.