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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - The Weight of Expectations and the Gift of Grace

James Meehan - The Weight of Expectations and the Gift of Grace

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    James Meehan - The Weight of Expectations and the Gift of Grace
TOPICS: Expectations, Grace

Have you ever felt the weight of other people's expectations just bearing down on you? Maybe your parents expect you to be really well-behaved and also make stellar grades in school, but you're feeling so overwhelmed that you're struggling to even make it through the day. Or maybe you've got a coach who is counting on you to be a leader for your team, but you're questioning whether or not you wanna keep playing your sport altogether. Maybe you've got a friend who told you something in secret and they made you promise not to tell anybody else what they told you, but now you're really worried based off of what they said that something really terrible might happen to them. Maybe you are feeling the weight of a boyfriend or girlfriend who is trying to push things in your relationship further than you're ready to go and you're not ready to go there but you also don't wanna tell them no because you don't wanna disappoint them and you don't want them to leave you.

Expectations can be a really heavy thing to carry when it's other people's expectations of us, and even when it's our own expectations of ourselves. For most of my life, I would tell you that my motto is, if you ain't first, you're last, that is a quote from Ricky Bobby, the main character of the movie "Talladega Nights". A kind of more modern version of that would be Luisa, the older jacked sister from Encanto who says, "If I can't be of service, then I must be worthless". Like that was how I viewed myself for years and years and years, that if I'm not perfect, I must be a failure. And that was a really unrealistic and really heavy expectation that I placed on myself. I felt like if I didn't measure up to my parents' standards, because the thing you know is my dad is one of those people who's like good at just about everything. When he was in high school, he was both the captain of his football team and the captain of his chess club.

So he was like super athletic and also crazy smart, and I felt like I had to be all of that and more otherwise my parents would be disappointed. Otherwise the people around me would think less of me, otherwise I wouldn't be able to see myself as a good person. And so I tried really hard to be good at the things that I did, and I ended up being mediocre at most of them, right? Like one of the things I was really good at back in the day was College Duty Four: Modern Warfare and College Duty: Modern Warfare 2, not the remakes that have happened recently, but way back in the day, the originals, I was really good at those. I was pretty good at jujitsu. I was pretty good at reading like I loved to read in my free time, but none of those skills seemed to have the same level of approval from the people around me as the things that I wanted to be really good at.

Like I wanted to be the perfect kid for my parents. I wanted to be that all star student who tried really hard and got really good grades. I wanted to be a great athlete on my sports teams, but more often than not, I felt short of the expectations that I had on myself. And that was really exhausting. And maybe you find yourself in a similar place where you are being beaten down by expectations, by this weight that you don't think you can keep caring. And just to be clear, it's a weight that you're not actually meant to carry. And this is why the gospel is such good news, because Jesus came to free us from the weight of unhealthy expectations. He came to invite us into a better way of life, a way of life defined by his love and grace for us that sees us as we really are. In Matthew's gospel in chapter 11 verses 28 through 30, Jesus says this, he says, "Are you tired? Are you worn out? Are you burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you will learn to live freely and lightly".

In today's message, we're going to read a story about Jesus defying the expectations of the people around him, and a story of Jesus shattering the expectations of a man named Zacchaeus. Because we're gonna read about Jesus doing what Jesus does, showing unconditional love and scandalous grace to the people who least expected it. But before we do that, I actually want you to hear a story of a student just like you who showed up to a serving opportunity at a nonprofit because he wanted to grow as a leader. He wanted to develop his character. And along the way that would happen. But so much more than that would also happen because this student would experience the love and grace of Jesus in a way that he never imagined, in a way that he never expected. And like we discovered last week, if God always met our expectations, he would never be able to exceed them.

My entire life, I grew up not knowing who God was or if a God did exist. I grew up atheist. When I got to middle school, it didn't get any better. I surrounded myself with people who also didn't believe in God. So during that middle school age, this guy came to my school, but he came to talk about a non-profit, and his non-profit sounded really cool. They were interested in leadership, character development. I was like, "I want some of that". And so I started off as a student at this nonprofit and I loved it. And I would see people around me who I didn't know were Christians, but they were just pouring in unconditional love onto me. And then I was starting to wonder, I wanna live how they're living. And so I started actually serving at that same nonprofit. So after I had this miraculous encounter with God, I knew I needed to start reading the Bible. And I didn't have a Bible at home. I didn't have any physical Bibles. So I went to the first place I knew I could and that was the App store. So I downloaded the Bible app, I started reading all the time. I fell in love with scripture. But for years I kind of kept it quiet because I didn't know how people would think they, they knew the Braden that hated Christians. How are they going to accept me now? So I spent so long kind of keeping it quiet, not telling anybody about it. God uses unlikely people to do unlikely things. And I know that God truly wants to do incredible works through you.

Braden never expected that him saying yes to being a part of this organization would bring him into contact with people who really loved him unconditionally. And Braden certainly never expected that through the love of these people, his heart would start to open up to the possibility of a God who loves him, a God who formally he didn't even believe in. Like to him the love of God was a fantasy, right? Jesus and his grace was a fairy tale until it became real. And it became real when he experienced the love of others firsthand. And now you heard it from Braden, he is a leader in his church. He is involved, he's serving, he's using his gifts for the good of others, and he is telling everybody he can about the one who transformed his life because Jesus showed up in a way that Braden never would've expected. And we're gonna read about another person, this one named Zacchaeus, who experienced an encounter with Jesus that he never would've expected.

And it's an encounter he certainly would never forget. Starting in Luke chapter 19 verse one, here's what we read. It tells us that Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel. It's the place where he will soon be crucified as a criminal of the state where he will literally be hanging on a cross as the sacrifice for our sins because Jesus is no ordinary person. He is the Savior of the world, the son of God in human form who came to rescue us from the disease of sin. And a part of that rescue mission would require his own death on the cross. But to get there to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the place where he is going, he has to pass through Jericho.

In verse two, Luke tells us that there was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region and he had become very rich. We are here introduced to Zacchaeus, a man whose name in Hebrew means pure. For something to be pure, it means to not be mixed or contaminated with anything else. So think about this. This dude was given the name pure, not mixed or contaminated with anything else. And in their culture, names were a really big deal. Like parents didn't choose names based off of what sounded good or what names were trendy at the time. They carefully, they thoughtfully, they prayerfully selected the name for their child that they believed would define that child's life. For example, Jesus was given the name Jesus, a word that means God saves because Jesus' purpose was to be the Savior of the world.

So imagine Zacchaeus' parents choosing to give this name to their son pure because their prayer, their vision for his life is that he would be somebody who is free from evil, free from sin, free from deceit, that he would be a picture of holiness and righteousness in the eyes of God and people. But instead, Zacchaeus grew up to be a tax collector, but not just any tax collector. He was the chief tax collector in the region. And as Luke tells us, he had become very rich. In their world, tax collectors were seen as the lowest of the low, like they were the sinners, the scoundrels and the scumbags of Jewish society because tax collectors were working for the enemy, Rome, this empire that was oppressing the Jewish people. And their job was to collect taxes from the Jewish people and give those taxes to Rome to literally fund the government oppressing them. And the way that tax collectors would make a profit for themselves is that they would actually take more money than was needed, and they would just keep the extra to themselves.

So they would go to their friends, their neighbors, their families take more than was asked for and keep it for themselves. So while their own people, while their community are struggling to make ends meet these tax collectors, people like Zacchaeus were living it up in mansions. This is a guy who probably had the expectation of himself that he would be pure. But somewhere along the way, things got off track, things went in a different direction. And so this guy whose life was meant to be a picture of purity has now become totally corrupt. That's who Luke is introducing us to here. And then in verses three and four, here's what we read that Zacchaeus tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

Now Zacchaeus has clearly heard about Jesus, and because of that, he's curious. So he's trying to get a look at this Jewish rabbi that he's probably heard so much about, but because he was short, he had to climb into a tree to get a site of him. Now, it's interesting to think about somebody like Zacchaeus who has probably spent the majority of his life looked down on by others, like literally because he's short, but also figuratively because of the fact that in his profession as a tax collector, he was seen as the lowest of the low. And so the amount of judgment, the amount of condemnation, the amount of looking down upon that he had probably received by others, I don't even know if we can really measure it. And yet here he is trying to get a glimpse of Jesus because he knows there's something special about him.

In verse five, we read that when Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and he called him by name. Jesus doesn't look down on Zacchaeus, he looks up at him, and he doesn't call him by his profession or by his sins. He calls him by name. And I need you to know that Jesus does the same thing for you. That you are not just another face in the crowd, you are not defined by your sins, by your mistakes, by the things that you've done or the things that you haven't done. Jesus sees you as you really are. You are loved by him. And if you're watching this message, I need you to know that here at Switch, you are not a face in the crowd, that you belong to the family of believers that God has established, that there is a place for you here, people who love you and want to bring the best out of you so that you can experience the life that God has for you. But maybe like Zacchaeus because of how the rest of your life has gone, hearing that is one thing, but believing it is another thing entirely. And so Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus, he says, "Zacchaeus, come down. I must be a guest in your home today".

Now, can you imagine hearing that, as Zacchaeus, this dude who climbed up in a tree to just get a glimpse of Jesus as he walks by and all of a sudden Jesus stops in this crowded city of people all clamming to see him looks up at you and calls you out by name and doesn't just look up at you, doesn't just call your name, but actually invites himself over to be a guest. Like that all just happened for Zacchaeus. And I cannot imagine there was any part of him that ever thought that was gonna happen, but it does. The sinless son of God, the one who is totally holy and completely pure, calls out to Zacchaeus the man whose name means pure and says, "Hey, I'm coming to your house today, so make sure you've got a spot ready for me". And then in verses six and seven, Luke tells us that "Zacchaeus quickly climbed down. He took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy".

But the people, the people were displeased, "'He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,' they grumbled". You've got Zacchaeus, who's absolutely stoked because he has the privilege of hosting Jesus, the Messiah, in his own home. And then you've got all the other people, not as nearly as excited as Zacchaeus is because they know who Zeus is. They know that he is a notorious sinner and they know who Jesus is, a Bible teacher, a Messiah, the holy one. And Jesus decided to go be a guest in his house? Yeah, that doesn't really make sense. And that's because grace doesn't make sense. Grace is scandalous because it's a gift that we don't deserve and we cannot earn. That's what grace is, a gift that we don't deserve and we cannot earn.

So if grace doesn't unsettle you at least a little bit, then you probably don't understand grace because grace defies our expectations. And so think about this situation, right? This huge crowd of people, all of whom are likely way more deserving of Zacchaeus to spend time with Jesus. It's almost as if Jesus were to show up to your school. And as everybody is crowding around trying to get some time with him, he goes up to the biggest bully, the biggest gossip, the biggest snitch, the biggest whatever, and says to them, "Hey, I'm gonna sit with you at lunch today, so save me a seat at your table". If you're like me, then you might be a little bit jealous. You might even complain or whine or gripe a little bit about it. And if that is how you would respond, then you, like me, would've fit right in with this crowd of people who were displeased, who were grumbling, that Jesus went to be the guest of a sinner.

Then we read this that "Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, 'I will give half my wealth to the poor. And if I've cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much.'" Right at this point, the only thing that we know Jesus has said to Zacchaeus is, "Hey, Zacchaeus yo, pure guy, I'm gonna come to your house today". Like that's all we know at this point. And here Zacchaeus is saying that he's going to undo the wrongs that he's committed, that he is going to make the wrong things right with the people that he has cheated. Why the sudden change? Why the radical transformation? Because when we experience the grace of Jesus, when we experience his unconditional love firsthand, it changes things because that kind of love doesn't leave us the same.

And that's what Zacchaeus was experiencing here for the first time ever. The unconditional love of God. God's love is unconditional. He loves you no matter what with no strings attached. Jesus doesn't need anything from you, but he still wants a relationship with you. Jesus wants to know you and he wants you to know him. He is infinitely interested in you, and nothing you do either good or bad is going to change the way he feels about you. That's what it means for his love to be unconditional. And then in verses 9 and 10, Luke tells us, "Jesus responds to this and he says, salvation, healing, restoration has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the son of man," that's Jesus, "came to seek and save those who are lost".

Just because you're lost doesn't mean you aren't loved. Just because you're flawed doesn't mean you can't be forgiven. You see, Jesus came to seek and save people like that, people like us. Jesus came to bind up the broken. He came to help the orphans find their home and the family of God. He came to take all the things that are wrong and make them right. He sees you. He knows your name and he loves you, because God's love is unconditional. He loves you no matter what with no strings attached. So what lessons can we learn from this story of Zacchaeus experiencing the unconditional love of God that shattered all of his expectations? I would suggest two things. Lesson number one that we can learn is to stop trying to earn approval. Grace is a gift that we don't deserve and we cannot earn.

So any attempt to earn it is actually gonna get in the way of simply receiving it. Imagine for a second, you're walking down the street and all of a sudden somebody comes up to you, random stranger, and says, "Hey, I got an extra PlayStation five that I wanna give to you because I had an extra one. I saw you and I'm just feeling generous, so I want to give it to you, right"? Like you could ask all kinds of questions. You could tell them like, no, no, like I'll pay you something for it. Or like, what do I need to do? How can I like pay you back? Like, are you sure it was me? Like you could do whatever you want. None of that's actually going to change the fact that this person wants to give you a gift. It's just going to slow down you being able to enjoy the gift.

When you try to earn the approval of God, you're just slowing down your own enjoyment of the love that he has made available to you. When you're trying to earn the approval of people, you're just wasting energy on something that won't actually make a difference in the end. Because what's gonna happen is you're gonna come across like a try hard and it's actually gonna make you less appealing to the people that you're trying to appeal to. And you're gonna be disappointed and exhausted in the process. Stop trying to earn God's approval. Stop trying to earn people's approval. Simply choose to accept the gift of grace that you've been given from God and choose to extend that gift of grace to others. That's lesson number one. Stop trying to earn approval. Lesson number two that we can learn is that maybe, you need to get your eyes fixed. I wear glasses because I cannot see clearly.

As human beings, we have all been infected by this disease called sin. It is a disease of selfishness, and it causes us to see ourselves and others in ways that aren't exactly true. We almost have like blurry vision when it comes to seeing ourselves and others the way that we really are, because sin wants to tempt us to see ourselves and others as mess-ups and monsters. But when Jesus looks at you, he sees a masterpiece. He sees someone made in the image of God, he sees somebody worth dying for. That's why he died for you. But maybe the way that you are choosing to see other people is less like Jesus does, and it's more like the world does where you're choosing to see them based off of how they look, how they talk, how they act, how smart or successful or whatever they are. And if that's how you're seeing people, then you need to get your eyes fixed because you are missing the mark, because the truest part of you is none of those external things. The truest part of you is that you are made in the image of God and that he loves you.

So who do you need to start seeing the way Jesus sees them? And maybe that person is actually you because maybe you're choosing to believe things about you that aren't even close to what's true. God's love is unconditional. He loves you no matter what with no strings attached. The grace of Jesus that transformed Zacchaeus' life, that transformed Braden's life is available to you today. This is why we celebrate Christmas, because it is through Christmas that Jesus, the God of the universe became a human being. He became one of us so that we could become one with him. And now that grace is available to anybody who will choose to receive it by putting their trust in him. You see, even when we don't deserve it, God is still loving. So choose to receive his love and his grace today.

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much that you love us enough to become a human being, like us, to die on a cross for us, to invite us into a relationship with you. God I pray that all of us would learn how to see ourselves the way that you see us, that we would stop trying to earn your approval and we would simply receive your grace. For all these things in Jesus' name, amen.

Now, maybe there's some of you who as you're listening to this message, the idea of earning approval, the idea of trying to live up to the expectations of others or yourselves, you're hearing all of that and it feels way too real to the point where you're like actually uncomfortable in your skin right now because you are trying to break free of that trap. The truth is you probably never will on your own. But that's what makes the gospel such good news, because God didn't leave us to sort out this mess of life on our own.

As a matter of fact, he saw our mess and he decided to enter into it as the person of Jesus to rescue us from it, to bring us back into a relationship with him because that's what we were created for. And all of the things that you are searching for, all of the things that you're chasing after will never be fully satisfied until you learn to receive the grace of Jesus, God who became a person. That person is named Jesus. He lived on this earth. He lived a perfect life. He died a brutal death on the cross for your sins and for mine. And then on the third day, he rose from the grave conquering sin, death, and the devil so that anybody who puts their trust in him could be saved. They could be made new, they could be made right with God. And maybe that's why you're here today, to reunite with your heavenly Father, to let go of the burden that you've been carrying and experience the freedom that Jesus offers.

If that is you and you wanna say yes to a relationship with Jesus, to put your trust in him, to commit your life to him, if that's you, then simply raise your hand right now. If you're watching online, type it in the chat. Say, "Jesus, I give you my life". If you are choosing to say yes to him, I wanna be the first to say, congratulations. It's the best decision you could ever make in your life. And even though you had to make that choice on your own, you don't have to pray alone. Because here at Switch, we're a family. And so I'm gonna ask wherever you are to pray out loud alongside me and other people that are praying this prayer with you. For those of you who just said yes to Jesus, repeat after me:

Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning toward you. I need your love. I need your grace. I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life. In Jesus' name, amen and amen and amen.

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