James Merritt - The Way Out: Follow the Leader
It is that time of year that we all love. And by the way, like it or not, Christmas, believe it or not is a season of celebration that from its very beginning was built, are you ready for this, it was built around the baby that was laid in a manger. It's amazing that we celebrate that. Matter of fact, we've entitled the series that we've been in, a way in a manger. Because the Christian faith declares, if you can believe it or not, that the baby that was laid in that manger, 2,000 years ago was unlike any other baby that's ever been born before Him or any baby born after Him. And the thing about Christmas that I love because I'm a Christian and I'm a pastor is it's the time of year people are forced to consider who this baby was, whether they like it or not. And they're forced to consider who was he then, who is he now.
And let me tell you why the issue is forced. I don't know where people come up with these stats, but according to what I read, anthropologists say there's been about 107 billion people who have lived on this planet since time began, since we know where whenever time began. 107 billion people. Well, there are three unique categories of people who have lived during that time and only very few people fit in one of those categories. For example, there's been very, very, very few people who have sparked a great world-wide religion. Example, Mohammed. Mohammed is one of those rare individuals that because of his teachings and because of what he brought to the table, there are now billions of people that are Muslims.
Then you've got this second group of people and they brought to the table a worldview, a way to think about the world, a way to think about life, a way to think about humanity. And it made so much sense and it was so brilliant to people that many people even to this day have adopted their worldview as their own. An example, Plato falls in that category. Aristotle falls in that category. If you take philosophy, you'll know that there's a Platonic way of thinking and there's an Aristotelian way of thinking. Then you've got this third group and they really are small. And these are the number of humans who over the years, believe it or not claim to be God. They claim to be divine being, some type of god.
Now here's what's amazing about Jesus. Of the 107 billion people who've walked on this planet, he's the only one that makes the cut in all three. He is the only one that sparked a worldwide religion. He is the only one who laid out a worldview and a way to think about life and death and humanity in the world that now billions of people say, "I think you're right. I think just like you do". And he is the only one who not only claimed to be God, he even called people to worship God. And as he was calling people to worship God, he even said, "Oh, by the way, you can start with me". And they did it. And they still do it today. Billions of people worship a baby that was laid in a manger. And that's why Christmas is both a season of celebration and confrontation. Because Christmas is not just about where the baby was born or when the baby was born, but it's really about two things.
So who was this baby? And what am I gonna do about this baby? 'Cause I want to make this very easy. I love making things simple. Jesus did, I love to do it. I've said this to you before, we complicate the simple, Jesus simplified the complicated. I mean, you can't even put the United States register of laws in a thousand box cars. Jesus can give us two commandments, we're good to go. So he knew how to simplify things. So let me make this very, very simple. And I'm gonna say that in kind of a slick way, just to get to the point, the little baby that was laid in that manger 2,000 years ago, one of two things is true. He was just another dude, or he wasn't. It's not complicated. At the end of the day, he was just another dude, or he wasn't. Because after this baby was born, he grew to be a man. He died on the cross, 40 days later physically, he disappeared. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.
And now here we are 2,000 years later and it's so amazing and kind of amusing to me that so many people have their own version of Jesus. So you've got certain people who say, "Jesus, oh yes, he was a good teacher". And some will step it up a little bit and say, "Oh, he was a great moralist". And some will go even a little further and they say, "Yeah, but he wasn't outstanding philosopher". And then you think they got people of other religions, they think they're doing me a favor, they say, yeah, but he was one of the great prophets. And admittedly to any normal human being that would be an outstanding compliment.
But let me tell you what people are trying to do today. And they done did it 2000 years ago. People keep trying to cut Jesus down to their size. So they'll say, oh yeah, great teacher, great philosopher, great moralist, great this, great that but there's only one problem with all those opinions. All those things put together still do not give a satisfactory explanation. And none of those can account for his fame. None of those can account for the fact that two and a half billion people follow him. None of those facts can explain to me so why is there a worldwide faith for this little baby? Why do people call this Jesus, God? Why do people call this Jesus, Lord? They've been doing it for 2000 years and oh, by the way, the engine is not slowing down the engines is picking up the steam. How do you explain that?
I mean, how does that work out? Because after all, he's not the only fantastic teacher who's ever lived. He's not the only brilliant philosopher. He's not the only ethical moralist, he's not the only insightful prophet. We've seen them come and we've seen them go, but here's the problem. None of them have a worldwide faith named after them. None of them have people standing up like I am all over the world talking about them. None of them have billions of followers. None of them have board books written about them like Jesus has. None of them have songs composed about him. None of them have servants preach about them. None of them have educational institutions named after him. So you keep coming back to the question, who in the world was that baby? Because logic, I've already told you enough. You've got to realize he wasn't just another dude.
So what is it that makes this baby so special? Who was that baby that was laid in that manger? And there's a man in the Bible, his name was Paul. Probably the greatest figure in the New Testament, of course, outside of Jesus and probably one of the three greatest figures in the entire Bible. And here's the thing about Paul was, Paul was not only raised not to believe in Jesus. He actually got to the point in his life that he despised the name of Jesus. He actually was a time in his life, he felt like God had called him to step out the name of Jesus. He thought it was his job to kill the church before the church ever got started. And then in a meeting on a dirt road in Palestine that may have taken all of maybe 90 seconds, his life was radically changed.
And he said, I'm giving my life to that baby that was late in that manger. I'm surrendering my life to that baby that was laid in that manger. I'm gonna preach and teach about that baby that was laid in that manger. As a matter of fact, I will wind up having my head chopped off because I would not deny the baby in that manger. And he does us a big favor. He gives us the clearest picture of who Jesus really was that's found anywhere in the New Testament.
So I wanna explain to some of us today, why is it that there are two and a half billion people on this planet who worship this baby, love this baby, adore this baby, exalt this baby, are obsessed with this baby, are surrendered to this baby, who pattern their lives after their baby? And why do these people also say, by the way, you should too. You should not miss doing that because only after your experience who Jesus really was according to Paul, if you believe what he said, then you say, okay, now I understand his fame.
Now I understand his followers. Now I understand the faith. So we're in the book called Colossians. If you have your discipleship booklet is page 56. If you don't in your Bible it's in the New Testament it's about seven or eight books passed the Gospels. We're in Colossians chapter one. And I just want to share with you what Paul says are the three reasons why this baby was not just like any other guy. He said, number one, we worship Jesus as the Lord of the universe. Get it down, the baby in that manger, we worship Jesus as the Lord of the universe.
Now Paul begins, by the way, what we're about to study, you better pay close attention, get off your iPhone, don't text, don't be checking the ball scores and all that. You can do that when you get home. By the way, George is not playing, it's all good. Paul starts and it's going to get deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, big shovel today. He begins by saying this. He said, the son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. He starts all by calling Jesus, the son, because he wants us to know something.
Now this is what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the son. I'm talking about the baby that came out of a womb just like you came out of a womb. I'm talking about a little boy that had a mother, just like you had a mother. I'm talking about that baby that was laid in that cradle. And here's what he says. He said, he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, it's amazing. He said that little boy that was laid in that manger, he wasn't the spitting image of his earthly mother. He was the spitting image of his Heavenly Father. He was the image of the invisible God. The great quote for image is the word icon that we have the English word icon. And it literally means a perfect replica, a precise copy, an exact representation.
So in other words, you've heard this many times before. This baby was God in human flesh. If you'd walked into that stable that night, and you'd see that baby laying in that manger, that baby, now this is incredible. That baby was as much God as God the Father. Every bit God. He was the image of the invisible God. And by the way, he was more than just a replica or a reproduction. He was the real deal. So 2000 years ago, had you walked into the city of Jerusalem and there was this big crowd over here and a big commotion going on. And you said to someone, hey, what's the deal over here? Oh, Ben, Jesus is teaching over here. Jesus, I've heard about that Jesus. And if you'd walked over there, though you didn't realize it, when you saw Jesus, you saw God. When you listened to Jesus, you heard God. If you had touched Jesus, you would have felt God.
And if that's not plain enough, Paul, now he's digging now, he doubles down on what he just said. He just put it in a different way. He said this in verse 19, "For God was pleased to have, what's this? All his fullness dwell in Him". All his fullness dwell in Jesus. In other words, here's what Paul said. That baby was fully God, he wasn't fractionally God. He wasn't partially God. He was fully God. So let me put it to you this way. There was a time when Jesus was not a human being. There's never been a time when Jesus was not God. He was fully God. That's why I tell people, hey, you need God? Come to Jesus. You come to God, you come to Jesus. You love God, you love Jesus because he is fully God.
But then Paul says, hey, let's just keep going. Let's keep digging. Listen to what he says next. "For in him, all things were created. Things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers and rulers or authorities, all things have been created through him and for him". The first verse of the Bible I've taught my grandchildren. I'm teaching my grandkids to memorize scripture. And the first verse I've taught all my grandchildren, I thought it would be, Mike says to me, why not just start with the first verse? So all my grandchildren have learned, Genesis one, one in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Now I'm teaching my grandchildren this, you can change that to say in the beginning, Jesus created the heavens and the earth. Because if Jesus didn't create it, this is bad grammar, great theology. If Jesus didn't create it aint here. If it's here, it's because he created it. But then Paul says, nope, let's keep going. Let's dig deeper. Not only is he the creator of all things, he says he is before all things. So in other words, before there was time, there was Jesus. Before there was space, there was Jesus. There's never been a time when there was no Jesus. Here's the amazing thing. When that little baby was born, the moment he out of his mother's womb, he is the only person in history who was already older than his mother and his old as his father. He was older than his mother. And he was as old as his father. So as God, he created all things. As God, he was before anything. But then Paul says, let's go deeper. Watch this, in him, all things hold together.
Now I want you to just stay with me. This baby that was laying in that manger. He is not just the creator of the universe. He is the connector of the universe. And he's not just the connector of the universe. He is the controller of the universe. I mean, you think what he just said, he said in him all things hold together. I mean, you have a hard time holding it together sometime? How about his job? He holds it all together. Let me take you back to your high school Physics class. Do you remember this? We were taught that everything in the universe, every single thing is made up of atoms, A-T-O-M-S. Everything, you're made up of atoms. I'm made up of atoms. This pulpit is made up of atoms, this floor is made up of atoms, the air's made up of atoms, the planets, the stars, the moons, the air that we breathe. Everything is simply a collection of atoms. We learned that.
Well, then we learn in our Science class, if you remember. If you drill down to the center of an atom, you will find what's called a nucleus. You've got these six positively charged protons and this six negatively charged neutrons. Here's a picture of an atom right here. So you drill down and you've got these protons and you've got these neutrons. So we were told all this in school. I'm listening to my physics teacher, teach this. I can still remember it. And then my teacher said, now there's a basic law of Physics. I remember she told us to write it down. Here's what she wrote down. Do you remember this? Like charges do what? They repel each other. Like charges, repel each other. So it hit me one day. I'm saying, okay, let me get this right.
So you got this atom, we're all made of atoms. And you go to the nucleus for the atom and you got these protons and these neutrons and some were positively charged that they're together and some are negatively charged and they're together. And I go, okay then why is it the nucleus of an atom exploding right now? Can I be honest? You know what we all ought to be right now? We ought to be exploding like firecrackers or be blown apart. I mean, I thought that's what they said. Like charges, repel each other. So here's my question. What's holding together? What's holding this together? What's holding the universe together? Paul says it's not what, it's who. Jesus, is holding everything together.
And then it hit me. I thought about this, oh, this is by the way, this is my theory. Don't go tell your Science professor what I said, don't tell him I said this, okay? This is just my theory. But you read the Bible and you read this several times the word told, that one day the earth is gonna melt like merchant fervent heat. It might just kind of like, it's gonna be like a nuclear explosion, just gonna disintegrate. And I've often wondered, how's God gonna do this. He's gonna take a gigantic blow torch and put it down here. Or he's going to put us in a big gigantic God green egg and just fry the whole thing. I mean, how's he going to do that? And then I'll read this and I thought, you know, this is just exactly the way it just might happen.
One day, Jesus may just decide to put his hands in his pocket and everything's going to disintegrate. Because Paul said he is the one that holds every thing together. So think about this now. That baby that was laid in the hands of the earthly father is the God that holds the whole world in his hands. He, as Paul said, he's the glue of the galaxies. He is the summit of creation. He is the Lord of the universe. So that little baby, you know why we celebrate Christmas or you're not a believer? We worship that baby as the Lord of the universe. But then Paul says something else that's really important for us. He said, we don't just worship Jesus as the Lord of the universe. He said, we follow Jesus as the leader of the church. We follow Jesus as the leader of the church.
So listen to what he says. And he, that is Jesus. He is the head of the body of the church, that's us. He's the head of the body of the church. Here's the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy. Jesus is the head of the church. He's not just the head of this church, He is the head of every church. So in other words, no believer on earth. Listen to make carefully, no believer, it doesn't matter what his title is. You can call him the pastor. You can call him the Pope, it doesn't matter. No believer is the head of the church. No believer. Adrian Rogers used to say anything with no head is dead and anything with two heads is a freak.
So I want you to hear this. This is so important, you hear me? The church only has one head and that's Jesus. And the church is called the body and there's a reason for that. You know what the head does for the body? The head tells the body what to do. The body don't tell the head what to do, the head tells the body. Why am I walking on this floor right now? My head is telling my body, you're nervous, you got this energy. You can't stand still, you're a d d d d d, You got to keep, okay. I'm just doing what my head tells me to do.
That's the fourth purpose. And so here's what I want you to understand. This is something I've been wanting to say for a long time. Jesus is the beginning of every church. I'm the founding pastor of the church. I'm not the founder of the church. Jesus is the founder. I tell our staff all the time. You do not work for me. You work with me. We work for him. There's only one head. I'm not the head. He is the head. He holds that right, you say why? Because Paul said he is the firstborn among the dead. Now, why is he calling him that? What does that mean? He's the firstborn among the dead. Well, tell you something you may not know. Jesus was not the first person ever raised from the dead.
When you read the Old Testament, there's at least three people that were raised from the dead. We also know that Jesus himself raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. So the question is, so how was Jesus the firstborn? If he wasn't the first one raised from the dead? How is he the firstborn? Well, the term firstborn literally means having the greatest rank and being the most important. So in other words, what he's saying is Jesus' resurrection was unique from every other resurrection in history and Jesus is greater than anyone else who's ever been raised from the dead. And here's why, three reasons. Number one, he raised himself from the dead. He didn't need anybody's help. He raised himself from the dead. Number two, he's the only one who's ever been raised from the dead that will never have to die again. And number three, he's the only one who has the power to either raise somebody from the dead or give somebody else the power to raise somebody from the dead.
I've talked to pastors, young pastors all the time. I met with a young pastor this past week. He pastors about an hour North of here. Has some things going on in his church, just drove down, want to get some advice. And so when I talk to young pastors and you know, they're dealing with problems and they're dealing with people and those sometimes are the same thing. So they're dealing with people, dealing with problems and all of that. Here's what I always tell young pastors. I say, listen, you need to remember something. You are the shepherd of the sheep. You're not the owner of the sheep. He owns the sheep, both the sheep and the shepherd report to the master. Jesus is the leader of the church. So you want me to you what that means? When Jesus speaks, we listen. Where Jesus leads, we follow. What Jesus commands, we obey. When Jesus stands up, we bow down. So that leads me to say this. I've been meaning to say this for a long time.
Now I get to say it. There's only one reason you should ever follow me as your pastor. Only one, only one. It has nothing to do with my degree. It has nothing to do with the fact that I started the church. It has nothing to do with my position. It has doesn't do with my title. Hell it has nothing to do with whether you like me or not, it has nothing to do with it. The only reason you should ever follow me as your pastor ever is because you're convinced, when you look at my life, you're convinced I'm following Jesus. That's the only reason you should follow me. The day I quit following Jesus, you quit following me. Because I get an itch I can't scratch when I hear this term, celebrity pastors. There's only one celebrity for all you TV preachers out there that are watching. We ain't it. There's only one celebrity and that's Him. And I sorta am just like you answer to him.
So I just want you to understand he is the leader of the church. And this is why Paul says this, now watch this. Paul says in everything, he might have the supremacy. So now let me quit preaching for just a minute and let me get into your business. There's a reason why some of you, honestly, you're not happy in your Christian life. You're not productive in your Christian life. You know, deep down into your heart, there's got to be more to this in the way I'm following Jesus than what's going on in my life. And you know, deep down, when you look yourself in the mirror, you're not hitting on all eight cylinders in your Christian life.
Now, I'm just going to cut to the chase. I'm gonna tell you why and I promise you if you examine yourself and be honest, this is why? The simple reason is because in whatever area, you know, you're missing it. Whatever spark plug is misfiring, whatever piston's not turning, the cold hard truth is, is because in that area of your life, Jesus is not in first place. There's no other reason. There's no other excuse. Because if Jesus is the first person in your life, he ought to be first place in your life. He ought to be the first priority of your life, 'cause let me tell you something. I've learned this in my own life. Jesus will not take second place in your life. Jesus will not be second in line in your life. He will not be second in importance in your life.
Teresa and I have been married as you know, over four decades, I say it all the time. I love to say I'm more in love with her more than I've ever been. But we understood something before we got married for both of us. I do not love anybody like I love Jesus and I don't want her to love anybody like she loves Jesus and you know what I found? The more she loves Jesus, the more I love Jesus, the more we love each other, the better we get along. That's the way it works. So he says, I want to have first importance. We follow Jesus as the leader of the church. That's why, when you invite people to church, I don't want you to invite people to church, boy, we have a, and I'm not saying this to brag. I'm just giving a point. I'm not saying it's even true. I don't want you to invite people to church, boy, we got a great pastor. You got to come hear our pastor preach.
That's okay, that's not why I want you to invite people to church. Maybe y'all come to our church because our people are friendly. You know, we do sweet music. You know, we do this, no, no. I hope you always invite people to our church because I want you to let them know. Jesus is real in our church. We follow Jesus in this church. We exalt Jesus in this church. Our pastor preaches Jesus every day in this church. That's why we'll be inviting people to this church. We follow Jesus as the leader, man, I am fired up. We ought to follow Jesus as the leader of the church. And here's the last thing I'm doing. Paul said, we come to Jesus as the link to God. We come to Jesus as the link to God. See Christmas is not just about who Jesus is. It's about what Jesus can do for us.
Now, listen to what he says. Remember, he's digging deeper. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself, all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross. Now listen to what Paul said. We're gonna wrap this up. I have chosen to follow that baby who was in that manger. Not just because I believe he was who he was because I now know in my life, he did what he alone could do. And so he alone could do for me what nobody else can do. And here's what he did, when I was nine years old, here's what he did. Did it in a theater on a Friday night, about nine o'clock. He took my hand and he took the hand of his Heavenly Father. And he brought the two of them together. And for the first time in my life, I didn't understand it. Didn't totally get it. Didn't understand, you know, get all nuances of it.
And Harvey, when I walked out of that theater, I was at peace with God for the first time in my life. There was nothing between me and the Lord, nothing. The wall was totally gone down and here's why. Only Jesus can pull that off. Only he can do what he did because he was who he was. Let me put it to you this way. Only Jesus can do what we must have done for us because only Jesus is who he must be to us. What do you mean by that? We didn't get it. I didn't know it. You didn't know it when you were born. I didn't know it when I was born. I didn't know it for years after I was born. You didn't know it for years after you were born. But one day it hits you and you get it.
Every human being that's ever been born in history was born with a need to have a relationship with God. Every single person. But in order to have a relationship with God, there's one thing that's gonna happen to you or it'll never happen. 'Cause I got news for you. You cannot get to God on your own. You can't do it. Sorry, you can't do it. You can't build a bridge far enough. You can't build a ladder high enough. You can't do it on your own. There's one thing you need to get to God. And what you need is reconciliation. You know what reconciliation is? Reconciliation is the restoration of a relationship. When two people are separated because of their differences, they need to be reconciled.
Now, even though you didn't know it, even though I didn't know it, from our first breath, we were separated from God. You know why? We were born with a sinful nature. God doesn't have a sinful nature. And a sinless nature cannot not relate to a sinful nature. And the only remedy for separation is reconciliation. And what Paul is saying is the moment Jesus died on that cross, he brought peace between God and us. And he signed in his blood, a peace treaty between God and us that lasts forever.
This is why this is so important. One of the greatest dangers of Christmas is we leave Jesus in the cradle. You can't separate the cradle from the cross. You cannot separate the birth of Jesus from the death of Jesus. You can't separate the baby that was born from the Jesus that was crucified. Because let me tell you why, what good would it have been for God to leave heaven, come to earth, live among us, be a human being just like you and me and then leave earth, go back to heaven, still separated from us. What good would that have done? You see the cradle without the cross is a mystery, but the cross without the cradle is a mistake. The cradle without the cross is inexplicable, but the cross without the cradle, is inexcusable.
And to be completely honest, to try to explain Jesus is folly. To ignore Jesus is foolish, but to reject Jesus is fatal. He wasn't just another dude. And that's why Christmas is the most joyful time of the year. And yet it's the most sorrowful time of the year. So what do you mean? Go to a mall, not on Saturday afternoon. But go to a mall and just walk around and just observe people. And ask yourself this question, how many of these people hear the music of Christmas? But they miss the meaning of Christmas. And they reject the master of Christmas. How many people will sing the songs of Christmas, but never surrender to the savior of Christmas.
So let me close by telling you this story. I was gonna come down here and I'd have jumped flowers. My mentor, Adrian Rogers told a story one time, one of my favorite stories he ever told. He was on an airplane. I don't know where he was going, he was in an airplane. A man came sat down next to him. And this man was a brilliant lawyer. I think he was a Harvard educated lawyer if I remember the story right. But he was a brilliant lawyer, very brave, very intellectual. He didn't know who Dr. Rogers was. And so they got to talking. And so they got to talking about what they used to like to read. And so this lawyer said, well, I love to read novels. I love to read philosophy. I'm really into, I think he said something like psychotherapy or something like that. He said, I love to really read deep stuff. And he said, so what do you read?
Dr. Rogers said, well, I'll read books and magazines. He said, you know, I like to read deep stuff too. And he said, really so what do you like to read? So well then, the deepest thing I've read is the Bible. And the man said, what? He said, the deepest thing I've read is the Bible. So he said, what do you do for a living? And Dr. Rogers said, well, I pastor a church. So the lawyer kind of got a little bit up at it. And he said, let me get this straight. So you talk to people about life. He said, yes. You try to help people with their problems. He said, yes. He said, well, if you just primarily read the Bible, how do you know what to say? How do you know what to even speak to people?
Dr. Rogers said, well, certainly the world only has three problems. The lawyer said, what? Dr. Rogers said, the world only has three problems. The lawyer said, oh no Dr. Rogers, the world has a lot more than three problems. And he said, no, the world only has three problems. And the lawyer said, Dr. Rogers, the world only has, I mean, the world has a lot more than three problems. And Dr. Rogers said, there's only three problems the world has. And the lawyer said, well, what are they? He said, sin, sorrow and death. He's oh no, the world's got more problems than that.
Dr. Rogers said, okay, you go off and think about it. If you come up with another problem come see me. He said, the man sat there for an hour and never said a word. He said, you could tell he was in deep thought. That about an hour he got up and went to the bathroom and he came back and he sat down. Picked doc, touched him on the shoulder. Dr. Rogers, he said, can I tell you something? He said, sure. He said, the world only has three problems. Sin, sorrow and death.
Now you think about that. I defy you, I'll be out at the back, at the lobby when the sermon is over. If you can think of any other problem, that those three things don't encompass, let me know. Terrorism, that's a sin problem. Divorce is a sin problem. Greed is a sin problem. Murder is a sin problem. Well, how about cancer? That's a sorrow problem. How about broken homes and broken hearts? That's a sorrow problem. How about depression and discouragement? That's a sorrow problem.
Now of course, we all know the big problem. We all face it, death. And here's the amazing thing. Buckle your seatbelt. That little baby in that manger is the answer to all three of those problems. He is the way into grace. He is the way out of guilt and he is the way to glory and to God. He answers all of those problems. So yes, merry Christmas. Yes, thank God for a way in a manger. Yes, thank God for the Christmas story. Yes, thank God for that little baby that was laid in that manger 2000 years ago, but we're not gonna leave that baby there this Christmas or any Christmas. He is the Lord of the universe. He is the leader of the church. He is the link to God. And that's why he is the greatest Christmas gift of all.