Mark Batterson - The Adjacent Possible
Welcome to National Community Church. All seven of our campuses absolutely honored that you would celebrate Easter with us. And I've gotta say, great timing. We begin a new series, Out of the Shadows. Believe it's gonna be a game changer, and I'll set that series up in just a few minutes. In 1853, America hosted it's first World's Fair in New York City. The organizers built a beautiful exhibition hall called the Crystal Palace, and that's where some of the latest and greatest inventions were showcased. There was also a man by the name of Elisha Otis, who pulled off one of the most memorable, one of the most dramatic demonstrations in the history of the World's Fair. Elisha Otis was the inventor of the elevator safety brake, but he had a hard time selling his idea.
So here's what he did. He stood on a platform in an open elevator shaft. That platform was hoisted high enough for everybody in the exhibition hall to see him. Then Elisha Otis, who had positioned an ax man above the elevator, ordered him to cut the cable. The elevator fell, a few feet. The crowd let out a collective gasp, and Elisha Otis announced, all is safe ladies and gentlemen, all is safe. When Elisha Otis pulled off this sales pitch, there were only a few buildings in New York City that were taller than five stories, and I'll tell ya why. No one wanted to climb the stairs. It was next to impossible to rent top floor real estate. Then in 1854, Elisha Otis installed one of these elevators in a building on Broadway, and as they say, the rest is history. By 1890, 10 buildings taller than 10 stories. By 1900, 65 buildings taller than 20 stories. By 1908, 538 skyscrapers in New York City, including the famous Flatiron Building at the corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue.
More and more buildings got taller and taller, and something else happened. Higher floors starting producing higher revenues. Why? Well, as long as you don't have to climb the stairs, right? Everybody wants a room with a view. Elisha Otis turned the world upside down. Didn't just invent the elevator safety brake. He made the modern skyscraper possible. At last county, 58,000 elevators in New York City. They take 11 billion trips every year, and that's just New York City. According to the Otis Elevator Company, the equivalent of the world's population rides on its elevators every five days. So, the next time you appreciate the skyline of New York City or any other city for that matter, understand that it was made possible by a man named Elisha Otis and his elevator safety brake.
Hold that thought. In 2002, an evolutionary biologist by the name of Stuart Kauffman coined a concept called the Adjacent Possible. The Adjacent Possible is all that stands between what is and what could be. It's a thing that enables us to dream bigger dreams, 10-story dreams, 20-story dreams, even 160-story dreams like the Burj Khalifa. Now, I don't think Elisha Otis could have imagined a building that would stand more than half a mile tall, okay? You can actually watch the sun set twice at the Burj Khalifa, and it's 65 Otis elevators that will take you to the top in a little over a minute. Now, the Adjacent Possible is a tough picture to paint, but I think the elevator is Exhibit A. It was the elevator that made the skyscraper possible.
As such, the elevator opened up the Adjacent Possible. The elevator is to skyscrapers what the alphabet is to language. The elevator is to skyscrapers what the acorn is to the oak tree. The elevator is to skyscrapers what Tiger is to golf. Did you see the Masters last weekend? And now 18 majors is the Adjacent Possible. But I digress. Let me go back to the ground floor. The Adjacent Possible is the thing that makes something else possible. It's the microchip in the scientific calculator, the personal computer, the cellphone. Without the micro, we do not land a man on the moon. The Adjacent Possible is one small step that turns into a giant leap. And what's true in innovation is true in our lives.
So let me personalize the Adjacent Possible. When I was in the eighth grade, our family started attending Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois. I did not know that the pastor had a daughter. And in the eighth grade, it really didn't make a difference. But in the 12th grade, I asked her out and we've been married for 26 years. Now I did not know this at the time, but when our family started attending Calvary Church, Laura was the Adjacent Possible. That's what I'm talkin' about. Now after college, Laura and I got married. And while I was in graduate school, we tried to plant a church in the Chicago area, but that church plant failed. And it was that failed church plant that opened us up to other possibilities.
Stick with me. We think of failure in negative terms, but listen, it's often failure that introduces us to the Adjacent Possible. Do you know why Pixar started making movies? Because they couldn't sell enough copies of their animation software. Their business model was not working, and the Adjacent Possible was Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., and my personal favorite, Up. All right, back to that failed church plant. Listen, we had no intention of ever leaving the Chicago area. It was home. But that failed church plant prompted us to pack all of our earthly belongings into a 15-foot U-Haul, and take a 595-mile step of faith. But here's the thing. We did not move to D.C. to plant a church. But guess what? That move made National Community Church the Adjacent Possible.
Now I could tell you a hundred stories. You could tell me a hundred stories. Can I insert a little good news right here? God wants you to get where God wants you to go more than you wanna get where God wants you to go. And He is really good at getting us there. God is ordering your footsteps. God is preparing good works in advance. God is watching over His word to perform it. Now here's the question you may be asking on Easter. What does any of that have to do with the Resurrection? So glad you asked. It has everything to do, because if the tomb is empty, all bets are off. Listen, if Jesus walked out of that tomb 2,000 years ago, then the word impossible was removed from our vocabulary. In fact, Jesus said all things are possible. Then He flips the coin and said nothing is impossible.
But let me say this as succinctly as I possibly can. Jesus is the Adjacent Possible. The Adjacent Possible is a person, and His name is Jesus. I want you to stop and think about this. When Jesus came onto the scene, no one had a category for the miracles that He would perform. He's at a wedding reception, and they run outta wine. Now this is not the end of the world, but it's awfully embarrassing for the bride and groom. And so what does Jesus do? You gotta love this. He changes the molecular structure of water, and turns it into wine. And not just wine, but fine wine. That's impossible, yes? No. Why, because Jesus is the Adjacent Possible. No one had a category for feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, and then having more left over than you started with. That does not add up, but when you put what you have in your hands, into the hands of God, now five plus two equals 5,000, remainder 12.
Now how 'bout healing a man born blind? No synaptic connections between the optic nerve, visual cortex and the brain. Impossible, yes? No, possible. What about Lazarus? Four days dead, now this is impossible. No, possible. And then we get all the way to the Crucifixion, and come on, this has gotta be game over. No, it's game on. Do not put a comma where God puts a period. I love the way Peter says this, in Acts 2:24. God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. That makes no sense unless Jesus is who He said He was on the third day. Light defeats darkness, life defeats death. Jesus walks outta the tomb, outta the shadows, and that changes everything. I want you to dial in right here. Christianity, not a moral code. Yes, we have a great commandment, love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Yes, we try to live by this thing called the Sermon on the Mount, where you go the extra mile. Ya turn the other cheek, ya love your enemies. Ya pray for those who persecute you. Why, because that's what Jesus taught, and that's what Jesus modeled. But the foundation of our faith is not a moral code. This is not about behavior modification. The foundation of our faith is an empty tomb. Now I can't prove it any more than you can disprove it. It's a tenet of faith, in one way or the other, but let me push this envelope. Praise God for the cross. This is where Jesus puts love on full display. This is where grace and mercy and forgiveness and healing happen. But the cross is not what makes Jesus unique. Listen, lots of people died on Roman crosses. Some archeologists estimate about a thousand crucifixions in Judea every year around the time of Jesus.
Okay, that's about three per day, and so Jesus, crucified between two thieves, this is par for the course. Lots of people died on Roman crosses, but none of them predicted their own resurrection, and then pulled it off. That's what makes Jesus unique. That's what makes Him the Adjacent Possible. Over the next six weeks, we're gonna take on some tough topics. Fear and shame and doubt, and addiction. You may find yourself in a dark place, and those things cast a long shadow. But let me tell you why we're bold enough to believe that you can come out of the shadow of shame, that you can overcome addiction, that you can operate by faith, even in the face of fear. One simple reason, because the tomb is empty.
Now listen, you aren't gonna solve those problems with a 30-minute message, any more than a 50-minute counseling session, okay? You're gonna have to make some difficult decisions. You're gonna have to take some next steps if you wanna come outta those shadows, but if we take the first step together, toward mental health, towards emotional health, towards spiritual health? And I think it starts at an empty tomb. The Resurrection, it re-frames reality. The Resurrection, it redefines possibility. All right, that's the introduction. Good news, it's longer than the message, okay? I do not want you to get nervous. 1 Peter, 1:3. In His great mercy, God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I wanna unpack this promise. It won't take more than 10 minutes. Here we go.
What is God's great mercy? Now if you're taking notes, you can jot this down. I think grace is getting what we do not deserve. And then mercy is the other side of this coin. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. And so the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. See, it's God's mercy that makes forgiveness the Adjacent Possible. And some good news, His mercies, new every morning. That Hebrew word does not just mean again and again, as amazing as that would be. It means different. His mercy is as unique as your fingerprint. In His great mercy, He has given us new birth. Now this word means to begin again, to begat again, just when you think it's game over, it is game on. God is the God of second chances and third chances, and 70 times seven chances. I love the way the message translates this verse. Are you ready for this? The future starts now. Don't you love that?
Come on, can I tell you what we believe at National Community Church? That it is never too late to be who you might have been. If you are breathing, God is not finished with you yet. In fact, the best is yet to come. Again, one decision away from a totally different life. It might be a really difficult decision. You gotta back it up with some good habits, but there is an Adjacent Possible. In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Please hear me, this is not just hope. This is living hope. That is a very different thing. In fact, it's a person. English word living, comes from the Greek word zoe. It means fully alive, and it's a word that John uses to describe Jesus in his Gospel. He says, in Him was life. In Him was zoe, and that zoe was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Now we're gonna come back to that, because that's how you come outta the shadows. You step into the light, into the life, into the love of God. Wanna play this out, John 3:16, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting zoe. Jesus said, John 11:25, I am the resurrection and the zoe. He said, I am the way, the truth and the zoe. And then John 10, the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus says, I came that you might have zoe and that you might have it more abundantly. I think what I'm getting at is this. Listen, God doesn't just make bad people good. He brings dead things to life.
I love the way Steven Johnson defines the Adjacent Possible. In a Wall Street Journal article, he said, the Adjacent Possible is a kind of shadow future. Interesting. A shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things. Plato believed that human existence is not just determined by past tense memories or present tense realities, but also by future tense hopes. And what we have is a living hope. And this is something, this is a thread that is woven from beginning to end. One of my favorites, prophet Jeremiah. I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.
You know what I love about it? It's the context, it's the fact that these words are being proclaimed to Jewish refugees whose temple has just been plundered and whose God is being mocked, and even then, even there, God says, oh, I've got a future. I've got a hope for you. And He has the same for you, of that I'm sure. By definition, shadows are made by blocking light. If an object gets in the way of light, an area of darkness appears. That's what shame and fear and doubt and addiction do, right? It's the pain of our past, that then casts this shadow on our future. And so what happens? We let fear begin to dictate our decisions. We let shame begin to affect our self worth. We let addiction get the best of us. And it's almost like those things backlight us from the past and really cast doubt on, could our future be any better than our present?
Now I wanna juxtapose that with this. There's this fascinating theological concept. Happens about six times in Scripture, that God overshadows. In the Garden of Eden, God overshadows Adam and creates Eve. That's a good thing, yes men, yes? Very good thing, God creates, overshadows. Now, in the wilderness, God is a pillar of fire by night, and a cloud by day. Not just guiding, but providing shade from the desert sun. Then, in the New Testament, an angel makes a strange announcement to Mary. Says that the virgin is going to conceive and give birth to the Messiah, and then explains how this is gonna happen. The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. On the Mount of Transfiguration, a cloud overshadows them and Jesus is transformed. Now the next one, kinda crazy. You get into the Book of Acts.
People are getting healed right and left. They would actually lay the sick in the streets. Why, so that the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow them. And then you get to 2 Corinthians 12:9. It says, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. And Paul responds to God's sufficient grace this way. He says, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may overshadow me. When God overshadows us, powerful things happen. The shadow of the Almighty, it creates things. It conceives things. It hovers over us, guiding us and protecting us. It turns weaknesses into strengths. It redeems things that the enemy meant for evil, and uses them for good.
It transforms us, it heals us. May God overshadow your life this weekend. Your future may be backlit with fear and shame, and addiction. Those things cast a long shadow. But listen, God can overshadow your past with His mercy. He can overshadow your present with His power, and He can overshadow your future with His presence. If you struggle with shame, forgiveness is the Adjacent Possible. If you struggle with fear, faith is the Adjacent Possible. If you struggle with addiction, freedom is the Adjacent Possible. Let me go back to the tomb one more time. Because that's what makes it possible. That's what makes all things possible.
A few years ago, Laura and I had the joy and privilege of making a trip to the Holy Land, and one of the places that we visited was one of the many places that claimed to be the site where Jesus was buried. I'm not so sure, but we walked into one of those burial tombs, and I have two observations. One, kinda claustrophobic. And two, pretty dark, and that was with the door open. I did not wanna spend any more time in there than I needed to.
Imagine what it must have been like when that stone was rolled in front of that tomb. The Light of the World in total darkness. And then on the third day, the stone is rolled away, but somethin' crazy happens. It's not just the light of a new day that pours into the tomb, it's the Light of the World that pours out of it. And in Him was life. That life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and because of it we can come out of the shadows. I'm gonna invite our worship teams to come, at all of our campuses.
I wanna close with this. I love this verse, Malachi 4:2. I preached on it a couple of months ago, and it says this. For you who who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. But what a powerful image. And then it says this. You will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Now I gotta admit, that's kinda weird but sorta awesome, right? Like we do not pronounce this benediction. May you go in God's grace and frolic like well-fed calves. Like we just don't do that. But it's this picture of the sun of righteousness shining on a life that is backlit with pain and suffering and sorrow. And it's that light, it's that life that is our healing. And in Him, we find our wholeness.
Now listen, you have to step into that light. You have to step into that life, and that's what we're gonna do over the next six weeks. Usually close with a prayer. Wanna do somethin' different this weekend. I feel like pronouncing a benediction, or a blessing on you. Listen, the first thing God does after creating Adam and Eve is He blesses them. This is their oldest memory, and this is God's most ancient instinct, to bless us. And then you get into the wilderness, and God instructs the Jewish priest to pronounce a blessing, and it's a blessing that I think foreshadows what we're talking about today.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn His countenance on you, and give you peace. Amen.