Mark Batterson - Solus Christus
On the occasion of our 15th anniversary, Lora and I celebrated with a trip to Rome. We toured the Coliseum, climbed the Spanish steps, tossed a coin over our shoulder into the Trevi fountain. Lot of amazing moments, but I think the highlight may have been a little church around the corner from our hotel. It was rather unremarkable from the outside, but the Church of San Clemente, you get inside, the altars, the statues, the frescoes, pretty amazing. And so, we get inside and we discover that for five euros, we can take an underground tour. The Romans had a habit of building things on top of things. And so, that 12th century church was built over a fourth century church, which was built over ancient catacombs.
Walking down those stairs was like walking back in time. It felt like holy ground, and it produced these mixed emotions. It was inspiring, but it was also a little convicting. When you're standing in a place where your spiritual ancestors risked their lives to worship God, the comforts you enjoy make you a little uncomfortable, the things you complain about, little embarrassing, and the sacrifices you've made might not even count by a second century definition. Over the last two millennia, Christianity has climbed out of the catacombs. We've built cathedrals with all the bells and steeples. We've got creeds and cannons, pews and pulpits, organs, altars and hymnals. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but I wonder if we have done what the Romans did. We have a tendency to build things on top of things, and so, we pick and choose. We cut and paste. We add and subtract. And what you end up with, if you aren't careful, is a version of Christianity that is westernized and modernized.
So, every generation, I think, has to have a reformation. Now, a reformation is not discovering something new. Those are usually called cults. Reformations are re-formations, rediscoveries. They are back to basics, and that's what this series is all about. Five solas, sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. By grace alone, by faith alone, by scripture alone, by Christ alone for the glory of God alone. So, what I wanna do this weekend is descend 2000 stairs. We're gonna get our steps in today. When you strip away 2000 years of history and liturgy and theology, what's left? What is the least common denominator of this thing we call Christianity? The short answer, solus Christus, by Christ alone. The original creed of the early church was three words, Jesus is Lord.
If you have a Bible, you can meet me in John's gospel. Ready or not, here we go. John 1:1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him, nothing was made that has been made". Abraham Kuyper, former prime minister of the Netherlands, said it this way. "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine.'" And I'll double down on Kuyper. It's not just his once, it's his twice. Once by virtue of creation, and twice by virtue of redemption. The copyright for creation, everything from giant elliptical galaxies to the double helix DNA in our bodies, the creator holds the patent. The psalmist said it this way. "Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills, mine. I know every bird in the mountains, mine, and the insects of the field are mine".
God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He owns the hills. John is establishing the supremacy of Christ, the primacy of Christ, the sovereignty of Christ. He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He is God most high, maker of the heavens and the earth. Dallas Willard said, "We think people are smart who make light bulbs and computer chips and rockets outta stuff already provided. He made the stuff"! And he made it ex nihilo, out of nothing. On Christmas Day 2021, NASA launched a rocket, $10 billion telescope on board, the James Webb Space Telescope, and it started sending these images of space back to planet Earth, and they are unbelievable. The first one you're gonna see is called "The Pillars of Creation," 6,500 light years away. What you're seeing is 7,000 years ago. The pillar on the left, 25 trillion miles long. The Milky Way is smaller than one of the teeny tiny fingers. Now, the second one is the Tarantula Nebula, and this third one is the Phantom Galaxy. It's one of more than 80 billion galaxies.
Now, put away the telescope, pull out a microscope. Recent issue of Nat Geo has these micro photographs that are stunning. The first one is moth eggs, not gummy bears. Do not eat these. The second one is a tiger beetle. By the way, one of more than 350,000 species of beetles. And the third one is a Madagascar giant gecko. Woo! Here's the big idea. Here's the bottom line. God is great, not just because nothing is too big. God is great because nothing is too small. God is bigger than bigger, bigger than big. Theologians call it the transcendence of God, God most high, but God is also closer than close. It's called the imminence of God. He is God most nigh. Verse four. "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". John is tipping his cap to Genesis 1. "In the beginning, the Word said, let there be light".
Light has been defeating darkness at 186,000 miles per second ever since. Those four words are still creating galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. You do not need a PhD in spectroscopy to know what I'm about to say. Light is the source of all vision. Without it, you can't see a thing. Light is the key to technology. It's how we have conversations in real time halfway around the world. Light is the first link in the food chain. Light is vital to physical and mental health. The absence of light, man, that circadian rhythm, it's gonna get messed up, weakens our immune system, seasonal effective disorder. Light is the tape measure for spacetime, and light is the origin of energy. E equals MC squared.
And so, here's a little different translation of let there be light. Let there be electromagnetic radiation with varying wavelengths traveling at 186,282 miles per second. Let there be radio waves, microwaves and x-rays. Let there be photosynthesis and fiber optics. Let there be LASIK surgery, satellite communication and suntans. Oh, and let there be rainbows after rainstorms. Light is the alpha and omega of everything, and that includes you. Embryologists recently captured the moment of conception via fluorescence microscopy. Check this out. At the moment a sperm penetrates an egg, the egg releases billions of zinc atoms that emit light. It's almost like the moment of conception mirrors the moment of creation. It's no wonder the Talmud says, "If you save a life, it's as if you have saved an entire universe". Jesus is the word. Jesus is the light. Jesus is the life.
Then John makes a hard right turn like Lewis Hamilton in F1. Verse 14. "The Word became flesh, made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only son who came from the Father full of grace and truth. And from his fullness, we have received grace upon grace". But I feel like saying it again. Upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace. Should we keep going? We'll stop there. We'll stop there. More grace. Now, the word became flesh. Theologians call it the incarnation. We call it Christmas. It's a moment heaven invades earth. It's this moment that human history is divided into BC, before Christ, and AD, Anno Domini, the year of our Lord. This, in one verse, we go from God most high to God most nigh, son of God becomes the son of man. Jesus was not born with a superman cape. He had to learn reading and writing and arithmetic like the rest of us. We do not have a high priest who's unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in every way just as we are yet was without sin.
Dick Foth summarizes the incarnation, the story of God, this way. "God left His place, came to our place, took our place, invites us back to His place". 2000 years ago, a baby was born in a backwater village called Bethlehem. Now, we don't know much about his toddler or teenage or 20 something years, but there are a few minor details that double as defining moments. When he was born, wise men from the east follow a star, find his birthplace, and they present him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Anybody else? When you were born, did anyone from a distant country with exotic gifts show up at the hospital? Me, neither. Like, things that make you go, hmm. And then they call him king of the Jews. Curious. When he is eight days old, according to Jewish custom, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the temple to be circumcised. And there's this old man named Simeon who, when he sees Jesus, goes into prophetic mode and says, "My eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord" about an eight-day-old baby. I've been called a lot of things, but salvation is not one of them.
Like this, what is happening? He's 12 years old, and his parents' pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover and somehow, crazy, Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. And so, three days later they find him in the temple courts and it says that the religious leaders, as Jesus is dialoguing with them, that they are astonished by his understanding. Graham Greene said, "There's always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in". I think this is one of those moments, but that's literally all we know about the first 30 years. At 30, his LinkedIn profile is pretty pedestrian. I mean, for three decades, the one who crafted the universe with his voice is crafting furniture with his hands. And I bet he was really good at what he did.
Dorothy Sayers said, "No crooked table legs or ill fitted drawers ever came out of the carpenter shop in Nazareth". He was a master craftsman. But would you agree that if someone is deemed to be the son of God and no miracles, no parables, really not much to write home about. It could almost be argued that at 30, Jesus is underachieving. And then there's a plot twist. Jesus goes to the Jordan River, and he's baptized by a guy named John, but when he comes up, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and there's a voice from heaven that says, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased". He disappears into the desert for 40 days where he fasts and prays, but then he comes back to his hometown of Nazareth in the power of the Spirit. He's in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The scroll is open to Isaiah 1.
Jesus gets up and reads and says, "The spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captive and to declare the year of the Lord's favor". He rolls up the scroll and says, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing". Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What did he just say? You could hear a pin drop. Did he just say that he's the fulfillment of this Old Testament? They knew what this point, this pointed, along with more than 300 prophecies, to the Messiah. All of those prophecies fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so, they asked the question, "Is this not Joseph's son"?
Jesus starts telling stories called parables. People would road trip, cross the Sea of Galilee, go days without food just to listen to him talk, mesmerized by the things he said. Then, the way that he treats people, treats people. Like, he eats with sinners. He befriends prostitutes. He touches lepers. He celebrates Samaritans. There's something about him that makes everyone feel seen and heard and loved. He's holy, but he's not holier than thou. There's something about his holiness that is absolutely disarming. People feel so safe in his presence, and there's something that's so magnetic, you can't keep people away. People climb trees, like Zacchaeus, just to get a glimpse of Jesus. People fight rush hour traffic like the woman with the issue of blood just to touch the hem of his garment. Then, he starts doing miracles. He turns water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. This is not a party trick. This is a God who cares about the minute details of our lives. He heals a nobleman's son long distance, asserting his authority over latitude and longitude.
A man who hasn't walked in 38 years. Stand up and walk, heals him. He walks on water. What? He feeds 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Last time I checked, five plus two equals seven. No, no, no, not when put what's in your hands into the hands of God. Now, five plus two equals 5,000, remainder 12. And there's more left over than you started with. A man born blind, Jesus. No synaptic connection between the optic nerve, visual cortex in the brain. Jesus heals him. This is nothing short of synaptogenesis. And the second you think it, what else? Like, what else? What? What possibly else could he do? I'll tell you what he could do. He could say to a man who was four days dead, "Lazarus, come forth," and he raises a man from the dead. But there's one miracle, and I find this so curious, that seems to have a unique, profound effect upon the disciples. And it's this moment when they're on the Sea of Galilee and 700 feet below sea level with the Golan Heights 2,500 feet above sea level, that topography, very sudden, very violent storms.
And so, listen, their boat is getting rocked, y'all. In fact, the disciples, some of whom are professional fishermen, are, like, so scared that they wake him up and say, "Don't you care if we drown"? That's another sermon for another day. But, really? Talk about a rush to judgment. Talk about judging motives. Jesus doesn't hit the panic button, doesn't react to their negative emotions, doesn't even grab a bucket and start bailing the boat, doesn't grab an oar and start rowing. No, he stands up in the boat. Child of the '80s, like "Karate Kid". He rebukes the wind and says to the waves, "Peace, be still". And immediately, a great calm comes over the Sea of Galilee. And the disciples are so awed by the miracle that it says, "They're afraid". And they ask the question, "Who is this"? Like, who rebukes the wind and the waves? I'll tell you who, the one who spoke them into existence in the first place. The question all of us have to ask and answer, who is this?
CS Lewis gave a series of talks on BBC Radio. He recognized that many people thought of Jesus as a compassionate healer, as a great moral teacher, yea, even a prophet. But many people found it very difficult to take that step and see him as son of God. And so, he used a little bit of logic and came to this conclusion. If Jesus was not the son of God, he was either mad or bad. He deceived his disciples by claiming to be who he was not, or he was so self-deceived that he was delusional. Only three options, according to Lewis. It's called the Lewis Trilemma. Lewis said, "Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord". This is so important, I'm gonna put it on the screen.
Here's what Lewis said. "I'm trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool. You can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about him being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us".
Liar, lunatic, Lord. As you might imagine, Jesus starts doing these miracles. The popularity polls, the approval ratings are off the chart. There's even this one day, we call it Palm Sunday, where he is coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and they are ready to crown him king. A week later, they're chanting, "Crucify him". He's betrayed by Judas. He's convicted by a kangaroo court. He's mocked and flogged by Roman soldiers, and he ends up on a, crucified on a Roman cross, laid in a borrowed grave. Game over, right? End of story. Yes? Don't put a period where God puts a comma. It's not over until God says it's over. Lots of people died on Roman crosses in first century Judea. Archeologists estimate about a thousand crucifixions a year. Jesus crucified between two criminals? Par for the course. Lots of people died on Roman crosses. Only one person predicted their own death and resurrection and then pulled it off.
So, if you were placing bets in the first century on this thing called the Roman Empire, or this thing called Christianity, what would last the longest? Come on. You are gonna bet the farm on Rome. 2000 years later, the game has changed. Caesar is a salad. You can't name six Caesars. Do you know that Roman coinage said "Caesar is Lord"? Jesus is Lord was an in your face coup d'etat against the Roman Empire. I don't know anybody who worships Julius or Augustus or Marcus Aurelius, but 2 billion people claim the name of Jesus. 2 billion people have said Jesus is Lord. How does that happen? It doesn't have to be Easter Sunday for me to say Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, and that changes everything. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, all bets are off. And that brings us all the way back to these ancient catacombs, right?
When you descend those steps, when you go back to bedrock, when you get past all of the history and liturgy and theology, where you end up with is three words, Jesus is Lord. The least common denominator, the non-negotiable is this original creed, Jesus is Lord, solus Christus. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul said, "If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved".
Pastor Mark, that sounds awfully exclusive. Don't all roads lead to God? No, they don't. Only one person lived a sinless life and died a substitutionary death on the cross for me. Only one person on the third day walked out of that empty tomb. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father but by him. There is no other name under heaven given unto men by which you must be saved. And at his name, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. Here's what grieves my heart. That's not a threat. It's a promise. And it's all inclusive. Whosoever will may come. To as many as have received him, to them, he gave the power to become children of God. So, can I invite you to stand? I want us to confess with our mouth.
Now, maybe you've done this a time or two or ten or a hundred or a thousand. Every time I make a confession of faith, it adds weight. It gets a little deeper into, I believe this today, even more than I believed it yesterday or last week or last month or last year. But maybe you're here and please hear me. We believe the most informed decisions ought to be, the most important decisions ought to be the most informed decisions. I'm not asking you to pray something you don't believe today, but there does come a moment where you have to take a step of faith, where you have to wave a white flag, where you have to surrender your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. And I wonder if, for some of us, in person, online, this is our moment. If you want to, pray this prayer with me. Here we go:
I confess with my mouth. That Jesus is Lord. And I believe in my heart. That God raised him from the dead. I surrender my life. Time, talent, treasure. Past, present, future. Heart, soul, mind and strength. To the lordship of Jesus Christ. I declare right here, right now. God is my Father. Jesus is my savior. The Holy Spirit is my helper. And heaven is my hope.
Now, can I just say that if you prayed that prayer and you meant it, this is a moment of faith, a step of faith. Can I tell you what's happening in heaven right now? Angels are rejoicing. So, can I be the first to say, welcome to the family. Can we just praise God together?
Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Bless you. We bless you. We bless you. This is not lip service today. Holy, holy, holy. Worthy, worthy, worthy. Salvation and honor and power and glory belong to our God. We humble ourselves before you today, maker of the heavens and the earth, God most high, the one who knows the hairs on our head, God most nigh, we declare your goodness and your greatness, your love and your power and your forgiveness. And we do it in Jesus' name. Amen and amen.