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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mark Batterson » Mark Batterson - Jesus: Reality Check

Mark Batterson - Jesus: Reality Check

Mark Batterson - Jesus, Reality Check

Life is unfair. Then we die. God bless. That might be the most depressing start to any sermon I've preached in 27 years. Life is unfair; then we die. The bad news is it's true. The good news? It's a half truth. We were brought up on fairytales that begin with, "Once upon a time," and end with, "Happily ever after". The Bible is not a fairytale. We believe in something so much bigger and better, and longer and stronger than, "Happily ever after". We believe in, "Happily forever after". Welcome, to National Community Church, in person, online, realtime, on demand. This is episode seven in our "Journey Through Mark's Gospel". You can meet me at Herod's palace in Mark six. Let me set the scene. It was like getting tickets to "Hamilton" when it first debuted.

The guest list was the who's who of Galilee. Herod's parties, party with a "ay", were epic affairs, emphasis on affair. Three drink minimum. Toga optional. What happened at Herod's palace stayed at Herod's palace. Then it gets weird. Herod's wife Herodias has a daughter. That daughter starts dancing, and it's not square dancing. Probably involves a pole. I know we're a church, but this is in the Bible. Herod is so smitten that he offers half his kingdom to this woman. Okay, let me interrupt this regularly scheduled message with a public service announcement. If you make decisions whilst angry, aroused, or drunk, you will regret said decision, and Herod is all three. Herod makes what I would call the Esau mistake. Esau sold his birthright, his birthright, for a bowl of stew. What are you doing? Herod sells half the kingdom, sells his soul, for a lap dance.

Don't do it it's not worth it. And just when you think this party can't get any crazier, it does. Herod offers his step-daughter half the kingdom, and I would just go on record as saying, if someone offers half the kingdom, probably take half the kingdom. But no. Herodias is so full of hate for John the Baptist, and I'll explain why in a moment, that she asks for his head on a platter. She trades half the kingdom for a bobblehead, which is crass, but it's true. So let me back up the bus. John the Baptist is the man, the myth, and the legend. Jesus said, "Among women none greater". I mean, that is quite the compliment from Jesus. Yet, John the Baptist is beheaded. The party favor is a head on a platter. I don't know what to do with this.

This is wrong on so many levels, and you can read right over it. This is the worst ending to, like, the best life, second only to the sinless Son of God being crucified on a cross, am I right? Like, how can God allow this kind of injustice? And it begs the question, what do we do with this kind of injustice? What do we do with this kind of hate crime? What do we do with this kind of pain and suffering? I'll tell you what we don't do. We don't just read right over it, and then just go about our lives. I think we talk about it. I think we wrestle with it. The title of the message this weekend is "Reality Check". Ready or not here we go Mark 6:17. "Herod sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John," as a party favor to Herodias, "his brother Philip's wife. For John had been saying, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.'"

Now there are lots of Herods in the Bible. The Herod reference here is Herod Antipas. He is the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great had 14 children by eight different wives, and when he died in 4 BC, his kingdom was divided, and Herod Antipas, aka King Herod, gets the region known as Galilee. Now in 26 AD, Herod Antipas travels to visit his brother Philip in Rome and his sister-in-law Herodias. Do you see the plot thickening here? Now for the record, Herodias, okay, is the daughter of one of those eight brothers. So this is a pretty crazy genogram. Herodias is Herod's sister-in-law and niece. This is messed up. I mean, this makes reality TV seem like "Mister Roger's Neighborhood".

Herod and Herodias hook up, and John the Baptist has the courage to speak truth to power. He calls it what it is: unholy matrimony. Guess what? People don't like being told what they can do and cannot do, especially when it comes to sexuality. Permission to speak frankly? We live in a culture where it's wrong to say something is wrong, and that's wrong. We live in a culture where your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth. The problem with that is this. It's not true. At some point your truth and my truth are going to bump into each other. Then what's true? Relativism, this idea that anyone, anywhere, any-when, can define and redefine what's right and what's wrong, leads to nihilism. Nihilism is the rejection of moral absolutes, and we think this is what we want, right? No laws. No limits. No right and wrong. Then we're all good. No, no, no. Nihilism dead ends into meaninglessness, and the reality is it is hardwired into the human soul to make things make sense.

We are meaning-making machines. We were created with an internal compass called the conscience, and you can sear it, or you can obey it and live according to the convictions that God's given you. We're going to dive into the deep end this weekend. How does that sound? A reverse one-and-a-half somersault with three twists. Three thoughts this weekend here they are. Zoom out. Forgive reality. Give room for God. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "Our imagination so magnifies the present, because we are constantly thinking about it, and so reduces eternity, because we don't think about it, that we turn eternity into nothing, and nothing into eternity". The scales of justice do not balance on this side of eternity. Good things happen to bad people.

John the Baptist is beheaded, so what do we do with that? When we try to solve this differential equation called suffering, when we try to make things make sense that don't make sense, here it is you have to add eternity to the equation. Can I just play a risk chip right here? There are some lyrics to some songs that, in temporal terms, are wrong. I think we just sang one. "You win every battle". What about John the Baptist? No, no, no, I think he wins the war, but you have to sing those songs in light of eternity, then those lyrics begin to make sense. That is the only way things add up. Hold that thought. Nine times out of 10 when I get discouraged, and I get discouraged, 9 times out of 10 when I get down, and I have some down days, I'll tell you why. It's because I zoom in and focus on something that is causing frustration, and the more I zoom in on this thing, the more it exasperates this feeling of frustration, and the next thing I know eternity's nothing and nothing is eternity. And all of a sudden life isn't as good as it was. It's one little thing I'm zooming in on.

I mean, come on. You're going to sell your soul, Herodias? You're going to trade half of the kingdom because of this grudge, because someone said that what you're doing's wrong? I mean, you can't even agree to disagree agreeably? John was living rent free in her head. She mismanaged this situation. So that's when I have learned to zoom out, to look at life through the wide-angled lens. If you're taking notes, jot this down. Your focus determines your reality. A fascinating study done a few years ago with Olympic athletes. Found that, statistically speaking, bronze medalists are quantifiably happier than silver medalists, which makes no sense, because the silver medalists beat the bronze medalists.

What these researchers discovered is the X factor, the differential, is focus. The silver medalists tended to focus on how close they came to winning gold. Ah. And because they were focused on what they didn't win, they weren't too happy about it. Bronze medalists tended to focus on how close they came to not winning a medal at all! Like, "I'm on the medal stand. Let's go"! One way or the other, your focus determines your reality. Focus is the difference between bitter and better. Focus is the difference between happy and unhappy. Can I do a little bit of marriage counseling? I'll never forget this. Gary Smalley I once heard him say, "That most marriages are about 80% good and 20% bad". He said, "The only difference between a happy and unhappy marriage, is whether you focus on the 20% on the 80%".

Now please hear me. You better go to counseling and work on the 20%, but you also better remember why you fell in love with that person in the first place. Cherishing, I think, is focusing on what we love about this person. And by the way, sometimes you celebrate what you want to see more of. Love the letter that a college student wrote to her parents. "Dear, Mom and Dad, I have so much to tell you. Because of the fire in my dorm set off by student riots, I experienced temporary lung damage and had to go to the hospital. While I was there, I fell in love with an orderly, and we had moved in together. I dropped out of school when I found out I was pregnant. He got fired because of his drinking. So we're moving to Alaska where we might get married after the birth of our daughter, after the birth of our baby. Your loving daughter. PS: None of this really happened. I did flunk my chemistry class, and wanted to keep it in perspective".

When I say zoom out, what I mean by that, oh, please hear me today. Do you believe this? I believe this. That God is always writing a bigger story. That God is always writing a better story. It means we don't put a period where God puts a comma. When Jesus walked out of that tomb on the third day, all bets are off. All things are possible. The empty tomb is how we put everything into perspective. "Sometimes it seems like God is missing the mark," said Oswald Chambers, "because we're too short-sighted to see what he's aiming for". Zoom in right here. A guy named Martin Seligman said that all of us have what he called "an explanatory style". It's how we make sense of life. It's the story that we tell ourselves. It's how we explain things. And just jot this down. Your explanation is more important than your experiences.

We all know people who have walked through the same circumstances, but the explanatory style is what makes a difference. If there was a patron saint, a poster child for bad things happening to good people, would Joseph not be like a first round draft pick? He was trafficked as a teenager. Just let that sink in. He was sold into slavery by his brothers. Then he's falsely accuse of a crime he doesn't commit, ends up in an Egyptian dungeon. I mean, things go from bad to worse for 13 years. If anybody had a reason to throw in the towel, it was Joseph. But guess what? It was in that Egyptian dungeon that he meets a cupbearer, who has a dream, and he interprets that dream. "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon". That cupbearer ends up going back working for the Pharaoh. Pharaoh has a dream, can't interpret it. Cupbearer remembers Joseph. Next thing you know, Joseph interprets a dream for Pharaoh, is made second-in-charge of Egypt, and saves two nations from extinction.

Sometimes the wrong place is the right place. But sometimes it takes 13 years for the wrong place to become the right place. How does Joseph survive? Because, we can read it in 13 minutes. But, 13 years is a long time. I would suggest that Joseph had 50:20 vision. Genesis 50:20. He says to his brothers, "You intended to harm me". Okay, stick with me, English majors, linguistics. That's the narrative. That's what happening in realtime. "You intended to harm me, but God". But God. But God. Would you say it? "But God intended it for good, the saving of many lives". That's the meta-narrative. God is always writing a bigger story. God is always writing a better story. It does not make what his brothers did any less wrong, right? It doesn't change the circumstances. It doesn't make the false accusation okay. Do we believe today that there is a God, "Who works all things together for good"?

That doesn't mean they're good things. "Works all things together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose". There is a God who can turn it in your favor. There is a God who can turn it into a testimony. There is a God, "Who gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness". If you want to add a little amen right there, that okay. "To have faith," said Ronald Rolheiser, "is to see everything against an infinite horizon". Little bit of a thought experiment here. In his book "Against an Infinite Horizon", Rolheiser tells the story about an elderly couple who had traveled the globe, and so Rolheiser asked them the question, "Of all the things that you've seen all around the world, what is the most impressive"? And the old man said, "Of all the things, this will sound strange, but it's true, of all the things we've seen what impressed me most were the stones at the bottom of the Grand Canyon".

I've seen those stones. I've hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim. I cannot say that in the moment, it was the most impressive thing I had ever seen. But he adds this commentary. "I was reading the tourist's brochure, and it said, 'The stones you're standing on are two billion years old.' When I think of my life in relationship to that, it isn't even as long as a snap of the fingers. I believe in eternal life, so two billion years from now, we are still going to be alive. Putting life against that background puts things into perspective, doesn't it"? Then listen to this. "When we live in depression or obsession, we have lost perspective. We have forgotten how young we are, how understanding God is, and how old are the stones at the bottom of the Grand Canyon". Life is unfair. Then we die. That is true. But King Solomon said, "God has set eternity in our hearts". We believe in, "Happily forever after". We aim at eternity, and if we don't, none of this makes sense.

Number two, forgive reality. How are we doing? Are we doing okay? I feel like that was like amuse-bouche. I don't even know how to spell that. I only had a few of them. Those fancy restaurants, right? Amuse-bouche that's kind of the appetizer. Zoom out, here's the main course. Forgive reality. I have a pastor friend, Michael Hall, who's 84. Now you don't make 84 trips around the sun without bumps and bruises, without some wear and tear, and so the last time we were together a few weeks ago, I said, "Michael, how are you doing"? Well, he's got lung issues. He got hip issues. But here's what he said, and I quote, "Any day on this side of the grass is a good day". In other words, it beats six-feet under. "And on that note, the grass is not greener on the other side. The grass is greener over the septic tank". I like it. If I like it, I'm going to say it.

Verse 19, "Herodias nursed a grudge against John". There it is, "and wanted to kill him". Should've been enjoying the party. Nursing a grudge. John speaks truth to power, so kind of flip the script here, and put yourself in Herodias' sandals. When someone speaks truth into your life, well, the first thing you have to do is discern is it true? "Don't let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart, unless it first passes through the filter of scripture," Erwin McManus said that. If it passes through the filter though, then what do you do with it? I think you have one of two choices, and here they are. One, you can harden your heart. You can nurse the grudge, and then you can just try to spend the rest of your life evening the score with that person. But that's when life turns into a zero-sum game, and no one wins that game. The other option is you can soften your heart and repent. Yes, repent it's an option. "I was wrong".

As I see it, this is either going to play out one of two ways. Either I confess my sin or I project my pain. Those are the options I have. Let me say it this way. The only way to forgive reality is at the foot of the cross. Because it's at the foot of the cross where I find forgiveness for my sin. God forgives and forgets, and now when I'm in right relationship with God vertically, now it shifts my horizontal relationships. So the cross is where I find forgiveness for my sin, and it's where I find courage to forgive others. One of my heroes is Corrie ten Boom. When I was a kid, we went and saw a movie about her life called "The Hiding Place", and here's the short version. During World War II, the Ten Boom family hid Jews, risked their on safety, their own lives, by hiding Jews from the Nazis. They were discovered. They were put on a train. They were sent to a concentration camp.

Corrie lost her father, lost her sister in those camps. Somehow survived. And, upon her survival, for many years Corrie traveled the globe and shared her testimony. It was eventually made into a film by the Billy Graham Association, "The Hiding Place", and it was after watching that film, that I asked my mom if I could ask Jesus into my heart. Corrie ten Boom has no idea, but she changed my life. When she would travel and speak, she would on occasion just not make eye contact. People couldn't tell, depending on the size of the pulpit, what she was doing, because she was working with her hands. She was stitching a needlepoint as she spoke, which, I mean, I can't even chew gum and preach at the same time, so this is pretty impressive. When she was done talking, she would hold up the backside of the needlepoint, and it was just a jumble of treads. There was no discernible pattern, and she said, "This is how we see our lives". Then she would flip it over. "This is how God sees our lives," and she said, "Someday, someday, we will have the privilege of viewing it from his point of view".

It was after one of those talks that she met a man that triggered tremendous trauma just by the sight of his face, because he was one of the Nazi guards who taunted and tortured Corrie and her fellow inmates. And he came up to her, and said, "Fine message, Fraulein". Held out his hand. Said, "I want to hear it from your lips. Will you forgive me"? And Corrie said, "I stood there, and I could not forgive". Then, by a sheer act of the will, she did what she described as the most difficult thing she had ever done in her life. She reached out her hand, and when she did, she said, "It was like an electric current shot through my body". She said, "The current started in my shoulder. It raced down my arm, and it sprung into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being bringing tears to my eyes. 'I forgive you, brother,' she cried, 'with all my heart.'" She said, "I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then. But even so I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and I did not have the power! It was the power of the Holy Spirit"!

We jump up and down for the gifts of the Spirit, and we need the gifts of the Spirit. We need to function in the supernatural, but sometimes the greatest expression of a Spirit-filled life is, "I forgive you". Remember the picture that Flo showed last week? Eddie Washington, the table where Eddie and his fellow orphans sat and ate oatmeal while their houseparents ate meat, and the dotted lines that represented hate lines. There's only one way to heal hate lines in our heart, and it is through forgiveness. "But, Pastor Mark, you don't know what they did". I don't know what they did, but I know what Jesus did. He said to the soldiers who taunted him and tortured him, who nailed him to a cross, he said, "Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do". And in that moment some kind of curse was broken. Sin was broken.

And I've got to think those soldiers were set free. I mean, this had to change their lives. Forgive reality. Just rolls off of the tongue. It might be the hardest thing you ever do. Let me zoom out for another minute. In theology there's a concept called theodicy, and it poses, sort of, this almost unanswerable question. "If God is good, why is there much pain and evil and suffering in the world"? It's an honest question. It's a good question. I think it's a question that we have to grapple with, because we have to figure out what we think, what we believe. I think this is when and where and why many people deconstruct their faith. Something happens, and they can't make it make sense, and they give up on God. Something happens, difficult divorce, devastating diagnosis, loss of a loved one, moral failure by someone they respect, injustice hits close to home, and that is when some people stop believing in God.

And I'm not the guy that's going to stand in judgment and point a finger. But I will also challenge you to reconstruct that faith. And I want you to hear what I'm about to say. You may give up on God, but God hasn't given up on you. You can run from God. He's running after you. You can deny his existence. I don't think it changes the fact that, "In him we live and move and have our being". When I say forgive reality, part of it is like I find myself saying all the time it is what it is. I can't change it, and that's hard. So there are those who believe that suffering invalidates the existence of God. I would argue the exact opposite. That suffering is evidence that evil exists. That we live in a fallen world. That we live in a broken world. That we were born on a battlefield between good and evil, and the battlefield is the human heart.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, "That the line dividing good and evil passes through every human heart". In other words, there's a sinner in every saint, and there's a saint in every sinner. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God made him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ". I need to giddy up and go. I do want to make one other observation. We want to avoid suffering, but you and I both know it knocks on everybody's door. Someday death is going to knock on your door. Disappointment's going to knock on your door. Regret's going to knock on your door. Grief's going to knock on your door. Failure's going to knock. Setback's going to knock on your door.

I just watched this documentary series about the Tour de-France, and my big takeaway. And I biked a couple of Century's, but, whoo, those bikers are unbelievable. My takeaway from that documentary was this. Biking is the willingness to suffer, and whoever is willing to suffer the most is going to win the yellow jersey, and I think life is a little bit like that. All I know is this. The last few years have taught me a couple of hard lessons. Grief has increased my capacity for joy. And pain has increased my capacity for empathy. Zoom out, forgive reality, and give room for God.

Verse 29, "On hearing this, John's disciples came and took the body, and laid it in a tomb". What must this moment have been like to go and retrieve the beheaded body of someone that you loved and followed, and served and cared about, and now you take it somewhere and you dig a hole and you bury it in the dirt, and then you cover it with dirt. What thoughts were going through their head? What feeling's were flooding their hearts? They had to be so disoriented in this moment. Most of us have been there and done that, haven't we? January 4, 1998, my father-in-law celebrated his 55 birthday. He had just been to the doctor, complete physical, perfect health. Doctor said, "You could drive a Mack truck through your arteries". Two days later he died of a heart attack.

In the prime of life, prime of ministry, I don't understand it. I don't get it. It doesn't make sense to me. And it was around that time that I was reading Deuteronomy 29:29. It says, "The revealed things belong to us. The secret things belong to God". And what I came to terms with, is there are some things that will just not make sense on this side of eternity. So I created a Deuteronomy 29:29 file, and the longer I live the thicker that file gets. There are a lot of things that are pass my pay grade. There are a lot of things that I will never understand on this side. When I say give room for God, yeah, part of it is that Romans 12:9. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath".

But I would say we give room for grace. We give room for mystery. We give room for paradox. We give room for miracles. We give room for grief. We give room for all of these things. In her book "WayMaker", and we're almost to the finished line, Ann Voskamp says, "We dream the bringing home babies that we never bury". The reality is one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage. We have walked with friends. We have walked with family. I have done funerals with caskets that are far too small. Ann Voskamp says this, "By the lie that life is supposed to be Heaven on Earth, then suffering can be a torturous hell. Your suffering isn't some unique anomaly. Suffering is the universal experience of all humanity. Suffering doesn't mean you're cursed. Suffering means you're human. It's when we expect life to be easy that it gets hard. The moment you let go of your expectations, much suffering lets go of you".

Can I just say this? It's hard for me to even read that. It's probably harder for some of you to hear, and maybe I just don't even have the courage to say it, so I'm letting Ann say it for me. But then she offers this advice. "Pain will come. Name it Mystery, and find manna in it". I'll give Corrie the last word. "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark," I'm praying for you this week, because I know there are people that are in the tunnel. I know there are people that it feels pitch dark right now. "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer". "Be still, and know that I am God". Do not panic, stand still, and you will see the deliverance of the Lord. Life is unfair. Then we die. But God is good. God's got this. God's got you, in Jesus' name, amen.
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