Unexpected Jesus #3 - What does God Expect?
Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at the end of the Prologue section of John 1 and what is revealed of God's expectations of us and how we try to go about meeting them.
Good morning. It's great to be together this morning. Just before we jump into the teaching today, I'd like to just take a moment and highlight a couple things that are happening that you may or may not be aware of. If you've been around, you know we've been renovating a space in the strip district for some time. We now, according to our builders, are about a month and a half, six eight weeks, away from moving in. And we're really excited about what that space will mean as far as opportunities for Orchard Hill to be present in the heart of our city and to be able to help share that message in a substantial way. And so I just want to encourage you, if this is your church home, just be praying for the timing of that. It would be great to be in before Easter, and just be praying for how God will work in that.
And then secondly, I just want to highlight something else that if you're around maybe you see maybe you don't, but every week around here hundreds of kids come together, students, for our different student ministry activities. Wednesday nights, this place is full with students and life groups, small groups. Sunday, Sunday nights. There's different groups that meet. And this is one of the important things that we do here because when students are at kind of key points of their lives to have some people pointing them to what we consider to be the eternal truth, the truth, that will guide their life is so critical, and it's such a good thing. When you get a chance to walk through this building and see so many students engaged and it's just the sign of a healthy, vibrant church, but also just what is happening.
And so again, I just want to encourage you if you're around, just to maybe from time to time say a prayer for what God's doing in and through student ministries here as kids are making decisions that are really key to their future, and if you're a parent and you have a chance to encourage your kids to be engaged, there will be times where any kid will say, "Ah, I don't have friends. I don't have this."
If you just keep getting him here for a season, what you'll see is that they will have a chance to make some friends and in that it will help to shape the direction of their life, and that's a significant thing. So let's take a moment and pray, and we'll jump into today.
Father, we ask very simply today that you would meet each of us, wherever we're coming from, whatever experiences we've had. Father, let my words reflect your word in content and in tone and in emphasis. And we pray this in Jesus's name. Amen.
Well, a couple of weeks ago my wife and I had a chance to just be out of town for a few days. She was celebrating a birthday. It was one of those milestone birthdays, and so my goal was to spoil her and celebrate her, and you can ask her if she thinks I achieved that, but we went to a different town. We used hotel points. We stayed on a beach in Florida. It was great. But when we got to the airport, it was an airport I'd been to many times, not many times, but enough times that I kind of knew where it was, but not so many times that I had it down cold. And they had changed the rental car place from the last time I was there. So when we got our rental car and started to pull out, I wasn't exactly sure how to get from there to the road we wanted to get on, so I just said very simply to my wife, I said, "Hey, would you pull up on your phone, your GPS, would you pull up directions?"
She says okay. So she first hits Google Maps, and it doesn't load quickly. So then she goes to Apple Maps, loads that, and it loads a little more quickly but now we're driving, and we're in that zone where it's not loading, not telling us where to go. So I'm saying, "Where should I go? Where should I go?" And she says, "I don't know."
Then Apple Maps starts telling me where to go. She hadn't shut down Google Maps, so it tells me where to go. So I have Apple Maps telling me one thing, Google Maps telling me something else, and then my wife telling me something like trying to give me direction for something else. And I had that moment where I'm like, "I have three ladies telling me what to do. I can't make anybody happy."
Now that's just a little moment where you realize that sometimes when there are a lot of expectations or a lot of voices telling you what to do, when you start to say, "You know what? Forget it." And you know what I did? I took out my own phone and said, "I'll navigate this myself." Which is what I was trying to avoid because I didn't want to be looking at my phone while driving, but I said I need to figure this out.
And here's what happened sometimes to some of us morally, spiritually in life. And that is what will happen is we will have a moment where we say, "Okay, God has expectations," and then all of a sudden if something happens in our lives where we say, "I don't know if I can meet those." We just say, "You know what? Forget it. I'm gonna do my own thing. I don't need this." And it doesn't matter whether you've been around church a long time. Whether you're new to church, just coming back to church. What happens sometimes is you say, "If God really expects all of that, and I can't do it, then I hit a tipping point," and you experience this in other areas of your life in all likelihood.
Some of you had coaches in your life who would tell you, "Here's the bar," and if you don't meet it you just say forget it, or you've had parents who've said, "Here's the bar," and if you can't get high enough you say forget, or you've had a boss or somebody in your life who say, "Here is what you need to do," and if you can't get there you just say "forget it."
Well today we're going to talk a little bit about expectations. Expectations from God. We started a series a couple of weeks ago that we're going to work our way through the first several chapters of the Gospel of John. We've called it Unexpected Jesus. And in John 1:1-18, it's what commentators, scholars, call the prologue of John because it introduces us to all of the ideas of John. We are introduced to this idea of the word becoming flesh. The word being this concept, we looked at it a couple weeks ago, that is being used here by John to say, "Jesus embodies all of the knowledge, all of the things that hold life together," and he says, "This is what you have to look at." This is how you know that God isn't silent.
And so he reveals himself, reveals Jesus as being part of the creation or the creator. Now who enacts creation, not part of creation, but enacts creation.
Then he says that he came to his own, but his own did not receive him which was John 1, it's what you saw last week, versus 12-13 basically say that as exclusive as the gospel sounds, the message of Jesus Christ sounds, that only those who receive him that it's incredibly inclusive because the religious people, the Jews of the day, they weren't received because they didn't actually deal with Jesus.
Now, that's the start of this and this prologue introduces us to a lot of themes. And today we're going to see if versus 14-18 glory. We're going to see law. We're going to see grace. All big, rich words that he uses here to communicate something, but at its core he's really talking about expectations here. So what I'd like to do is ask two questions and then make a statement that I think summarize these few verses, and here's the first question and it's the question that we're asking on a bigger scale today, and that is, "What does God expect?" What does God expect?
And I ask this question because here's what we see in this text, and I'm going to point you to two things that basically say the same thing, but here's what we see. Verse 14, "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." We'll come back to that. "We have seen his glory and the glory of the only son who came from the father full of grace and truth."
So he says we've seen his glory. Speaking of Jesus saying, "We've seen the glory of God in Jesus," but what he's doing here is he's saying we see God and we see glory and it reveals something to us about God.
Now my guess is that very few of us use the word glory except in certain contexts. Like you may say, "That was a glorious hamburger." Or it was a glorious sunset. Or something like that. But by and large, we don't walk around glory about something.
But here's what glory is really about. It's about saying that you see the magnificence of things. You see the way they should be. And when you say or hear that God has revealed glory, what many of us tend to do is we tend to look around and say, "Where?" Now, we may see it in a sunset or see it in something, but for many of us our first reaction is to say, "The world that I live in is so broken, so full of things that aren't as they should be. How do I see God in this?"
But here's what I believe that is really pointing to, and that is to the degree that you see brokenness in the world, what you're really doing is you're saying, "It should be different." And because it should be different, you are actually pointing to this idea of glory. You're saying, "When I see things that are broken I realize that it could be better." And here's what's at stake, and that is in our world the sense that you have from time to time. When you look at things and say, "This world should be better," is because we have not matched God's glory, and that's kind of the first phrase here about what God expects. He expects us to match his glory.
The reason there's so much brokenness, the reason there's so much that you look at and you say, "This isn't how it should be," is because as people, and this is part of what John has been driving at, we've rejected him as the light. We've rejected God and said we're going to do things our own way. And in doing that what we've done is we've created a world that's full of all of this brokenness where we don't see God's glory.
In Romans 3:23, there's a verse that simply says, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." This is the idea of saying, "You and I. We are called to match His glory."
But most people that I meet, who especially are outside kind of the faith that I would say embodies a Christian faith, what they would say is they would say, "Well, whatever God is, I meet his standards. I know them and I meet them." They would not necessarily say God has these standards that are high. In fact, I met a criminal corrections officer several years ago, and I remember talking with him about the people that were incarcerated. And he said most of the people who are incarcerated believe that they are incarcerated, but they're really good people, and whatever they did it was somebody else that drove 'em to do it.
And that doesn't really surprise me. It probably doesn't surprise you. What he was saying, though, is that even people who our society has said, "You did something that was worth of being incarcerated," would say, "Hah, but I basically am a good person. I keep God's standards. I meet 'em. I know 'em. I keep 'em. I have a reason for what I did. It was okay because it's understandable. But most of what you see that's broken in our world today is because we don't match God's glory, and what people do is they say, "Well I like to think of God kind of like this, and this helps me kind of consider who God is," and they come up with kind of their own idea, and this leads us to two different parts of this text.
Verse 18 says that no one has seen God at any time. Do you know what that means? No one has seen God at any time. So as soon as somebody tells you, "Well I had a vision of God," or, "I saw God," or, "The God that I know revealed Himself/Herself to me like this." Do you know what you can do? You can say oh no no, I don't need to listen to you. In fact, I would encourage you not to listen to somebody who says that. Because according to John 1:18, no one has seen God, and that includes that somebody who tells you that they have a personal vision of God. Because God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ in Creation in the light, in the glory that's in the world. And then, he's revealed himself in the law.
Now this is not a word that we use often, again, especially around church because there's a perception for many people that the law is the Old Testament, Grace is the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament is the Mean God who zaps people with lightning who do things wrong, and in the New Testament, God gives everyone a pony. Like that's kind of the idea that sometimes we have about how this works. And what we're going to read here might even, at first, make you think that this is how it is. Here's what we see, verse 17, "For the law was given through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ."
So you may read that and say, "Well there you have it. The law is Old Testament," but if you read through your New Testament, what you see in Matthew 5 is that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. In other words, the law doesn't go away. So what does God expect? He expects people to match his glory and to keep his law.
Now again, you don't have to be much of a bible student to have said, "Well, there's a lot of weird laws." Like what is that referring to? Have you ever read Leviticus. It's full of weirdness, right? You don't have to be that astute to read through it and say, "Is this something that I need to keep?"
But here's what most scholars would agree on who have studied these things, and what they would say is in the Old Testament there are at least two kinds of law. Some would say there's three, but at least two kinds. There's what they call ceremonial law given for a specific time and place, and then there's moral law. And most scholars would say a good example of moral law is the ten commandments because it's either repeated in the New Testament, it's rooted in the character of God. Something that tells us that this is binding for all people for all time. Which is different than some of the ceremonial law which is some of the weird stuff that you read, and you say, "I'm not sure about this."
Now there are a lot of other laws in the Old Testament. Not just the ten that we would still say are binding, but here's the idea: what God has done with giving us this law and revealing his glory is he said, "I made you. I know what will help you thrive and what will cause society to thrive." And to the degree that you and I say, "I don't need his law. I don't need anything from God," what that does is it puts us in a place where we become our own authority, and then we wonder why our world, either personally or corporately, is so broken. Because we're constantly in a place where we're saying, "This world is not what it should be." God has given laws as the creator, as the one who initiated this world and says, "I know how things will work if you'll follow my law."
Now again, many people would say, "Well I kind of know what that is. I kind of follow that," but what we know is that the law that was given through Moses is not done away with by Jesus Christ, it's fulfilled by Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean that it goes away. It means that it's still what God expects. He expects you. He expects me to match his glory and to keep his law.
So that leads us to a second question. And that is can we, can you, can I meet God's expectations? Now, this might be the unexpected part of Jesus. Because again in our culture today what most people think is whatever God's standard is, I'm pretty good. And how most of us arrive at that conclusion is we compare ourselves to other people.
We look at other people and we say they hold the wrong political position therefore they're the bad people, I'm the good people. They do things that I would never do. They're the bad people, I'm the good people. And as a result, we exalt ourselves to say, "I'm probably okay." And what's unexpected here is that what the text teaches here and throughout all the pages of The Bible is that you and I cannot actually meet all of the expectations of God.
Now if you've been around Orchard Hill, that's not that unexpected because you've heard that taught. But in our culture, even in a lot of churches, the idea is here's how you keep the law. In fact, what happens in a lot of places is people will basically say that if you teach this idea of Grace, that Grace comes through Jesus Christ, that you're dumbing down the law. I think the opposite is true. Because I think if you try to say, "Here's the law, everybody has to get over the hump," what you end up doing is you end up lowering the law a little bit so that people can feel good about themselves.
What we try to do here is we try to say, "We're going to keep raising the bar because the bar is impossible," and that's exactly why you and I need grace. Here's where we see it here in text verse 16 it says this, "Out of his fullness, we have all received grace in place of the grace already given." Now this is part of where we get the little clue that the law wasn't Old Testament and Grace isn't New Testament. He says, "Grace has already been given. It's out of the fullness of God that you get to receive grace." What he's saying, and what grace is referring to here, is this idea that you and I are not getting merit based on what we do. We get merit, we get standing, based on what somebody else has done.
Maybe here's a way to think about it. If you, or I, were to fly to Los Angeles and decide that we wanted to row in a rowboat from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Some of us would row farther than some of the rest of us. And some of us would then say, "But there's other people who could row way farther than us," but it wouldn't really matter because none of us would probably make it to Hawaii in a rowboat no matter how well we did. And when we start to say, "I'm trying to make my way before God," what we're doing is we're rowing across an ocean that we can't possibly get across.
And unless you and I come to terms with that, then what will happen is what Jesus will be is the cultural Jesus that we're given which is he's just another nice option that helps you in your life live a better life, and he'll help you have a better marriage, better finances, better way of doing life as long as you meet his expectations, but the Jesus that John presents us in this gospel is a Jesus who says, "There's a law, and you can't totally meet it."
Now here's what happens for many of us. What we'll do is, again, we'll either kind of lower the standards so that it doesn't seem as daunting. So we'll take the standards of perfection, we'll say, "Let me bring it down to where I can cross into it."
So let me just take two of the ten commandments. And this is an easy way to do this. So one of the ten commandments is, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," or you shouldn't lie. So the question, it's easy here, is when's the last time you lied? Chances are, now maybe you're really good at telling truth, maybe it's been a long time, but chances are there have been some places where there have been shades of meaning that you have just allowed to stand that have been misrepresentation of the truth.
Well as soon as you do that, what it means is that you have not kept the law perfectly. That you can't row all the way to where God has you. Or what God's standard is for you. And the reason that that's significant is what many of us will do is we'll say, "Well maybe it doesn't mean absolute truth. Maybe just shades of meaning are okay," or, "Maybe I'm okay." And so we'll lower the standard. Or take the Sabbath. One of the commandments is that you should take one day and have it devoted to the Lord, devoted to worship and to rest.
Now I know that some of us will say, "Well, the Sabbath meant Saturday so unless you do it on Saturday, you're not really keeping the Sabbath," but there's clear precedent in the New Testament for that day moving to Sunday, and I don't think that actually the day probably is ultimately the deal as much as saying, "Do you have a day that you don't just do life as normal?" Where you say, "This is about worship. This is about rest. This is about recalibration," or do you simply say, "We make it to church when we can, and then we go about the rest of our day just like the rest of our week"?
Now here's my question, would human beings not flourish more if everybody, regardless if it was Christian or not, said, "We're taking a day to contemplate the meaning and the significance of spiritual life and to connect with family and friends and to rest." And yet many of us will say, "Ah, can't do that this week." And in that process what we do is we say, "I'm just setting aside the standard or the expectation of God." Now, the reason I point those out is I can tell you that I don't always keep the Sabbath. I can tell you that I don't always speak truth the first time that I'm given the opportunity.
And so I'm not here pointing some fingers as much as I'm saying understand that what this text is showing us is that if you try to lower the standard, the standard stays the same. All you've done is try to make it so that you feel a little better. By the way, there's some people who believe in this idea that once you come to faith that you can ultimately become sinless and it's called sinless perfection. I think the Wesleyan Church has it in its official doctrine, although very few people actually believe it within that. And it's the idea that says if you follow Jesus closely enough, you can get rid of all sin.
But even throughout the pages of the New Testament, what you see is the people who followed most closely to Jesus still struggled within dwelling sin throughout their lives. Now that's never an excuse to say, "Therefore I don't need to meet the expectations since I'm just a sinner. I'll just go ahead and sin," but what it is is it's a recognition of saying, "Even in my best things there will be times when I'll come short." Even in the things that I do right, the good things that I do, there's probably some mixed motives.
So some of us will lower the standard. What some of us will do is we'll pretend. Instead of saying I'm going to lower the standard, we'll say, "Well I know I'm not keeping the standard, but I'm going to present myself as somebody who keeps the standard," and then some of us will hit that tipping point that I talked about of expectation. We'll just say, "I'm just done with this." I just don't need a god who's always telling me what to do.
And again, in our culture, what happens is people just basically say, "The God that I worship isn't a God who would ever tell me this or that that I don't want to hear." And maybe it's a little bit like this, if you've been on a diet, we're halfway through February, so some of us have kept New Year's goals, some of us have not.
But if you ever go on a diet, what happens? Well you start out you say, "Here's what I want to do," and you say whether it's for health reasons, for how we look, I'm going to lose some weight, and you try for a while, and if you're really successful what do you do? You look down on people who aren't successful, and you go, "Haha, if they would just get my plan, my discipline, they could look like me."
If you're not successful, what do you do? You start to lower the standard a little. You start to say, "Well maybe a little bit of chocolate wouldn't be so bad," right? "It's not gonna kill me." Or you pretend. Any of you ever do this? "Well I only had this much, and you had this much?" Or you just say, "Enough of this. I don't care." Do you see how that works?
I was listening to a podcast, not religious podcast, and it was about marriage. And this lady was talking about the vows that people make today. And she was kind of mocking marriage vows today because she said they've gone from the traditional kind of vows of, "I will promise in my life in richness and poorness and health and sickness and good times and in bad," to be faithful to you no matter what to, "I promise, and then they'll make these sweeping promises. To wipe every tear from your eye before you cry it. To always be there for you and be your best friend."
And this lady said it would be way better if people would stand in front of their family and friends and say, "I'm gonna mess up." She used a more vulgar word. "I'm gonna mess up all the time, and sometimes I'll be big enough to admit it." Because what that would do is it would set the tone for a marriage that doesn't pretend but instead says, "You know what? I'm not a perfect person."
Now here's again why this matters. And why it matters in this text is because what this text is saying is that there's a law, there's a glory, there's a standard, and that you and I can't totally meet it, but here's the really good news that we see here, and this is the third thing, the statement, Jesus meets God's expectations for us. And this is where we see this. It says this, verse fourteen, "the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." Now when we read that in English, we read that and we say, "Okay, the word," ... if you've understood that earlier in John you go, "Okay, this concept has been personalized into Jesus Christ."
But when you read that little word, "Made his dwelling among us," you just say, "Okay, I'm not sure what that means other than he's here." In the original language, the idea is he tabernacled among us. In other words, it's a play on the word tabernacle and to readers of that day, that would have incredible significance because there was a place, a tabernacle, where it was thought that heaven and earth would meet and where sacrifices for sin were offered. And so Jesus here basically says, "I am going to be the one who makes tabernacle among you."
Now who's the us here? Well the us, by the way, is not just the already convinced because he's already said that he came to his own, and his own did not receive him. And now he says, "But Jesus made his tabernacle and tabernacled among us." What he's doing is he's saying Jesus is the answer to this dilemma. Jesus became sin and went to the cross as the sacrifice. His tabernacle, he's the place where heaven and earth meet. In other words, God has met his own expectations through Jesus.
And we see this in this little phrase as well. Verse 17, "For the law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." And here what he's referring to, very simply, is he's saying that grace and truth, in other words both things were put together in Jesus. So if you have grace without truth, what you end up with is you end up with a community of people who all say, "Hey, we just love each other and there is no standard." And if you have all truth and no grace, you have people who say there's standards, but whenever we mess up then we just kind of let people go.
But Jesus Christ brought grace and truth. He tabernacled among his people as a way to say, and a way to demonstrate, that he meets God's expectations for us. I love how one author put this. This is from Steve Brown in a work called A Scandalous Freedom. He said this, "The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness." Religious has made us obsessive about almost beyond endurance. But Jesus invited us to a dance. And we've turned it into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we're doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell in order to get to heaven." So we keep marching.
And then Martin Luther, who was historically significant in a church forming a view that says, "This isn't about my religion. It's not about what I do, but it's about what Jesus has done said this, 'May a merciful god preserve me from a Christian church in which everyone is good,'" and he puts that in quotes. "I wanted to be in a church with the faint hearted, the failed the feeble and the ailing, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.
See, when you and I come to really understand what John is driving at here, that God has expectations, we won't say, "Forget the expectations," and just do my own thing. That's kind of our culture's answer. Instead we'll say, "There expectations are good and right and they lead to life," but we'll also understand that when we fail, when we blow it, that it doesn't take our status. And instead of being judgmental toward people who are outside or different, what will happen is we'll say, "You know what? But for the grace of God, I'm no different."
And that understanding will lead to a radically inclusive community. A place where people who come together will say, "This is a place where I can celebrate just being who I am."
Years ago when I first started working at a church, I was living in Chicago and working at a little church. And there was a guy who participated in the church who owned a bar. Now, in those days in that area of the country, the ilk of church I was in, the pastor going into the bar was frowned upon, okay? I say that because here I don't think anyone would care a whole lot if I went into a bar, but there, and if you do it's too late. But there it was kind of this deal.
And I used to go over and sit at this bar and talk to the guy who was the proprietor because he was kind of on the edge of faith and everything, and he would come to the church and not come, and so I would just go. From time to time. And sit there and talk. And I learned something sitting in that bar that has stuck with me. And I learned it from this bartender who owned this bar for years in the city of Chicago. Later sold it and went into some other stuff, but he would say to me, he would say, "You know when people come to my bar," he would say, "you know what they're looking for? He said obviously they want a drink," but he said the real reason that they come to the bar is because they want a place where they can be themselves and no one judges them.
And then he would say, "And sometimes when I come to church, I feel like because I own a bar, I'm second class." And what I learned was that the church, if it's going to reflect Jesus Christ, is called to be a place where people say, "There's a standard." See, the bar has no standard, by and large. It's like whatever is good. There's a standard, but we're all covered by Jesus Christ. If we've come to believe. And that's where we find freedom.
So here's the challenge, the simple challenge. For you, for me. As we sit here this weekend, and that is to say if you're a person who's outside the faith or isn't sure about your own faith, understand that there's still a standard and simply you asserting that you're good enough isn't enough, but you need to come to a place where you say, "I know that I don't meet the standard, but Jesus has done it for me." That's what faith is. That's what substitution is.
And if you're a person who says, "I've been a Christian for a long time. I believe this." See, it gives you freedom to say, "I'm going to reach for the standard because even if I fail there's still status, there's still standing."
And again, you get this. I talked earlier about expectations. If you're a parent, a boss, a coach, you know full well that if you harp on a player for too long and they don't get there, and you don't encourage them and kind of bridge the gap, or as a parent if you're always harping on a child that somewhere they lose heart.
And the point here is to say that God understands. And that's exactly why Jesus died. And then to say, "Let's create a community together that's more radically inclusive," than any bar that somebody can go to. Where we understand that any standing we have is not because I'm one of the good people and somebody else is the bad people, but we have standing and status only because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.
Father, we pray today that you would help each one of us who's here to not just casually interact with your expectations, but instead to understand that they're really and they're impossible. But to understand that that's also the really good news because Jesus has done for us what we cannot do, and let that be so life-giving, so inspiring that we worship you, we follow you, we understand that you really did give us expectations for our own good. And yet you gave us grace to such an extent that we can experience your goodness even when we fail. And we pray this is Jesus's name. Amen.
Thanks for being here. Have a great week.