Stephen Hawking died this week; Billy Graham died a couple of weeks ago.
What did they have in common?
Many things…But one thing that stands out is that they were both usually famous for their professions…a scientist and an evangelist with rock star reputations.
I’ll just list one thing they didn’t have in common…Graham believed the gospel. Hawking did not.
Hawking had a large following…he made it onto Star Trek, the Simpsons and as he famously said about his best selling book “A brief history of Time”…it is the “least read/most bought book ever”.
He was admirable in that in spite of his great suffering he maintained a sense of humor.
He spent much his life, out of physical necessity, largely in his mind, thinking of space and time…of theoretical black holes and situations where our normal ways of experiencing time and space break down.
He concluded as he contemplated the unfathomable…that there is no God…just time and space.
He once wrote, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
This sounds profound to some, but it is in many respects…a meaningless, self-refuting statement.
Graham spent his life contemplating the unfathomable as well…I’ll quote something he read often and believed deeply.
Rom. 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Hawking tried to go in his mind to the far reaches of space and time…yet he lived and died confined to a small amount of space and time.
Graham lived his life by faith in the God of space and time, and that same God revealed himself to and through Billy in all the places and the times of his life.
Let’s return to my “Mall-inverse” for a few minutes.
Hawking believed in a multiverse…because our universe is so narrowly designed for human life and because he did not believe in a designer he believed there is an infinite number of universes and we reside in the one that appears to be designed.
This seems to me like a lot of mental gymnastics to avoid what should be obvious…the universe appears to be designed because it is designed.
Imagine for a moment…that all exists is a mall…the “mall-iverse”
The mall appears to us mall dweller to be designed…the electronics, the lights, the food court…other mall dwellers…looks designed to all us.
But for some, they can’t accept a designer.
So instead they determine there are many such malls, most or all are empty of people except for this one…only ours exists in a way where life can create itself here.
But there is nothing except for these infinite malls.
Nothing exists that is not “mall-ish”…or so we believe.
Then, suddenly, someone steps into our mall who claims to be from outside of this or any mall.
He looks “mall-ish” but acts and speaks very “un mall-ish”
He declares that he has existed eternally outside of mall space/time…in fact he made mall space/time.
And then he demonstrates through shows of unique kinds of power, including power over death…not of this mall or any mall.
How fantastic would this be?
Its not a silly example…the difference between my mall-iverse and the universe is only in scale not in principle.
So the gospels are far more important than Einstein’s theories of relativity or Hawking’s theories of space/time.
The gospel writers wrote of the one who made space/time and entered into space/time to show us what and why we are.
This is what Graham gave his life for…this is what we are to give our lives for.
When God the son stepped into space/time what did he say and what did he do?
People hang breathlessly on every word from the mouths of experts…people who know things, who have seen things, who have done things.
Huge fees are paid and auditoriums packed out to hear them speak…yet these great ones among us…occupy a small amount of space and time and have an infinitely small amount of information regarding the larger universe.
We have the very words of God, spoken in space and time by God who took on human form.
Jesus, used that human form to vibrate vocal chords to send sounds to vibrate ear drums of people who…who then turned these sound/words into written documents that have been passed down to us.
Now you have the very words of God…we know what we could not have known.
Do you find it hard to believe the Bible?
You don’t have to if you begin with God.
Is God there…yes?
Then he is surely not going to remain silent about who he is and what he wants…he is going to speak to us.
And he is going to speak in a way that is clear and that can be passed around and passed down.
And what we find in God’s word is that what Jesus said and what he did was quite surprising.
Today we look at some of those surprising things.
Let’s start with what Jesus said…”Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:45)
This was surprising because it’s not the human way of doing things.
So it’s not what we would expect from God…we tend to create God in our image.
But what if God is very unlike what we thought him to be?
What if the images we had formed of power, and celebrity and authority…actually came from the enemy of God and not God himself?
It was the devil who promoted himself, who fomented rebellion, who wanted to be God rather than worship God.
What if it was his ideas of greatness that had permeated humanity…rather than the truth of the one who had made us?
Jesus demonstrated this principle of what greatness is many times in his life but one of the more memorable is recorded in John 13
John 13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Passover The Passover feast was the time when Jewish people remembered the turning point in their redemption history.
God rescued them from slavery in Egypt through this final act where all the households who were not under the blood of a sacrificed lamb experienced death.
It was after this terrible loss of life that the King of Egypt finally relented and let the people go.
Similarly the cross of Christ was the ultimate turning point in God’s redemptive history.
The Passover in Egypt was real and important but it foreshadowed the death of Christ, the final Passover sacrifice.
John wrote that Jesus knew his time had come…the time for his sacrifice was at hand.
Jesus knew the extent of his authority and power and that the time had come to exercise that power.
How he would exercise it would come as a surprise…he would exercise his ultimate power by dying for us.
How do you think John knew what was in Jesus’ mind at this point?
Jesus told him.
Imagine John, a close friend of Jesus, sitting at dinner…this one or another time.
Jesus begins to confide in him…and tell him what is on his heart and mind.
John would have smelled the sweat and the dust of a man who walked everywhere he went…a rough carpenter at the peak of physical health…a 33 year old man.
He would have felt Jesus’ touch as he put his hand on John’s shoulder as he pulled him close to speak to him…John had seen him eat, sleep…step away to relieve himself.
This was a real man, Jesus…talking about fantastic things.
How hard for these men, in spite of what they had seen Jesus do in terms of the miraculous…to really believe…this is God incarnate…because they had also seen, he is a real man…smelled him, touched him, walked with him…how can it be?
I don’t find it hard to understand why they were slow to believe…I would have been the same way.
But he didn’t just say surprising things.
He did the surprising
The lowest ranking servant/slave would be delegated the duty of washing the dirty feet of people who entered the house.
It was Jesus took off his outer garment, got a towel, knelt at his follower’s feet and washed them.
This was a great surprise…and we see the contrast even more clearly in the fact that Luke records that when the disciples entered the room they were busy arguing.
About what? About who would be the greatest in the kingdom of Christ. (Luke 22:24)
This is an amazing scene…as the followers of Jesus enter the room debating about who is the greatest follower of Jesus…Jesus…began to wash their feet.
Imagine how shocking this was…they were showing, by the content of their argument…they were not getting the message of Jesus.
Now he would show them in a practical example…then he would show them in a final way on the cross.
They had in their minds a certain kind of kingdom…it happened to be the kingdom of the enemy of God…a kingdom of self-seeking, power seeking vanity.
They saw in the actions of Jesus…the real kingdom of God.
Where the greatest of all uses his power…to serve others.
Think about how important this is to know: To know how things are supposed to be, how they really are.
What if reality were such that God, the creator of space/time was Satan?
What if behind all that exists…it was not “do unto others as you would have them do to you”…this sums up the will and ways of God…
What if it were “Survival of the fittest and the cruelest?”
It is horrible to consider, but what if the God who is actually there…were a monster.
What if his son was a Hitler not Jesus.
When men have invented God…he has looked like men.
So when men determine what power is for, leadership, authority, opportunity…is for…they are often wrong.
When God came to show us who he is and how things really are in the eternal kingdom…he knelt and washed the feet of men.
Here’s how things really are:
1 John 4:16 “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
The one who spoke the universe into existence is love…and we are designed by him to be like him.
Peter didn’t get it yet…so he began to argue with Jesus.
Maybe partly out of his pride (the boss can’t wash my feet), partly out of the respect he had for Jesus.
When Jesus said “If you don’t let me serve you, then you have no part with me.”
Peter replied…”Okay, then wash my hands and feet as well.”
Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
Jesus said Peter would not understand what he was doing then, but later he would.
And he did eventually understand…listen to what Peter would someday write:
1Pet. 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
He would understand who God is and what God had done in Christ.
But Peter would not get it until after the cross and resurrection.
For now he was still leaning on his own understanding.
He would try to rescue Jesus with a sword in the dark night before the crucifixion.
Then when that failed he would try to rescue himself from being attached to the condemned Jesus by lying about his relationship with Jesus.
Peter needed to understand…Jesus had to die in order for Peter to be rescued…Peter could not rescue himself.
Unless we allow Jesus to serve us…By putting our faith in his payment for our sins…then we will have no part with him.
When we have put our faith in him…we will need to continually have him cleanse us of our sins…we will need our feet washed over and over…but we will not need to be justified over and over.
That only need happen once.
Jesus had been mentoring his students and now his time with them was drawing to a close…he had told them and shown them over and over…what life in the Kingdom of God looks like.
Let’s consider the Example of Jesus
Of course Jesus was more than a moral teacher and a role model…he was the savior of the world.
But the fact that he is more than an example does not mean he is less than one.
In fact Jesus says so himself here…
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
The main application is not that we are to literally wash each other’s feet…and call it good.
Its okay if you do…if that is a real need someone has…but not what he is saying.
The act of washing their feet was not merely a ceremonial act here, it was a practical one…their feet were dirty
He had told them, now he showed them…this is the good life…this is the life in the Kingdom of God…serve, not be served.
Give your life to others in practical, real ways.
As they were arguing about who would be great…Jesus showed them what greatness looked like.
The Blessed life
Jesus who had said and done surprising things…turned the conventional wisdom on its head.
17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Jesus was saying…”Do you want to know what the good life is, what it looks like?”
Put the interests of others ahead of your own.
16 I tell you the truth; no servant is greater than his master
God became man, showed us how to live as men and women.
It was suprising to all of them but it was also disappointing to Judas…who betrayed Jesus for a pocket full of temporary happiness…that would bring him misery to the point of suicide.
The world’s wisdom regarding both the path to greatness and the path to happiness is wrong.
True greatness and happiness is to put the interests of others ahead of your own.
This is true in your home…your work…your classroom…it is true for everyone, everywhere.
Ayn (eye-n (pine)) Rand
Has a large and devoted following in America 29 million copies have been sold.
She died in 1982.
She was a determined, outspoken, atheist.
I’m going to contrast her vision of the good life with those of CS Lewis…a Christian she had a particular hatred for.
Rand: “By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man–every man–is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”
Lewis: “Human history is…the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Rand: “Why is it good to make others happy, it is good to make others happy when and if those others mean something to you selfishly.”
Lewis: “Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.”
Two distinct paths.
Rand was smart and she was utterly wrong.
Not because she disagreed with Lewis…but because she disagreed with Jesus.
And her approach to life has been nearly universally tried and has been an abysmal failure.
The selfish life has not made anyone truly happy…not for long at least.
It twists us on the inside and then it twists us on the outside.
When we are twisted inside and out…happiness becomes virtually impossible to experience.
We become like one of Hawking’s black holes…sucking everything in, and yet never fulfilled.
On the other hand, Jesus said that if we do as he did…serve others…we will be blessed…a word that literally means “happy”
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (17)
A step of faith:
This kind of life is a series of steps of faith…to actually serve others and believe it is the way of the good life is going to go against what most of the world believes and does.
You will find yourself, in many situations, in the minority, others won’t be living this way…and it will look often like a path to unhappiness rather than happiness.
Then there is the difficulty of knowing how to actually do this?
Do I let everyone go in front of me at the airport?…if so I would spend the rest of my life at DFW waiting to get through security.
Do I let someone less qualified have the promotion or let the other person win the race?
These kinds of situations are resolved with some common sense.
The toughest situations are those where we know exactly what needs to happen…its not unclear…its just unpleasant to consider.
I need to initiate forgiveness…or conversation…or serve when I feel slighted.
I need to move towards that person relationally again, when I want to move away from them.
I need to die to anger when I served and then was treated like a servant…rather than a hero.
I need to see myself as a servant when right now, right here…I want to make sure others know I am important or smart or cool or mad or offended…or whatever.
“I can’t let others walk all over me…how is that good?”
I know the applications are varied and difficult…and no, we don’t have to let others walk on us as a rule…there are times when we do need to let this happen.
But the heart of this is clear…”Put the interests of others ahead of your own.”
This is the good life, life in the kingdom…it is your design specifications…there is no other way that will bring about a life full of good.
It will take faith to believe this in a way where you practice it to the point of proving it true with your life.
Jesus said that we would be “blessed” “happy” if we sought to serve not to be served.
What do you think? Was he wrong about this?
We are all moving towards an image of the “good life” as we see it.
We can give “lip service” to these words of Jesus…but what we give “life service” to is who we are actually becoming.
Our year long journey (life long) is closing the gap.
We are not “there” yet…we are closing the gap on this.
What do you need to repent of today?
How do you need Jesus to wash your feet this morning?
If you are a follower of Christ, if you have given your life to him…you are clean…you don’t need a bath.
But it is likely that you need to have your feet washed again by Jesus…your heart, and mind…have moved towards serving self not God and others.
He is ready to cleanse you of your sins…to restore you.
Easter season is an important time of reflection…I often say “mess up/fess up/move on”
From 1 John 1:9
However I do not mean by that we are not to think deeply and repent fully of our sins.
It is not “sin” and then…without remorse or reflection…go through the motions of repentance.
I am not suggesting we wallow in guilt…but experiencing sorrow for my sins is important for me to close the gap…to grow.
How can we love God and not be sorry when we grieve him.
Eph. 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Grieve here is not “don’t tick God off”…it is don’t bring him sorrow, or pain.
We can, through our sin of selfishness…break his heart.
We can, however, because of what Christ has done…repent and be cleansed.
Let’s reflect, repent…and then rejoice in our forgiveness.