Today I am asking us as we prepare to welcome Christ into our hearts and minds for Christmas to think about Christ being like us in every way, knowing what it is to be tempted, to be downtrodden, to struggle, to experience joy, and to live a life in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit and his relationship with God the Father. To followers of Christ, Jesus is our hero, the person that we look to for our salvation, our hope and our future. Jesus is everything that we hope to be and if there is anyone that we count on to save the day it is Him. Yet even though Christ is our hero, I also believe that we can live exactly as Christ did while he was on earth. Jesus is our hero, but he is a hero whose life we can actually follow. Jesus is not simply a hero who we depend upon to save us, but he is also a hero who says to us “come and follow me, do as I do” and even at one point says to us “greater things will you do than these.” It is this Jesus that I want us to encounter this morning.
We live in a time of Heroes:
I find myself continually thankful that I live in the time that I do. I am a product of the culture of my time. I remember when the internet first became popular, but as an adult I have never known a time without it. I remember when cell phones first came on the scene, but I also consider myself fortunate that my entire adult life I have had a cell phone. However one of the aspects of our current culture that I am personally most thankful for is that in our time it is totally acceptable to be an adult who loves superheroes. Gone are the days when superheroes were only for kids, or geeks, now it is cool to wear a batman t-shirt to work. Why am I so thankful for this? Well if you have ever been by my office you will understand what I’m talking about. I have assembled within it a small collection of superhero memorabilia. I have a plastic cup devoted to each member of the Avengers, I have several flash figurines. My Screen saver on my computer is one of the X-Men. This morning I am wearing my flash T-Shirt and Batman boxers. Yesterday I spent time watching a series of cartoons based upon the Avengers movie. In fact so much is my fascination with superheroes that as an elementary school kid I invented my own superhero. As a kid I had many nicknames that centered around my last name “Maroni.” It’s amazing how many things rhyme with Maroni. By far the most popular choice was also the most obvious, macaroni. In fact to this day students in my mom’s 2nd Grade class will call her Mrs. Macaroni. So as a fourth grader who desired to grow up to be a cartoonist, I invented my own superhero “Macaroni Man” and his arch nemesis “Dr. Cheese.” By today’s standards he had rather modest superpowers. He was shaped like a macaroni noodle and fought evil with his macaroni boomerang and macaroni nun chucks. Dr. Cheese on the other hand had more menacing powers, least of which was the ability to manipulate all cheese the way Magneto can manipulate metal. As a kid I projected who I wanted to be into Macaroni Man, he had adventures and did things that I wish I could do.
Our culture has a current fascination with super heroes, and I want to ask all of you, why you think that might be? Why do we love heroes? In case you’re wondering this isn’t a rhetorical question.
All of these reasons are true. As I was thinking about this question myself I kept coming back to the reason I love superheroes. I love them because they can do things that I could never do, and have power that is inaccessible to me. I could never fly, pick up cars, travel to different universes or defeat evil. Heck I could never even have enough money to afford Batman’s utility belt. Yet we still find ourselves drawn to them.
My favorite superhero is the Flash, the fastest being in the universe. I chose him as my favorite because he was something that I never was, fast. Even though I played soccer my entire life, I was often the slowest person on the field. I knew that no matter how hard I trained, or how often I ran I would never be as fast as he was. I idolized him because he was what I could never be. I watched his cartoons and dreamed of living like he did, yet still knowing it could never be for me.
I think that unfortunately sometimes when we read the gospels, we think of Jesus in a similar fashion. He is our hero, and when we read about his life sometimes we are tempted to think “I could never as Jesus lived.” I might be able to be like him, but he is Jesus, he did things that are impossible for us to do. We think that even though the Gospel tells us that Jesus was fully human, that he had a switch he could turn on in any instance. That at any point he could access his divinity, and live in a way that is inaccessible to us.
To illustrate what I’m talking about I’m going to show a clip from the Disney movie The Incredibles. If you haven’t seen the film I would encourage you to get it and watch it. It tells the story of a family of superheroes living in a time where superheroes are being sued for using their powers. The scene we’re going to watch comes from the very end of the movie, as the family goes to a track meet where Dash the middle child is competing. It just so happens that his superpower is super speed. Dennis go ahead and start the clip.
I love that scene, not only because it is humorous, but because who doesn’t wish secretly that they were a member of a family of superheroes? Yet I am also greatly challenged by that scene.
I think that sometimes when we read the gospels we think of Jesus like Dash at his track meet. That at any point in his life here on earth, he could turn it on and become the omnipotent all powerful son of God, leaving everyone in his dust. That as he healed the sick, raised the dead, and lived a life of intimacy with God because of his divinity. I have even found myself making jokes at times saying “of course he could do that, he’s Jesus.” I am going to contend this morning that Jesus couldn’t just switch it on, that he didn’t have a trap-door to heaven but rather that he was a human just like you and me. A human who needed his relationship with God the Father to sustain himself, and that when we talk about following Jesus, we mean being just like him.
This morning I want to challenge this notion, encouraging us that Jesus was like us in every way when he walked on earth. I want to encourage us to look at Jesus through the lens of Philippians 2:1-11.
Jesus viewed through the lens of Philippians 2:
This morning I want us to think of Jesus how he is described in Philippians 2:1-11, I’m going to be reading from the NIV:
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but rather put aside his equality with God the Father to come to earth and live as a human. Most heroes put on a suit which is meant to enhance their power. When Christ came on earth he put on the suit of humanity, he became less rather than greater. This morning I am contending that when Jesus came to earth, he put aside his divinity in order to take up the mantle of humanity. He did this because he knew that we need a savior that we could actually follow, not just a hero we could idolize.
The Rhythm of Jesus’ Life, the source of his power:
All heroes have a source of their power, Superman derives his from the sun’s rays, Green Lantern derives his from his own Green Lantern. Christ got the power for his ministry from the Rhythm in which he lived, moving from solitude-community-ministry.
When we read the Scriptures we see a distinct Rhythm to how Jesus lived his life. I am going to contend this morning that Jesus got the power for his ministry from this rhythm and through his dependence upon the Holy Spirit and his relationship with God the Father. In the Gospels we consistently see Jesus going from Solitude to Community to Ministry. It is the flow of his life. We see it over and over again in the Gospels. Jesus goes off on a mountain to pray, he spends time with his disciples, and then does ministry among the people.
I am going to contend this morning that the power of Jesus in his life of ministry came from this rhythm, and also that it is a rhythm that we are called to follow and it is a power to which we have access.
12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon,18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured,19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
In this text we see a familiar story for us, the calling of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Yet as we read it I want you to be looking for that rhythm that I described earlier… In this text we see how Jesus went alone by himself to pray, in fact he spent all night praying about the decision he was going to be making. It is a decision about his community, the commissioning of the twelve apostles is the creation of the community that Jesus will spent his life in. They are essential, and we see here how Jesus moved from solitude in prayer into community. The text continues and shows us how Jesus moved from his community (the apostles) into ministry. Jesus did not simply call his community together for the sake of mission. He did so because he needed to be in vital community. This is how Jesus lived out his earthly life among us. It was this rhythm that gave him the power to do his ministry, it was not his innate divinity, but rather it was his complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit that gave him the power to do his ministry. When Jesus went up on the mountain to pray it wasn’t as if he was having a conversation with himself, he was pouring out his heart to God the Father. Jesus’ dependence upon the Holy Spirit gives us a very tangible model to follow. Jesus was able to heal the sick, raise the dead, and advance the Kingdom of God not just because he was Jesus, but because he allowed the Spirit to move freely through him. He knew that he needed a vibrant intimate relationship with God in order to do the work he had been called to. If he was dependent upon the Holy Spirit for the power of his ministry, we have access to the same power to do ministry as Jesus did. For we have been given the Holy Spirit as people of faith. The rhythm and model in which Jesus lived his life should be one that we ourselves follow. We can live as Jesus lived.
Conclusion, we can follow Jesus:
This morning we have encountered a very human, but powerful Jesus. We have seen that Jesus was like us in every way, understanding our struggles and temptations. The Jesus we have spoken about this morning is not just the heroic divine son of God, but also a powerful human leader who gave us the only example of how to live well. When we look at the life and earthly ministry of Jesus through the lens of Philippians 2, we see a Jesus who put aside his divinity to come to earth as a human being.
If I could leave you with one thing this morning it would be this. That you can live exactly as Jesus did, and that the power he experienced in his ministry is one you can experience as well. We cannot make excuses for ourselves saying things like “well that was Jesus” or “of course Jesus could do that.” For the power that Jesus had while on earth is accessible to us. If you want to know this power that Jesus accessed, go out and do the things that he did. Spend intentional time in prayer, seriously invest your time and effort in your Christian community and engage in real ministry. Serve the poor, help those who need you, and cry out for justice for the oppressed. Hang out with people you don’t usually hang out with. Get to know people at work, or people you encounter in your daily lives. Relax when someone cuts you off when you are driving. Be a person who speaks up for those who don’t have a voice. These are all very practical things that you can do that Jesus did, and you can do them with the same power he had. It was things like this that Jesus considered worth dying for. He was indeed the divine son of God who died for our sins, but he was also a radical human being who threatened the oppressive powers around him. A hero who didn’t have a trap door to heaven but rather A human being who said to us “GREATER THINGS WILL YOU DO THAN THESE.” I wonder if when we read that we take Jesus seriously. Do you believe it, that Jesus meant what he said when he said this about us? Do we as a community of faith believe that we can live as Jesus lived? I want to be a person and part of a Christian community that answers that question with a resounding Amen, or Come On, or whatever you say when you’re excited. We can live a quality of life that is in line with Christ. We will never be perfect, but we can be like Jesus in every other way. Let us go into the world and live as Jesus did, and show the world the gospel through the actions of the people of God.
Message given by Jon Maroni at Spokane Friends Church, May 27, 2018