Great Expectations

Today is Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King—our purpose in gathering here is to worship King Jesus. Our purpose every time we gather here is to worship King Jesus. All around the world people are gathering in churches today to worship King Jesus. But how well do we really know this Jesus that we worship? And what does it mean to worship Him?

For the third time LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries have examined what evangelicals believe. An evangelical is defined as someone who believes that the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism, or sharing the gospel, is very important, that sin can only be removed by Jesus’ death, and that salvation comes only through trusting Jesus as Savior.

Christianity Today in its December issue shares some of the results, pointing to our favorite heresies. Heresy, of course, is a belief contrary to established church doctrine. And the greatest heresy in the church today, according to this study, is the belief by 73% that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” If you add in those who somewhat agreed or weren’t sure, more than 80% of evangelical Christians think that Jesus is a created being.

Of course Jesus is not a created being—Jesus is the Creator. God the Father didn’t decide at some point to create Jesus. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have all existed together for all eternity—without beginning and without end. Perhaps it’s because this mystery is so profound that we have so much trouble understanding, or even believing it.

In light of the fact that so many of us apparently don’t understand that Jesus Christ is and always has been King of the universe, perhaps it’s not surprising that nearly half of us either believe or aren’t sure whether worshiping alone or with one’s family is a way to replace church. Or that more than half believe that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, from the very first page of Scripture, we find a God in community—a perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a community that has been coexisting in perfect relationship forever. With no beginning and no end. And we are created in the image of God—God created man and then He created woman, a helper for him. And God’s instructions to the couple were, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). “Go and grow the community.”

The Son and the Spirit were with the Father at creation—they have been with Him always. Neither is either a created being or simply a force.

In the same survey, about a third of evangelicals either believe or aren’t certain whether modern science disproves the Bible. So if you haven’t seen this news story, I’d like to tell you that over the past few days it’s been reported that scientists in the U.S. and Switzerland, working together, have discovered through their study of DNA that all human beings living today are descended from a single set of parents. Further, they discovered that the same is true for at least 90% of animals living today. They believe that this happened about 100,000 years ago.

Their theory is that life existed long before that—because otherwise they can’t hang onto their idea that the earth is billions, or at least millions, of years old nor can they hold onto the whole idea of evolution. They think that some catastrophic event wiped out all life on earth and then it began again—in some kind of sudden big bang kind of way, with all life appearing at once.

For those of you who doubt—could it be that the Bible really is true? All of it—including the first chapters of Genesis?

Getting back to Christ the King—we’re created in God’s image and so created to live in community. 2000 years ago, God sent His only Son to live among us. And one of the reasons Jesus came was to form a new community—to form a new family. To form a body, a people—a people that we know as the church.

God Almighty, Creator of the universe and all that is in it—including you and me—has invited us into His family. Because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. Wants to fellowship with us. He wants His family to gather at His house to worship Him, to spend time with Him. He’s given us the family history and He wants us to get to know Him—to love Him and to love all our brothers and sisters in this amazing family.

This is what we find in the 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has gathered a group of men to be with Him—a group of men that we know by name. A group of men to be the beginning of His new family. Later, in Chapter 12, when Jesus’ mother and brothers come and want to speak to Jesus, Matthew tells us what happened: “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:49-50). We find these exact words repeated in the gospels of Mark and Luke as well.

And at the end of all four gospels, when Jesus and His disciples gather in the upper room to share the Passover meal, we see this even more clearly. Because the Passover has been from the very beginning, according to the instructions given by God, a family event. An event celebrated “according to their father’ houses” (Exodus 12:3). Jesus has called the Twelve away from their families to celebrate Passover with Him—a new family has been created.

And as at the beginning of creation, this new family is to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” In this morning’s gospel passage, we find Jesus calling His new family to join the family business—the business of proclaiming the kingdom of God—or the kingdom of heaven, as Matthew calls it. Jesus is giving instructions and sending the Twelve out—sending them to invite others to join the family. “To be fruitful and multiply.”

We have become so comfortable in our faith here in this country that we’ve forgotten how important it is to be a part of this family. We’ve forgotten what it is to not be a part of it.

A few weeks ago, when Denny and I spent a few days on the North Shore of Lake Superior, we visited Gooseberry State Park. This is the most visited state park in Minnesota and it’s beautiful and wild and can be dangerous. There’s a wonderful visitor’s center where there are lots of great exhibits that teach visitors about the park. There’s a small theater where films are shown explaining the park and how it came to be.

The Gooseberry River runs through the park, emptying into Lake Superior. And there are five waterfalls on the river. The last is the largest and it is truly magnificent, especially in years like this one, where the summer has been rainy. There are trails going to all five falls, but as you hike back to the fifth fall, the terrain becomes increasingly difficult. While the first fall is always crowded with visitors, the crowd rapidly decreases as you make your way back to the other falls.

The park is large and some trails run dangerously close to drop-offs. There are many signs reminding parents to watch children closely. At the same time, the park is continually adding wooden boardwalks, railings, and steps to what once were much more primitive trails. Making it safer and more easily accessible.

Kind of like the church in this country. If you become a Christian is China or Pakistan or Iran or Nigeria or in many other countries, you know that there’s a very good chance that by choosing to commit your life to King Jesus, you’ll be disowned by brothers and sisters and parents. If your family is Muslim, they’ll not only disown you—they might actually try to kill you. In all these countries, your church family is of vital importance because you have lost the family you grew up in.

This is what happened to Jesus—His family thought He had lost His mind. They came and wanted to take Him home. He was an embarrassment to them. And so He walked away from them—because for King Jesus, He was committed to His Father in heaven.

We can come to church when it’s convenient and we can enjoy a lot of the blessings of being part of God’s family. But when all we do is come when it works out for us, come when we don’t have a family dinner to prepare for or a ball game to attend or relatives visiting—when almost anything comes ahead of worshiping King Jesus together with our brothers and sisters in the faith, then perhaps we’re fooling ourselves. Perhaps we’re no really worshiping Him.

Perhaps we’re like those people who go to Gooseberry State Park and sit in the visitor’s center looking at exhibits and watching movies about the park. They don’t want to exert themselves by actually going out and walking on the trails to enjoy the beauty of God’s magnificent creation. They don’t want to be challenged by the rocky terrain, by the sometimes steep climb. They go away thinking that they’ve experienced the park, but really all they experienced was a pale imitation.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand right from the beginning that there was more to being a part of His family than just watching Him do miracles. He wanted them to understand that the family business is saving souls. Not the world—just souls.

A few weeks ago I told you about a lighthouse. Today I want to tell you a parable ….

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a humble little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat and not very many members, but they were devoted to their mission. They kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought to their own safety, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.

Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, and its reputation spread. Some of those who were saved, as well as others from the surrounding area, wanted to become part of the station. They wanted to donate their time and money and effort to support the life saving work. New boats were purchased and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some of the new members were unhappy that the building was so small and poorly equipped. They thought that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.

So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in a new and bigger building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.

Fewer of the members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.

They still talked a lot about lifesaving but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to actually take part in the lifesaving activities.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people.

They were dirty and sick; some of them had colored skin; some of them spoke a foreign language—and the beautiful new building was considerably messed up. So the property committee had a separate shower house built where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a division among the membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, saying they were too unpleasant and disrupted the normal life pattern of  the club.

But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. They were, however, finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in these waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another lifesaving station was founded.

If you visit that seacoast today, you’ll find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, only now most of the people drown.

This is a picture of the American church. When new churches are planted, everyone is excited about bringing others into the family. They work hard at it. But eventually we become complacent; our house gets more comfortable and we’re comfortable with the people in it. We’re not really even certain that we want those people out there to join us—they might not want to do things the way we want to do them. They might want us to do things for them.

We’ve become more about being a comfortable club than about being a lifesaving station.

But the question then is: are we really here to worship King Jesus? Are we really even a part of His family? Or are we fooling ourselves into believing that we are? Because Jesus said,  “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Not: “Whoever accepts my invitation to join the family.” Not “whoever shows up when it’s convenient.” Not “whoever’s been baptized as a baby.”

But “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus has great expectations. He expects us to be about the family business of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. He doesn’t promise that it will be easy. In fact He says that “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Some of those who might hate us, He says, are even brothers and parents. But if we recognize Jesus as our King, He says we must continue His work.

A few weeks ago, I told you about Split Rock lighthouse, which was built on a rock high above Lake Superior north of Duluth. Built because on November 28, 1905, a horrific storm wrecked 29 ships and took the lives of more than 60 sailors. As a result, the U.S. Lighthouse Service sent an assistant lighthouse engineer named Ralph Russell Tinkham to determine the best location and then to design and build the lighthouse.

Tinkham knew immediately that the top of Split Rock, which rose 130 feet above the lake was the place where the lighthouse needed to be. But there were a lot of problems to overcome, the first of which was that the location was accessible only by boat. There was no roads and no way at that time even to build roads to Split Rock. If you’ve ever driven Highway 61 along the North Shore, you can understand why. Some sections of the highway run between high walls of rock; other sections are tunnels, literally blasted right through the rock.

So the first problem with building this lighthouse was how to get supplies and building materials to the site. A steam powered hoist and derrick system was created to haul goods up the rock, but the frequent high winds and waves often made it impossible to use. So in 1916, an elevated railway was constructed. It was the only way for both supplies and people to go to and from the lighthouse until the highway was completed in 1924.

The lighthouse was commissioned in 1905, but took until 1910 to complete. Tinkham could have looked at the site and decided that, although it was clearly the best possible place for the light, that the problems were too overwhelming—he might have given up on Split Rock and just moved on to a less desirable location. But he didn’t. Tinkham knew that more lives would be saved if the light was placed at the top of Split Rock—and so he persevered.

Ralph Russell Tinkham didn’t know it then, but his willingness to do whatever it took to build the best possible lighthouse in the best possible location would catapult him to the position of chief engineer in the entire U. S. Lighthouse Service.

Like our farmers bringing in the harvest, Tinkham was committed to getting the job done. Not a single life was lost along the North Shore of Lake Superior following the completion of Split Rock Lighthouse.

We, unlike farmers and lighthouse builders, have the most important call of all—to save lost souls.

But when the labor gets hard, we often turn away. We decide to stay safely inside our lifesaving station. Like people in the visitors center at Gooseberry State Park, we think that we can experience what it is to truly live for King Jesus without ever leaving the house.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, King Jesus has great expectations. He wants His family to increase and multiply. He knows that the only way that will happen is if you and I are willing to go out into the world to share the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. To share it with lost people. And then to invite them into the safety of our lifesaving station to be disciples, to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ. To get to know Him enough to truly love Him and long to serve Him.

To love Him more than we love ourselves or our reputations. More than we love our own families. More than we love all the idols that fill our own homes.

Being a part of the family of King Jesus was never intended to be comfortable or easy—but the rewards are beyond anything we can even begin to imagine.

Let us pray.