Central Christian Church Message Podcast

Even If It Was Messy | Would You Believe? | Pastor Caleb Baker

January 03, 2023 Central Christian Church of Arizona
Central Christian Church Message Podcast
Even If It Was Messy | Would You Believe? | Pastor Caleb Baker
Show Notes Transcript

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 I've been thinking a lot lately about the imagery of the cross. Now, I don't know about you, but for me, growing up in the church, the cross was essentially a logo. Like I was a little kid, right? I couldn't wrap my brain around the totality of the sacrifice that Jesus made for me. I couldn't even begin to imagine what crosses actually were in the first century Roman Empire.

I just knew we were Christians, and the cross was a big. I saw it in the churches we went to. I saw it on people's clothing and their cars, and as I got a little older, I began to hear a lot of the songs at church singing about this cross. Before I even began to understand the cross, I knew that I was somehow associated with it.

We spent our Christmas season this year at Central asking a question over and over again. Would you believe. Would you believe, as we unpack the Christmas story we've highlighted week after week, just how untidy and intense the circumstances around Jesus' birth truly were. Would you still believe even after a long wait for a Messiah, like hundreds and hundreds of years of the Israelite people waiting for the promise that someday God would send a Messiah savior, an anointed one to bring his people back?

generation after generation of Hebrews that passed this promise down to their children waiting for their savior, would you believe even if it took forever, And then the time comes and, and it's happening, but it, it's nothing like the people expected. Right? This savior was born to a virgin woman awaiting her marriage, and this woman wasn't from a prestigious family.

She didn't have money. Her, her soon-to-be husband didn't really have money. They, they weren't from a fancy city with education or status. They were just people from a town that didn't really even deserve to be mention. , but this faithful woman received this assignment directly from the heavens. And even though they had to travel before having the baby, and even though there was no place for them when the baby needed to be delivered, and even though they had no idea how any of this would work out, it did.

He was born just like God. And he went on to teach and love people and open blind eyes and open deaf ears and heal the lame and the leper. He began to develop a following with, with this teaching of a new kingdom that would change everything for our world to develop this worldview that the teaching of human dignity and, and emphasis of pure hearts rather than some surface level religion.

And, and then we get back to the cross. Jesus ended up on this cross because of his.  because he let in those you were supposed to throw out, he stood up for those you were supposed to push down. He spoke up against the systems that kept the rich and powerful, rich and powerful at the expense of those in the margins, and he was arrested and tried and beaten and nailed to that cross that prominent vehicle of Roman execution.

To make a brutal, definitive message for all of Rome's enemies designed to ensure that those put up on that cross would die the worst kind of death. Incredibly painful and gradual. Many of us know this story to varying degrees, but what's interesting to me is all the different forms the cross has taken since, since that day, and this is really where our problem comes in if we're being honest, right?

For a lot of. The hard part of associating with this cross isn't actually with the original cross. It's, it's not a fear of being associated with that broken savior, dying for the sins of the world. It's the different ways that the cross has been represented over the last couple of thousand years. A few of the commentaries I was reading observed that we don't see a lot of cross imagery in the first couple centuries of the church, meaning in the first a hundred or 150 years after Jesus actually died on the cross.

There wasn't a lot of cross representation in the artifacts that have been discovered from those times and places we're not a hundred percent sure why, but a lot of scholars have guessed that many of the early Christians didn't draw crosses on things or didn't have crosses as visual reminders. They were too close to it.

They were still under Roman occupation. They were reminded often about the brutal stakes of crucifixion. In other words, they didn't need a reminder in the same way that we do. There was no way to romanticize the cross for them. And while they're still grateful for the sacrifice that Jesus made, a cross wasn't a symbol.

It was a tool for execution. And then if you fast forward a few hundred years, we've, we've seen Christianity take. In Rome and as the Roman Empire spread, the cross is engraved on the front of these Roman shields. An execution instrument that a savior endured because of his love for his people has now become a symbol of military power and rule.

I mean, we can't get away from the irony of this, that cross that Jesus gave his life on to establish peace for all people had become a military badge. And we continue to see religion building deeper and deeper roots in Europe. Christianity's taking on various forms, and we see more and more demonstrations of this cross that symbolize the brutal death of the lamb of God in atoning sacrifice being reduced down to ritual and superstition, the divine reign of Jesus taking a backseat to religious.

while our church ancestors are losing sight. A little bit of the heart of Jesus. The emphasis to care for the poor, to take care of the need, either spending their time checking boxes and building Christian societies. See, this cross has been represented in many different forms, and these have just been a few examples.

I mean, if we had more time, we could look at a. More. But to me this is a significant snapshot into the history of the church. This is what can happen when the cross becomes about power or status or the kingdoms on earth. This is what happens when Christianity becomes its own thing, rather than just following the Jesus that's at the core of it.

I remember being a little kid, sitting in class, learning of the enslaved people being freed in our own country, and then the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement. And I'll never forget the first time I saw a picture in one of my textbooks of a cross burning in someone's yard. It was one of the first times I felt this tension within me, this cross that I've grown up learning.

This cross that made it possible for me to belong this cross that made it possible for everyone to belong was being used as a tool to intimidate and isolate black people in our country. How did it get like this? As Christian people? What are, what are we supposed to do? And there's so much good that the church has done caring for orphans and widows.

The sick and spreading the gospel into broken places. But we can't get away from the fact that some of the parts of this history aren't that good. And as much as we hate to admit it, when people see this cross, these are some of the things they see. So as we close out this would you Believe series, I want to ask you, would you believe even if it was messy, even if the only perfect thing about us was our savior, would you still.

I wanna read a few verses outta Romans eight to help us answer this question. Today, Paul is writing this letter to that very church in Rome in the first century, probably 25 years or so after Jesus actually died on that cross. And he's talking about the struggles they were facing and the struggles that they would continue to face as they try to follow Jesus.

So Romans eight, starting in verse eight. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us for the creation waits an eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it and hoped that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of.

Yeah. I think Paul gives us a really powerful insight into how we can and should view this tension that, that we're talking about. We shouldn't be surprised that it's messy. It was always gonna be a little bit messy. It's us and we're messy. The hard part for us is remembering that there's a glory that God is revealing in us.

It's an ongoing word. It's continuing. And oftentimes when Christianity is a brand we're trying to uphold, we have to do our best to make it seem like we have everything together. And this has been true for a long time in the church. It's led to a lack of honesty and transparency within our churches because there's a pressure to have it all together.

And Paul says, clearly, I consider that our present suffering. See, there's no universe where we're gonna completely avoid the sufferings that exist because of our fallen world. And if we're busy trying to cover up the present sufferings that are happen. Around us or within us. We're gonna miss out on the future glory that God means to reveal in us That very glory is revealed by persevering through the suffering.

There's no co coincidence that the best news ever told involves our savior dying a ruthless death. This theme is all throughout scripture that God is strong in our weakness, that God's faithfulness is on full display in. Of our unfaithful, and the best we can do is to be honest about our present sufferings so that the glory of God can be revealed in us Friends.

It should not be so hard for us to admit that there have been things in our history, things in our church history that we're not proud of, that we wanna improve on things that we want to grow from. That's what you do with things you love, you, you see it for what it is, and you work for what it could be.

I wanna pour myself out regardless of the sufferings around. Or the sufferings within me so that God might be glorified in my life, so that the glory of the Lord might be revealed in me in spite of me. These next few verses are so powerful. I want to read 'em together again. Starting right there in verse 19, it says, for the creation, weights and eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own. But by the will of the one who subjected it and hoped that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. See, this was always, this was always gonna be messy. God created us with an inevitable gap, this longing within us that can only be fulfilled by us stepping into the men and women that he made us to be.

And Paul uses some hyperbole here that even creation is longing for the sons and daughters of God to realize their purpose, to realize that only God can offer a life worth living. I think it's in this frustration that Paul writes about that we see so, Of the blemishes in the history of the church, this frustration that God created us with to run to him for purpose and love and pleasure and joy, that can only be found in him.

And when we try to achieve that on our own, it's a never-ending search for things that aren't going to fill up. Us, we can run our whole lives trying to build our own kingdom, trying to buy more status and more power regardless of what we have to compromise. And then it's like, if you're not with me, you're a threat.

And all of a sudden there's rules that you're not good enough to keep. And I might be, et cetera. But man, this is such good news out of Romans eight, even though it's. Even though it's hard to come to grips with, Paul writes specifically, the creation was subjected to frustration, not not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it and hope that creation itself would be liberated.

See, God created us with this longing inside of us in a sense. God created us incomplete with our free will to go out and live our lives. And thankfully, he created us to need more purpose and more life than the world can offer you. Were designed to long for more than the world can offer you. There isn't a level of power that you could achieve that would sustain you.

There's not a salary or a net worth that would sustain you there. There. There's not a popularity or an amount of social clout that you could get that would. Be enough. God created us as worshipers in a way that he alone would be able to fill us. And when we choose to run back to God to fill that gap within our souls, then his glory will be revealed in us.

We've talked a lot today about the cross and some of the different ways the cross has been used over the course of the last couple of thousand years. I wanna close our time today reading a verse that's really familiar to our church. And I hope it's a call to action for us as we try to step into our messiness so that God might be glorified.

Luke 9 23. Jesus says, then he said to them all, whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. The church has always been at its worst when it's running after power. Status or superstition. And rather than diagnose the church and judge its history, I wanna look at my own life.

Where am I giving into fear or to pride? Am I making a decision or having a conversation? Whatever it is, because of fear or because of how proud I am is this, is this just about.  Is my faith being guided by what? What I'm afraid of losing? Is my Christianity influenced by what I think I deserve? Am I using the cross as a shield to protect my name or my agenda or my desires?

Am I using the cross as a superstition or a ritual or a get me outta jail free card? Am I using the cross to isolate people or intimidate people or to uphold systems of oppress? Or hate, or am I doing what Jesus called me to do if I want to be as disciple, to deny myself, to deny my shield, to deny my rituals, to deny my hate, and pick up my cross following him wherever he leads?

I don't know your background. I don't know. I don't know what images and stories come to mind when you see a cross, but all of us have to answer this for ourselves today. Would you believe even, even if it was messy, With this simple but really heavy calling from Jesus, be enough for you to pick up your cross every single day, denying yourself, denying all the things that might feel more natural, denying all the things that the world tells us to live for denying our own need to make our lives about us.

Would following Jesus be enough for you and for. To deny ourselves that we might step into the men and women that we were created to be so that God would be glorified by our lives. It's my prayer that we could walk into that every day embracing our sufferings, holding on to the grace that we've received from that savior on that cross.

It's a new year, and today is our chance to say yes, and I know it's messy. Would you still believe God, let me pray for my church and family. And we lift. We lift everybody up. God that's watching this. I just asked that by your Holy Spirit power, that we would begin to get this us, that the cross wouldn't be about us God, it wouldn't be about our comfort.

It wouldn't be about our status. It wouldn't. About the things that feel right to us, but that just like Jesus challenges us with Lord, that we would pick up our cross each and every day, God, as best as we could to follow you, that we would deny ourselves as we step into the people that you've made us to be.

I'm so thankful to be a part of this church family, Lord, and I just pray for every single one of us that we would be challenged by this today by your Holy Spirit in the way that only you. Would you illuminate this truth in our hearts and in our souls that we might leave different, that we might step into this new year with a new purpose and a new vibrancy, and a new understanding of all the things that you've done for us?

We love you so much, God, we pray this in Jesus name. Amen.