We’re starting a brand new series today called Do The Math. And I’ll be very honest…me preaching a series that has the word “math” in the title is just hilarious.
I hate math. Actually, that’s probably not a strong enough statement. I despise math. I loathe math. I detest math. I abhor math. And I would keep going, but these are all the words that the thesaurus had for me. But I think you get the idea.
I failed one class in my entire life. Elementary school, Jr. High, high school, and college…I only failed one class in my entire educational career. I was a freshman in high school, and the class was Algebra I.
I flunked. But, it wasn’t because I didn’t try. It’s because I just didn’t get it. Up until my freshman year, math had been kind of hard for me, but I at least understood the concept.
But now, in Algebra, all of a sudden my math problems had letters in them. And as far as I was concerned, letters were for English class. Numbers were for math class. And mixing the two together was absolutely ridiculous.
Every time I walked into this class, I felt like I walked into a foreign country where everyone knew the language except me. Seriously…coefficient, polynomial, rational and irrational numbers, the radical sign, the FOIL method…who talks like this?!?!
I just didn’t get it. And to be honest, I still don’t get it. I know somebody is thinking, “Well, I knew what all those terms meant. This is so simple. I really like math. My pastor must not be that bright.”
Okay, your pastor isn’t that bright. But my friend, if you really like this stuff, you’re a weirdo. So if I’m not that bright and you’re a weirdo, I can always study to fix my problem. What are you going to do about yours?
Seriously, I’ve never understood math. My wife is the one who does all our finances because if she didn’t, we’d be in prison. I went to Bible College, partially because I wanted a deep and thorough Biblical education, and partially because there were absolutely no math classes required.
Math is my kryptonite. So when we planned a series called Do The Math, all I could do was laugh because it’s just a hilarious notion that I could teach anyone anything about math.
But thankfully, we’re not dealing with Algebra or Geometry or Trigonometry in this series. And I don’t even know what Calculus is, but I’m pretty sure your doctor could prescribe an ointment that would make it go away.
In this series, we’re going to dial it back to a subject that I think I can handle. We’re going to do some basic arithmetic in this series. We’re going to talk about addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
But I will make you a promise…you’re not going to believe what will happen in your life and what will happen in our church when we learn and apply this basic arithmetic.
We’re going to be in John 3 for this whole series. And specifically, we’re going to focus in on something that a man named John the Baptist said.
Let’s pray and then we’ll do the math.
In John 3, we read about a discussion between John the Baptist and some of his followers.
Now, first of all, who was John the Baptist? Well, right off the bat, you should know that he wasn’t the kind of Baptist that you’re thinking of. And I thought about inserting some Baptist jokes here. After all, I grew up Baptist. I was a Baptist throughout my entire childhood. I have a lot of Baptist friends, so I figure I’m qualified to tell a joke or two. But sometimes the wiser side of me prevails, so we’ll just move on.
Okay, just one…if you insist. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb in the church sanctuary? None, because that would require raising your hands in church.
Now let’s move on! The kind of Baptist that you’re thinking of didn’t come along until much, much later. So when it comes to John the Baptist, maybe a better title for him would be John the Baptizer.
Here’s what John 1 says about John the Baptizer. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8, NIV)
John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, was a prophet that God sent to prepare the way for Jesus. And one way he did that was to baptize people in water. That’s where the name John the Baptist or John the Baptizer comes from.
John was such a powerful prophet that quite a number of people began to follow him. And they developed some misconceptions and misunderstandings about John and about Jesus. And that’s the discussion that we’re going to explore in this series.
So let’s get into it. The discussion is found in John 3. Starting in verse 26, the Apostle John wrote, “They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you [they are referring to Jesus here] on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.
That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:26-30, NIV)
John’s followers came to him and said, “Hey John, that guy Jesus that you’ve been talking about…he’s on the other side of the river. He’s baptizing people, too. But here’s the thing…he’s baptizing more people than you. It seems like everyone is now going to him. What are we going to do? You’ll lose your entire following if this keeps up. If we don’t do something, everyone will quit following you and they’ll start following Jesus.”
And that’s when John responds by saying, “That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. I’m not the Messiah. I was just sent here ahead of Him. And now that He’s here, He must become greater and I must become less.”
Or, a more accurate translation may be found in the English Standard Version. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, ESV)
And right there is where we need to center in on the simple arithmetic that God wants us to learn.
Today’s lesson is addition. And John laid it out for us in the simplest possible terms. Jesus must increase. We have to start by adding more of Him. He must increase.
He must increase in our lives. He must increase in our families. He must increase at work. He must increase at school. He must increase in our church. He must increase.
In other words, it’s all about Jesus.
If you’ve been part of our church for any length of time at all, you’ve heard this phrase. We say it all the time. It’s one of our core values as a church. It’s all about Jesus.
We talked a few weeks ago about how our goal for everything we do as a church is to help people see Jesus. It’s the driving force behind everything we do and everything we are.
I used to take the American Idol approach to church. I would work and work and work to write sermons that would “wow” people. In essence, that’s American Idol. Put in hours and hours of work and preparation, and then perform before a panel of judges who will say, “Yes I liked that,” or, “I didn’t really care for that,” or, “That was just downright awful.”
That’s where I used to be. I was the contestant. The church was the judge. And every week, I got graded on my performance.
Here’s where I am now. It took me a lot of years to get here. And I’m not pretending like I’m always perfect in this area. But more and more, here’s where I am…I don’t care. I just don’t care.
It doesn’t matter to me if you “enjoy” a message or not. I still put in the work and the prayer and the preparation. And some people still like to think of themselves as the judges who will grade my work. But that just doesn’t bother me anymore.
I don’t ask the question, “Will people like this?” anymore. Now I ask, “Will this help people see Jesus? What they think of me is irrelevant. Will this help people see Jesus?”
That’s exactly what John said to his followers. They came to him in a tizzy. They’re all worked up because people are starting to follow Jesus instead of John. And John said, “It’s not about me. I don’t care what people think about me. I’m here to point them to Jesus. And if people are leaving me to follow Jesus, then that’s perfect. That was the plan all along.”
It’s all about Jesus. John said, “It all comes back to some simple addition. Jesus must increase and I must decrease. It’s not about me. It’s all about Jesus.”
Tullian Tchividjian wrote a book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything. That’s the equation that works. That’s the equation that is true.
But we get into trouble when we muddy up the math.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything
Jesus + Something Else = Nothing
It’s really easy to hear the phrase, “It’s all about Jesus,” and say, “Yeah! Right on! It’s all about Jesus! Don’t need anything else but Jesus! Preach it!”
But let’s unpack this a little more. Is this really true for our church? Is this really true in your life?
For a lot of us, we’ll “amen” the first equation on the screen. Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
But in reality, we’re living the second equation. We’re living like what we really need is Jesus + Something Else.
The question is what is your Something Else? What is it for you?
There’s a reason I told you about the way I used to view church. The American Idol approach to church. The reason is because this used to be my Something Else. I used to live like what I really needed was Jesus + Approval. I’m a people-pleaser by nature. I like to be liked.
But the problem is that I started finding my identity in the approval of others. I found myself preaching for the approval of people instead of the applause of heaven. I found myself trying to avoid controversial decisions because I knew it would upset some people. The question wasn’t, “Will this help people see Jesus?” The question was, “Will this improve peoples’ opinion of me?”
That’s a deadly place to be as a pastor. That’s a deadly place to be as a person. But that’s where I was. I would preach all day long, “It’s all about Jesus! Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”
But in reality, I was living like Jesus wasn’t enough. I needed Jesus + Something Else.
What’s your Something Else?
Are you single, and your Something Else is a husband or a wife? Maybe Valentine’s Day this past week left you feeling especially empty. But if you had a spouse, then you would be whole. Then you would be complete. That’s Jesus + Something Else.
Or maybe your Something Else is your kids. As long as your kids are happy and successful, you’re good. What if that was taken away from you? What if your child didn’t excel, but instead they struggled? Is your identity so wrapped up in them that this would make things fall apart in your life? That’s Jesus + Something Else.
Is your Something Else a job? Maybe you’re unemployed. Maybe you have a job, but it’s way beneath what you thought you’d be doing…what you’re qualified to do. If you could just get the job you deserve, then you’d be set. That’s Jesus + Something Else.
Is your Something Else your health, or the health of someone you love? Health is a fragile thing. It can leave in an instant. If you or someone you love became sick…if there was no cure…could you go on? Or would that cause you to want to stop living?
Is your Something Else money or possessions or a certain standard of living? If you couldn’t drive the right car…if you had to move into a smaller house…if you didn’t have the same amount of zeros on your paycheck…then you’d fall apart. That’s Jesus + Something Else.
What is your Something Else? Is there something that, if it was taken away from you, would cause you to fall apart? Would it make life not worth living?
We refer to it as idolatry. But an idol doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
In his book, Tullian Tchividjian points out that, “An idol is a good thing that we’ve turned into an ultimate thing.”
It doesn’t have to be evil to be an idol. It can be a good thing that we’ve turned into an ultimate thing.
If there is something other than Jesus that gives us our worth, it’s an idol. If we find our identity in something or someone other than Jesus, it’s an idol. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be a good thing. But even a good thing can’t become an ultimate thing.
In the book of 2 Corinthians, we see that even the Apostle Paul had to learn this truth. He had a Something Else, and it was taken away from him. His Something Else was his health.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-9, NIV)
Paul developed some sort of health problem. He called it “a thorn in my flesh.” We don’t know what it was exactly, but we do know that he prayed for God to heal him. Not once, or even twice, but three times he prayed for God to take this health problem away from him.
But look at how God responded. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
God said, “My grace is enough. It’s all you need. You don’t need Jesus + Good Health. You need Jesus + Nothing. I’m enough for you, and I’m going to let this health problem continue so you will learn that truth. I am sufficient for you. I’m enough for you.”
Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Jesus + Something Else = Nothing
Either Jesus is all-sufficient, or He is insufficient. Either Jesus is everything, or He is nothing.
And here’s why I can be that blunt. Here’s why I can preach this message so hard. Here’s why I can so confidently get in your kitchen. It’s because of this overriding truth.
Whatever your Something Else is, you already have it in Christ. Everything you are hungry for, you already possess in Jesus.
I used to hunger for approval. I had to win the approval of people, until I realized that, in Christ, I already had God’s approval. And it wasn’t something I had to earn. It was something that was freely given to me. It used to be my Something Else, until I learned that I already had it.
Whatever your Something Else is, you already have it in Christ.
If money is your Something Else, you don’t yet understand the riches you have in Christ.
If your spouse is your Something Else, then you don’t fully understand the love of Christ.
If finding someone to be with is your Something Else, then you don’t fully understand the presence of Christ.
If you’re constantly worried about what the future holds, you don’t fully understand the security in Christ.
If holding on to friends is your biggest concerns, you don’t fully understand your acceptance in Christ.
Whatever you are hungry for, you already possess it in Jesus. Whatever your Something Else is, you already have it in Christ. He really is ALL-sufficient. But a lot of times, it takes a lot of pain and struggle for us to learn that lesson.
For most of us, we don’t realize that Jesus is all we need until Jesus is all we have. And at that moment, we learn the truth that it’s all about Jesus because Jesus is all I need.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Jesus + Something Else = Nothing
It’s really tough, but let me tell you what’s on the other side. If you can finally let go of your Something Else…if you really can find your identity and value and worth in Jesus alone…you know what you’ll find? Freedom.
There is incredible freedom when you realize that all you need is Jesus. You don’t need anything else. You don’t need to do anything else. It’s not based on what anyone else can do for you. And it’s something that can’t be taken away from you.
When it’s really all about Jesus, and it’s not about anything else, there is total, complete freedom there.
And that’s why our church is on the mission that we’re on. That’s why one of our core values is it’s all about Jesus.
That’s why when you come to church, you will hear us talk about Jesus all the time, and we’ll never apologize for it. Because we want you to be free, and Jesus is the only one who can set you free.
That’s why we’re willing to take a risk like relocating. That’s why we’re changing our name. It’s all about pointing people to Jesus. Helping them see Jesus. Connecting them to Jesus.
We want to connect them to Jesus because we want them to be set free. We want them to live lives of freedom. And we want them to be free for all eternity.
Go back to John 3. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
And then a few verses later, John wrote, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:30, 36, ESV)
You want to know why it’s all about Jesus? Because in eternity, Jesus is all that will matter. John clearly says that in eternity, the difference maker is the Son of God.
Heaven is real. So is hell. And the difference between the two of them is Jesus.
That’s why it’s all about Jesus in this life, because Jesus is all that’s going to matter in the next life.
And that’s why our church is so laser-focused on Jesus. That’s why we are willing to take a huge risk to tell more people about Jesus. That’s why we’re okay if some people think we’re weird, or even crazy. As long as more people get connected to Jesus, then nothing else matters. Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Jesus is what matters. Connecting more people to Jesus is what matters. Making heaven more crowded is what matters. Seeing Jesus set people free is what matters.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything. It’s all about Jesus.