This is the fourth message in our series called Presence. In this series, we’re experiencing what it means to have a God who is with us. God is not detached or disengaged from our lives. Just the opposite. He is close. He is near. He is with us. He is present.
That’s the entire message of Christmas. God saw the mess we were in, and He did something about it. He came into our world. He came in the form of a baby. He grew into a man and would die on a cross to pay the price for our sin. He didn’t stay removed from the mess of our world. He got right in the middle of it. He was present.
And He is still present in our world and in our lives today. And His presence really does change everything.
Let me pray for us and we’ll jump into the fourth message in this series.
Christianity is a crutch.
Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that? “Christianity is for the weak. It’s just a crutch.”
This goes along with the famous quote from Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
People who call themselves Christians are seen as people who need something to enable them to cope with the problems of life. Some people use alcohol. Some people use drugs. And some people use Christianity to make it through this difficult world.
A lot of Christians would take offense at this statement. “What do you mean my faith is a crutch? How dare you say something like that?”
Well, wait a minute. Josh McDowell points out that a crutch presupposes two things: (1) that there is a disease, sickness, or hurt, and (2) that a person has been given some type of a remedy.
Well, let’s be honest. There is disease, sickness, and hurt in every one of our lives. Every single person in this room, every single person who will watch this video online, every single person you will ever meet in your life…is broken. Anybody who claims that they are not broken is either delusional or they’re a liar.
And when there is disease, sickness, and hurt, we need a remedy. We need a crutch.
So if you’ve ever said, “Christianity is a crutch,” here’s your surprise of the morning…I agree. I’m a pastor, and I absolutely agree.
One of my favorite professors from college, Dr. Jon Weatherly, wrote, “Christianity is a crutch for those with the realistic self-awareness to realize that they’re limping. And we all are limping, whether we admit it or not.”
That really gets to the core of it. We are all limping, whether we admit it or not. There are really only two types of people…those who are broken and admit it, and those who are broken and deny it.
Here at Connect, we freely admit our brokenness. We are not a church for the super-polished, super-religious, super-Christian. We’re a church for the limping. A church for the broken. A church for people who need a crutch.
In other words, we’re a church for people like me. And like you. You may not admit you’re broken, but you are. You may not own up to the fact that you’re limping, but you are. You may not admit that you actually need a crutch, but you do. We all do. Brokenness is a universal condition. It is the condition of all people. But thankfully, we have a remedy…a Savior who came for all people.
This series comes from one verse in Luke 2. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God sent an angel to make the announcement to a group of shepherds. As far as we know, they were the first ones to be told about Jesus’ birth.
In Luke 2:10, Luke writes, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
This good news was that Jesus had been born. God was now present. And because God is present, the four things that the angel told the shepherds are true. We’ve been exploring these four truths in this series.
The angel told the shepherds…
- Don’t be afraid, because Jesus’ presence destroys fear.
- Jesus’ presence is good news.
- Jesus’ presence brings great joy.
- Jesus’ presence is for all people.
Today, we’re going to key in on that last truth. Jesus’ presence is for all people.
In this series, we’ve been talking about how crazy it was that a group of shepherds were the first people that heard about the birth of Jesus. God could have chosen anyone to be the first to receive the birth announcement. He could have chosen the wealthy and influential. He could have chosen kings and queens. Instead, he chose one of the most despised groups of people in first century culture. He chose shepherds.
But we see why in the angel’s announcement. The birth of Jesus was good news of great joy FOR ALL PEOPLE. It’s not for a select group. It’s not for the spiritual elite or the super religious. It’s for all people.
Listen to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 11. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)
Think about what Jesus said here. “Come to me, ALL you who are weary and burdened.”
Not, “Come to me, all you who really have your stuff together.”
Not, “Come to me, all you who have carved out a perfect life for yourself.”
Not, “Come to me, all you who are really better than everybody else.”
Not, “Come to me, all you who are really religious. Who can speak fluent Christianese. Who can quote the Bible, book, chapter, and verse.”
That’s not what Jesus said at all. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened.”
Who are the people invited? The weary and the burdened. The only requirements to come to Jesus are that you have to be tired and you can’t be perfect. You have to have problems.
Does that sound like anybody you know? Like, for example, the person you saw in the bathroom mirror this morning?
The message of Christmas is that God came among us, not in spite of our brokenness. He came among us specifically BECAUSE of our brokenness. But it’s amazing how many people…how many Christians…forget that Christmas message.
There is a yearly debate in our country over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” And I will admit that I’m on Team Christmas. I much prefer “Merry Christmas.” “Happy Holidays” just feels like political correctness run amuck.
But, I don’t lose my mind when someone wishes me, “Happy Holidays.” When someone says, “Happy Holidays,” I just smile and say, “You too.” I’m not going to lose my mind over something that is just a cultural phrase.
Not like the woman in Phoenix. Did you hear about this? This is a true story.
There was a lady who was standing outside a Wal-Mart in Phoenix this past week, collecting money for the Salvation Army. She’s standing next the red kettle, ringing a bell and collecting donations. You know the routine.
Well, apparently when another lady walked up to her, she wished the lady, “Happy Holidays.”
That’s when this woman looked at her and said, “Don’t you believe in God? You’re supposed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’”
And then she punched her! I’m not kidding! This lady who was collecting donations for the Salvation Army said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and this other lady decided that was reason enough to hit her.
Now, I don’t know this for certain, but I’m going to venture a guess here. I’m going to guess that the woman who punched this lady goes to church somewhere. And I’m also going to guess that, in her mind, she was somehow defending Jesus’ honor. “I’m sticking up for Your birthday, Jesus. And so, in Your Name, I’m going to hit this woman.”
That’s a great witness, isn’t it? I think I’m going to do that from now on. If you say, “Happy Holidays” to me, hey…Jesus said knock you out.
Is this not insane? If I can possibly state the obvious…this woman has her priorities a little off track. She feels so passionately about the phrase “Merry Christmas” (a phrase that is not found anywhere in the Bible, by the way), that she is going to hit anybody who offers her a different holiday greeting.
But in a crazy way, this woman demonstrates exactly why we need Christmas. Because we’re all broken. We’re all messed up. We all have made stupid, sinful decisions. We all walk with a limp. And that’s exactly why Jesus came in the first place.
When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he told them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)
Later in His life, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)
Look at the word that appears in both statements…all. This good news of great joy was for ALL people. Jesus invited ALL who are weary and burdened to come to Him.
Jesus’ presence is for all people. Which means you are welcome.
Back in October, I posted this picture of one our lobby signs on Facebook. And I captioned it with this simple truth about our church. “At Connect, ‘welcome’ isn’t just what we say. It’s who we are.”
We are committed to being a church where all people feel welcome. Regardless of their past. Regardless of their present. Jesus’ presence is for all people, so our church is here for all people.
You are welcome here.
“But I’m not sure that I really believe in God.” You are welcome here.
“But you don’t know what I did last year. Or last week. Or last night.” You are welcome here.
“But I’m really not sure that I believe everything the Bible says.” You are welcome here.
“But you don’t know how much I drink. Or smoke. Or cuss.” You are welcome here.
“But I’ve been to other churches before, and I never felt like I fit in.” You are welcome here.
“But I’ve got serious doubts about organized religion.” You are welcome here.
“But I’m so angry at God. My life was never supposed to turn out this way.” You are welcome here.
“But I am so broken.” You are welcome here.
Here at Connect, “welcome” isn’t just what we say. It’s who we are. It’s who we are because it’s who Jesus is. Jesus came for all people. No preconditions. No prerequisites. Jesus met people where they were so He could take them where He wanted them to go. And our church is committed to doing the same thing. You are welcome here.
Jesus’ only requirements to come to Him are, “Admit that you’re tired. Admit that you’re burdened. Just admit that things are a mess and you can’t fix it by yourself. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to come to Me.”
Jesus came for ALL people. The only people who aren’t ready to come to Him are people who aren’t ready to admit that they walk with a limp. Self-righteous, self-absorbed, self-help religious people are not ready to come to Jesus.
But for the rest of us who will admit that we’ve messed everything up…that we limp…that we are exhausted…that we are burdened…Jesus says, “Come on. I’m ready for you. I love you.”
In fact, the only people that Jesus doesn’t welcome are perfect people. In essence, He says, “No perfect people allowed. The rest of you, come on. Come to me.”
That’s the good news of the gospel. That is the complicated beauty of Jesus. His love is at its best when we are at our worst.
Tim Keller said, “You are more sinful than you could ever dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope–at the same time.”
You cannot even imagine how much you are loved, right now. This second. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life. It doesn’t matter what has happened or what is happening to you. It doesn’t matter what you have or haven’t done.
The love of God is not based on your performance. It’s absolutely unconditional. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less. You are wholly, completely, absolutely loved. It’s not based on what you do. It’s not based on what you don’t do. In fact, it’s not based on you at all. It’s based on Jesus.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul wrote, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6, NIV)
Jesus meets us when we are powerless. When we are at our very weakest. If you’ve reached a point where you just feel like you can’t go on, you’re right where you need to be for Jesus to go to work.
Paul goes on in the next verses in Romans 5. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8, NIV)
Jesus didn’t wait for us to be at our best. He met us when we were at our worst. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t want for us to clean up our act. He didn’t wait for us to make ourselves good enough. He died for us when we were at our worst. And His death for us makes all the difference.
Jesus was good enough. He lived a perfect, sinless life. But then, He was crucified to pay the price for our sin. He took on our sin. And in return, we can take on His righteousness. His perfection. His holiness.
Paul describes it this way in 2 Corinthians 5. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
Martin Luther called this The Great Exchange. When Jesus died on the cross, He became our sin. I don’t understand exactly how it happened, but somehow when Jesus was on the cross, He who had no sin became our sin.
And in return, we become His righteousness. His holiness. His perfection. He is blackened with our sin. We are washed white by His blood.
It’s the Great Exchange…and it’s really great news for us. ALL of us. There is not a person alive who does not need this grace. I don’t care how good they look on the outside. They can have lives that seem to be so polished that they sparkle. They need this Great Exchange just as much as anybody else does.
Louie Giglio said, “Here’s the thing about the gospel, no one deserves grace more or less than anyone else. Dead is dead. If sin makes us dead, then we are all in the same boat. There are no degrees of being dead.”
This week, I walked out on my front porch and found a dead bird. I almost took a picture of it and put it on the screen, but that would have been the grossest sermon illustration ever.
But anyway, there’s this bird on my front porch. And it’s dead. And I mean, it was all the way dead. It wasn’t kinda dead. It wasn’t sorta dead. It was dead, because there are no degrees of dead.
Here’s the truth that we see in Scripture…we all sin. We are walk with a limp. We are all broken. In fact, in our sin, we are all dead. It’s not a deal where some of us are more dead than others. We’re all in sin, which means we’re all dead.
But Jesus makes us all alive if we surrender to Him.
In Romans 6, Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV)
Wages are earned. They are deserved. When you go to work, you don’t do it out of the goodness of your heart. You go to work because you expect a paycheck. You earned your wages. You deserve it.
But gifts, by their very definition, are not earned. They are not deserved. Gifts are freely given.
Parents, we’re going to give our kids Christmas presents this year. Let me ask you a question…have they always deserved those presents? Think through this past year. Are you telling me that your kids have always behaved in a way where they DESERVED these gifts? Really?
Of course they haven’t! There have been times this year when your kids acted like they were possessed by Satan himself. Don’t lie. You know it’s true.
And yet, you’re going to give them presents on Christmas morning. They’re not getting these gifts because they deserve them. They’re getting these gifts because they are loved.
And there it is. Wages are earned. They are deserved. And Scripture clearly says that the wages of sin is death. That’s what we earn. That’s what we deserve.
But gifts are given out of love. The gift of God is eternal life. It’s not something that we deserve. It’s not something we’re entitled to. It’s not something we could ever earn. It’s a gift given by our Father who loves us more than we could ever understand.
This gift is for all people…which means this gift is for you. You don’t deserve it. And you can never earn it. But it is a gift that is for you because your Heavenly Father loves more you than you will ever know or understand.
Is it a crutch? You better believe it, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not just a crutch to lean on…it’s a foundation to stand on. It’s a truth that heals us and frees us. And it’s what Christmas is all about.
It’s why Jesus came in the first place. Through His death and His resurrection, He heals. He restores. He sets free. Jesus came to make broken people whole. He came to make lost people found. He came to make dead people alive. He came for ALL people.