What is Jesus Doing Today?
Good Morning Calvary. Today we are continuing our teaching series “An Invitation to the Kingdom”.
Are you wrestling with a big question right now? A question that makes you anxious? A question that keeps you awake at night? A question that paralyses you because you do not know how to respond?
I certainly am right now, and one of my biggest questions is wrapped up in this verse that we read earlier this morning:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
In response to this I wonder, what does it mean to scatter where Jesus is gathering? More fundamentally, what on earth is Jesus doing in the world today? Through this COVID crisis, in the issues swirling around our own church, with the racial unrest and injustice in our world today.
When I am stuck on big questions like these my problem-solving approach is to break the big question down into some smaller, more manageable ones based on what God has revealed in the Scriptures.
So, this morning, I want to show you how our scripture for today sheds some light on what Jesus is doing and hopefully clarify what our response needs to be.
Our Scripture this morning is found at the end of Matthew 12 in verses 46-49. Let’s take a moment to read this together:
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he 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.”
What is happening here and why is Jesus being so mean to His mother?
It is important to know that at early in His ministry Jesus’ family, like almost everyone else, misunderstood Him. In Mark’s account of this event he records that Jesus’ family came to take Him home because they actually thought that he had gone mad. They came but they did not enter in to where Jesus was teaching. They just assumed that because of their family and biological ties with Jesus He would naturally come out to meet them and follow their wishes.
Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed like there was a special group of people? People who had intimate connection to the leaders of the group, people who seemed to have inside knowledge of what was going on, people who always were able to obtain the things that they wanted.
Sometimes families, organizations, even churches can be like that. But this does not seem to be the kind of Family that Jesus is gathering.
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.”
What Jesus seems to be saying here is that He is gathering together a new Family not for those who have special connections to Him, either by blood or religious privilege. Membership in this family is open to “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
I think we have at least part of the answer to our big question here. What is Jesus doing today? Jesus is gathering together a new Family, defined by whoever does the Will of Father.
So the next logical question is what is the Will of the Father? To ask a more precise question, if Jesus came to do the Father’s will, what did Jesus come to do?
As I was thinking about this I was reminded of this verse:
“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32
I will draw, I will gather all people to myself, but I will do it when I am lifted up from the earth.
What Jesus is referring to here is his impending death on the Cross; as He is lifted up from the earth on the Cross in His death, He will draw, He will gather all people unto Himself.
This is the Father’s will. This is why he sent Jesus: not to give us good advice, not to be a great moral teacher, but to die on the Cross; and, in so doing, to create a new family from every tongue and tribe and nation whose lives are defined by the Cross.
But why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?
I recognize that I am covering familiar ground here for most of us but bear with me for a moment, this is leading somewhere, I promise.
Jesus had to die on the Cross to deal with what happened in the very beginning. Page 1 of the Bible, Genesis Chapter 1:
So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
God created all human beings as His Image Bearers. To be fully human is to live as God intended, to reflect the presence and Image of God into the world, to have fellowship with Him for all time.
Being God’s Image Bearers meant that humans were intended to derive their identity, their purpose, and their provision from God. But, as we all know, the original humans rejected this plan. They desired something different for themselves. They fell into rebellion, pride, self-sufficiency, and, consequently, their fellowship with God was broken.
The scripture uses a technical term for this: sin.
Ultimately, sin is anything that denies the image of God in yourself and others. Sin is pride and self-sufficiency rather than God-dependence. Sin is finding your identity in your appearance, your job, your wealth rather than as a child of God. Sin is rebelling against the plans and purpose that God has for your life.
To the very end the scriptures we find God’s great plan of salvation: to restore His relationship with the Image Bearers that He created through Jesus’ death on the cross. The Father’s Will was for Jesus to die on the cross to restore us as human beings into right relationship with Him.
Let’s take these answers to some smaller questions and see if we can use them to inform our thinking about some bigger ones.
One question that I have been mulling over is what our response should be as members of God’s Kingdom Family to the events of the past few weeks. Here, I am referring to the unjust deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in the U.S. and Chantal Moore in Canada, all at the hands of the police. These tragic events exposing for all the world to see the brokenness of humanity displayed in how we treat each other, both as individuals but also in the systems of power we build.
As we have seen, from the perspective of the Scriptures, all people everywhere were created in the image of God. Thus, racism and prejudice arise when we dehumanize each other and treat them as less than the Image Bearers they were created to be.
So what is our response to this, as people who claim to be part of God’s family?
Based on what we have seen about what Jesus is doing in the world today, our response is going to look a bit different than the secular response. Our response must be through what Christ has done for us on the cross.
I had the opportunity last weekend to do some hiking with some of my kids in Jasper. We went to the top of Morro Peak. It was not an easy hike. The trail rises 700 meters over a distance of about 3km, so it is quite steep. When you get to the top, you see a cross. I think it is a perfect metaphor for dealing with the sin of racism and prejudice: you spend all that sweat and effort to get to the top of the peak, and you look up and see that you still have an impossible distance to go if you are to get to the heavens. Then you look and see the Cross and realize that Jesus has done it all for you, that He has made a way.
So, as God’s people, in response to racism, making anti-racist statements on your Instagram account is probably just window dressing. Being woke and socially aware is helpful but it is not enough. Calling out racism where and when you see it is the right thing to do, but it does not go deep enough. Listening to the lived experience of those suffering from injustice is definitely the right thing to do, but it cannot end there.
As God’s family I would suggest that we can never get beyond our need for the cross.
Our first response to racism is to experience conviction under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to confess our sins, and to repent, which literally means to turn around. We are recognizing the error of our ways that are leading us away from God, repenting, and turning away from them. This is why we need more of Jesus at Calvary. But, I would submit to you today, confession and repentance as individuals is also not enough.
We often forget in our individualistic society that the Christian faith is meant to be lived out in community, as reflected in the local church. So, part of dealing with the sin of racism is to look collectively as a church into how we are contributing to systemic racism in our society. What are we doing about it together? It is my sense that the Canadian Church at large has been caught sleeping on this one. That for some reason we have been focused on other things and have not been in tune with the gathering that Jesus has been doing today. I am so glad that I am part of a church that is willing to have these difficult conversations together.
As I close, can I encourage you to take a moment this morning, in honest reflection before God, to ask yourself what you need to confess and repent of today?
Can I also challenge you to engage in honest and transparent conversations with others in this church? What should our response to racism and prejudice be as together we seek to be part of what Jesus is doing in the world today?