The Arrival - 3
The Arrival – 3
A few years ago, when Michael Jordan celebrated his 50th birthday, numerous articles and shows were devoted to him and his legacy. Jordan, who is a modern icon, is starting to talk honestly about the struggles he is experiencing. A hole in his life that he doesn’t know how to fill. An article from ESPN begins this way...
“A group from Nike comes into the suite, along with a team from the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. Around these people, you see most clearly that Jordan is at the center of several overlapping universes, at the top of the billion-dollar Jordan Brand at Nike, of the Bobcats, of his own company, with dozens of employees and contractors on the payroll. In case anyone in the inner circle forgets who's in charge, they only have to recall the code names given to them by the private security team assigned to overseas trips. Estee is Venom. George is Butler. Yvette is Harmony. Jordan is called Yahweh -- a Hebrew word for God.”
Jordan is used to being the most important person in every room he enters and, going a step further, in the lives of everyone he meets. The Gulfstream takes off when he steps onboard. He has left a friend in Las Vegas who was late, and recently left two security guards behind. He does what he wants, when he wants. On a long trip to China in the Nike plane, he woke up just as everyone else was taking an Ambien and settling in to sleep. Didn't matter. He turned on the lights and jammed the plane's stereo. If Michael is up, the unwritten rule goes, everybody is up. People cater to his every whim, making sure a car is waiting when he lands, smoothing out any inconvenience.
It was down in Florida, where he was spending time with Yvette's Cuban family, that he got a taste of the life he'd traded for the circus of modern celebrity. They weren't fawning -- her grandparents, who speak little English, aren't basketball fans -- and he sat at a dinner table, with people laughing and eating home-cooked food. That's what it was like growing up in Wilmington. "It's gone," he says. "I can't get it back. My ego is so big now that I expect certain things. Back then, you didn't."
The world tells us to make life all about us. Do what makes us happy. That if we can just set up a life scenario that will cater to our every whim, ensure there are no potholes to navigate so we can have a smooth journey, then that will be the epitome of success. What a lie!
Unfortunately, there are a couple problems with this way of life:
(1) Exhausting - to attempt to make myself the center of attention and arrange an easy journey for myself is absolutely exhausting. Attempting to center myself in every conversation, make everything about me, get my way in all decisions, turn all good things to my credit and avoid all blame just wears us out.
(2) Empty - we think it may fill up that eerie emptiness of life if we can just be the center of the universe. But, in an ironic twist, being full of ourselves is empty.
Living for self creates a hole. We feel an emptiness in our lives (for whatever reason it is there) and try to fill it with ourselves and selfish pursuits. It may feel like it fills the hole, but there is no substance.
What we are really talking about is our ego here. The inflated sense of self. We believe that if we can swell our ego then we will be complete. Ego is like a balloon...seems full but lacks substance.
According to a 2011 study reported in USA Today, "Sex, booze or money just can't compare with the jolt of self-esteem." Brad Bushman, the lead author study said, "We looked at all the things college students love, and they love self-esteem more."
The researchers used two separate studies of 282 students in Ohio and New York that measured the students' desire for a number of goals: receiving praise, engaging in sex, drinking alcohol, getting a paycheck, eating their favorite food, or seeing their best friend. The results pointed to one clear desire: university students wanted experiences that would help boost their self-esteem, such as receiving a compliment or getting a good grade.
Why is that true? Because a quick inflation of our ego makes us feel better. It seems to fill the hole in us. But the problem is that it lacks substance. It simply doesn’t last. Balloons pop, revealing the emptiness they actually are.
(NIV) -3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
‘vain conceit’ literally translates as ‘empty glory’. To be full of yourself is to be empty.
So, how do we deal with this issue? “In humility...” That is the answer to the problem of ego. Humility. As we continue looking at the Arrival of Jesus in the Christmas narrative, let’s spend the next few minutes looking at the life of a great biblical figure who epitomized what it means to show humility. We know him as John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Jesus.
Here is why we are talking about pride and humility regarding John the Baptist…John is a pretty big deal.
--John’s birth was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel. Miraculous events surround his birth and this great prophecy is given of him.
-13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
--John will serve as the first legitimate prophet after a period of silence lasting 400 years. No one has been used by God in a prophetic role in that long of time, and John is the first. That is huge.
--John is the fulfillment of a great OT prophecy. Notice how Matthew introduces him:
- In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
--John is courageous, and his ministry is profound:
- 4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. 5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 9 Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
--Jesus himself said this of John:
-11 “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.
How did John respond to all of this? Look at what he says in response to countless people coming to hear him preach, as his ministry is exploding in growth:
- 11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Incredible humility. Even though he is incredibly popular and successful in ministry, he points to Jesus. We get an even better picture of this in . We get a glimpse at the practical nature of John’s humility as he responds to his perceived greatness.
Let me set the context: John’s ministry is going full force. The whole Judean countryside is coming out to see John, hear John preach and be baptized by John. John is an established religious superstar in Israel by this point. His birth was miraculous, and Isaiah prophesied about him 700 years before he was born. This man is larger than life. Look how the Bible describes what was happening:
-22 Then Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and went into the Judean countryside. Jesus spent some time with them there, baptizing people.
23 At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism. 24 (This was before John was thrown into prison.) 25 A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew over ceremonial cleansing. 26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
Because John’s ministry is so successful, as everyone gathers around John, they apparently are jockeying for a piece of his fame and power. Because of that, they view Jesus as a threat. He is getting more than us. People are leaving us and going to him. Now, a man with an ego issue would flip out at this.
Abraham Lincoln said that if you want to see someone’s true character, give them power. I would add to that...If you want to see someone’s true character, take away their power.
This group around John wants him to be number one, to fight for his crowd. Perhaps claim himself as Messiah. But John doesn’t seem to care. Doesn’t care that Jesus is attracting a crowd. Doesn’t care that Jesus is taking away his followers. In fact, he welcomes it.
-27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
He is willing to give it all up. He shows great humility by acknowledging this truth: MY LIFE IS NOT MINE
He acknowledges that everything that is his really isn’t his, it was given to him from heaven. So never having owned the crowds in the first place, he is free to let them go. After all, he is just the best man.
I’ve done hundreds of weddings over the last decade. I’ve had to deal with a lot of guys serving as the best man. Some are a delight, others I simply have to endure. The best ones represent the groom and serve the groom well. They understand their purpose...to do anything the groom needs. The reason he is called an attendant is because he is to attend to the groom.
The worst ones are the ones who draw attention to themselves by pulling some stupid stunt during the ceremony. The attention is never to be on the best man. It is always to be on the happy couple. After all, this girl’s poor dad is dropping $30,000 on this thing, everyone should be looking at her.
That is what John is saying here...I’m not the groom. Attention is never on me. That bride does not belong to me, she is his. Jesus is the groom...all attention is to go his way, not mine. So, let the crowds go to him, this is all about him anyway.
MY LIFE IS NOT MINE…There are no delusions in John about his identity. He does not get caught up in the greedy pursuit of more. He humbly accepts that his ministry was from God, given to him as a great gift, and that God could take it away at any moment.
Then John ends with this incredible phrase in verse 30. He must become greater; I must become less (NIV – He must increase, I must decrease). What a statement! A life that embodies that statement is one that will defeat ego by living with humility. The role of my life is to make much of Jesus and very little of me.
Ego is empty. It may bring the feeling of being whole, but it is just an illusion. Ego lacks substance. This is why we talk of having an inflated sense of self. That is all it is...an inflation. A hollow filling that simply doesn’t last. Being full of yourself leaves you empty. You can’t be full of yourself and full of Him at the same time.
Answer is humility. The answer is declaring that my life is not mine. Everything in my life was given to me by God and belongs to him. Let’s talk about how that plays out:
MY JOB IS NOT MINE
This is one of the primary areas of our lives where we tend to find a swelling ego. Our careers. Our accomplishments. Our rising through the ranks. Please understand, your job is not yours. That is not diminishing your hard work and perseverance in any way at all. It is simply acknowledging the truth that you did not get where you are in your career completely on your own.
Coworkers spoke advice at the right moment. Bosses took special interest in you. You were introduced to just the right person.
My home preacher growing up preached a sermon called “Turtle on a Fencepost.” The whole point was that he saw a turtle on a fencepost and realized that turtle did not make it there by himself. We are all turtles on a fencepost.
MY FAMILY IS NOT MINE
The bible says that all good gifts come from God above. That includes family. Again, God set it up for you to have met the person you are with and orchestrated the kids you have...that was most certainly out of your control. He is responsible for your family.
MY BODY IS NOT MINE
The bible makes it clear that we were designed and created by God, and for God. He holds patent rights over us. On top of all that says that because Jesus died for you, you have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and therefore your body is not yours to do whatever you want to do with it.
MY MONEY IS NOT MINE
Again, same principle...it’s all his. And he lets me use it.
MY LIFE IS NOT MINE
When view things this way, then you...
-don’t find identity in them, therefore ensuring ego does not rule us.
-manage them according to owners’ standards
This is point Jesus makes in with parable of talents. The owner gives talents of money to his servants and then leaves. The servants are to manage the owner’s stuff while he is gone. Then the owner returns to hold the servants accountable for what they did with his stuff while he was gone.
Every one of us struggles with ego in an area. To make anything about ourselves is just so empty. The answer is to acknowledge the truth that these things are not ours. They are his. I am to make much of him and less of me. Can’t follow self and Jesus at same time. If you are after power and all about you, then Jesus will always be a threat.
-31 “He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else.
If you read through Revelation, glimpses into Heaven: God always on his throne. He is in charge, not me. In humility I declare - MY LIFE IS NOT MINE
Told this story before, but it is relevant here: A few years ago, Jodie and I spent a week in Pennsylvania. One of the days we spent in Philadelphia, part of it a tour of Liberty Hall. Terrible tour guide. Went upstairs and the security guard at the room where the first Senate met told about when George Washington gave up his presidency. He served two terms and then walked away. Others wanted to make him President for life...or King. But we had just fought the battle to get rid of that governmental system and he walked away.
For the event where Washington turned over the reins to John Adams, the US government called in the National Guard to oversee the area. Why? They thought the nation would riot. This was the first non-monarch, voluntary transfer of power in the history of the world. And on Dec. 22, 1783 Washington was the first to pass on such power to another, voluntarily.
King George of England heard of Washington’s considering of walking away from the presidency. When he heard of it, he said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
We inherently understand greatness in that scenario. Voluntarily giving up power. But we know of one greater.
- 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
He did not give up a presidency, he gave up heaven. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. He declared before God the Father, my life is not mine. I surrender it to you. So, we follow his example today and declare the same.
As we take communion together, let us remind ourselves that...
- 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.