We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called How Jesus Changed the World.
Jesus’ willingness to descend into greatness changed the world. His life was characterized by a willingness to do God’s will above all else.
Search your heart.
Search your own heart in total honesty. How willing are you to do God’s will? Is there any place where you’re unwilling? Why? Be honest and talk to God about it. Is it motivated by fear? Fear of what? What is the upside of full willingness to do God’s will?
Jesus’ birth (as a human child) that first Christmas changed the world because He descended into our world to show us the path to greatness. It’s a counter-intuitive path compared to the world’s path to greatness—it’s the path of surrender to do God’s will fully.
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Message Audio from Gateway in South Austin:
Message Notes from John Burke:
As we enter into this Christmas season, I want us to really consider what that song is all about—that you, we, us together are the hands and feet of God.
- What does that mean?
- And what are the implications for you, for me—for all of us together?
It’s appropriate to think about this at Christmas, because Christmas so easily gets minimalized and trivialized:
It’s sleigh rides, nutmeg, tinsel, shopping, fruitcake, Christmas trees, lights in the yard, and so many other traditions that may or may not still make any sense.
There are some odd traditions out there!
But even celebrating Baby Jesus, in a manger trivializes the magnitude of God’s plan for Christmas. Even adding that Jesus came to bring salvation—can trivialize what God was doing.
We trivialize salvation too–Jesus was coming to completely change the world, not just in eternity, but now!
Salvation announced at Christmas was about God changing our daily lives, and our eternal lives, and not just 2000 years ago but today!
The angels announcing the birth of Jesus declared:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11
Jesus was bringing something Great for all people, everywhere, great joy to all nations. But often we keep Christmas nicely insulated from real life today by keeping it wrapped up and contained in a story about a baby in a manger.
Think Bigger About Christmas
So today, think bigger about what Jesus did, and what he’s still doing—through you if you’re willing.
- Jesus was born into poverty and scandal
- Brought into the world amidst the stench of animals and their manure.
- He died as a common criminal on a Roman cross.
- He taught about the love of God, did miracles that some believed, others doubted.
- 40 days after his death, he only had 120 followers to show. That’s it—His life should have done nothing to alter the course of human history.
- Yet no one has had a Greater impact.
As John Ortberg writes in his excellent book, Who Is this Man? – if you were giving out a “Most likely to post-humously succeed award” to history’s most influential, Jesus would have come in dead last. Normally when someone dies, whatever impact they had while still alive diminishes over time.
Someone wrote that 15 years ago our world had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, and Steve Jobs; now we have no Jobs, no Cash, and no Hope.
Most great people have a fading influence on humanity. Yet Jesus inverted this normal human trend. His impact was greater 100 years after his death than when he lived, still greater 500 years later as it changed the Roman Empire, not by force, by sacrificial love), and it was still greater 1000 years later, 2000 years later billions love and follow him!
We represent over 65 nations right here at Gateway.
He changed the world. As Former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice notes, the very idea that “all people are created equal” was not the fabric of the ancient world. It came from Jesus and those transformed by following Him:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Those who willingly followed him, lived this way.
“Christians would minister to the sick and disabled and build hospitals, pursue universal education, spread teaching through universities, and lift up the poor in faraway places, ‘for they would inherit the earth.’” – Condoleezza Rice.
- In his book “When Children Became People”historian O.M. Bakke writes about how children were not considered people in the ancient world, infanticide based on any deformity or unpreferred gender was common until Jesus’ people began adopting these throw-away children to love and raise, because Jesus said “the Kingdom of heaven belongs to these children.”
- Jesus never married, yet he changed the status of women from property to equals, taking women among his disciples as learners (Mary, Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene and others)—something unheard of in that day.
- Jesus’ followers were a diverse mix of slave and free, poor and wealthy, women and men, Jew and Gentile. It was followers of Jesus who started the abolitionist movement to end slavery across the British Empire.
- Jesus great commission to help all nations learn God’s ways, catalyzed his followers to champion universal literacy, going around the globe at personal risk to teach reading until every tribe, tongue, and ethnic group. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and virtually the entire Western system of education and scholarship would arise because of Jesus followers starting them.
- More hospitals have been built in the name of Jesus than any other organization on earth (Gateway built a hospital in India providing free care to the poor), because Jesus healed the sick.
- More financial giving and loving service to the poor and downtrodden has come from his followers than any other group in history, because Jesus said “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”
Malcolm Mutteridge, an atheistic humanist visited Mother Theresa’s leper colony where nuns from around the world showed these lepers loving care and dignity, and it hit him “humanists don’t run leprosariums.”
There’s much much more—just think about it, our little church just celebrated 20 years, we’re one of millions of churches around the globe. We conservatively estimated:
- We have mobilized over 400,000 hours of volunteer service caring for people
- We have given $7.5 million to our global partners and church plants some of whom are working in the most impoverished broken areas on earth.
No one can add up the impact of millions of churches. Against all odds Jesus changed the world.
How did Jesus change the world?
He did it through His Church. The local church, working as Jesus’ hands and feet, is God’s plan to change the world even still. We get insight into How God does this when the angels announced his birth:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33.
Jesus was and is a King, the ruler over a new Kingdom—one that will last when every other Kingdom is gone.
- He established his Kingdom not by power or force or greed like the Kingdoms of our world are built, His rule is the way of Willingness.
- His Kingdom is built on Love. Love cannot be forced, so His kingdom of Love must be established through willing people—you and me—willing to be his church.
- He taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done” because His Kingdom comes through us in proportion to how willing we are to put God’s Kingdom-building before our own Kingdom-building.
The Tale of Two Kings – Herod the Great
The first Christmas in reality, is the tale of two Kings:
One obsessed with moving UP—the other willingly moving DOWN.
This is really important for you and me. We all want to be Great—no one wants to live an insignificant life.
Who wants people to stand up at your funeral and say:
“He was an average, insignificant person. She didn’t make much difference really, but we’ll miss her anyway.”
No one wants that.
So our world is obsessed with Up—the path to Greatness. Yet the Greatest shows a different path to Greatness that lasts. That’s the story of the first Christmas.
I am going to read from the story of the birth of Jesus and notice some elements not included in the traditional telling of the Christmas story…
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ [Messiah] was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written….” Matthew 2:1-5
The Christmas Cards don’t depict the Reality of the Situation surrounding Jesus birth.
- Matthew tells us that an un-numbered group of Eastern Astrologers—probably Zorastrians from Iran—had seen a star indicating to them that a King had been born, a King over all Kings—so for two years they determined to find this king
- Yes, it’s true, the 3 wise men appearing the night of Jesus birth is not Biblical. I know, this is very bad news for you who purchased expensive Manger scenes with Three Kings on Camels coming across the yard—it’s a myth—but we won’t tell, OK?
- Matthew tells us an unknown number of Maji (kings of the orient) went straight to King Herod, assuming King Herod had a son. And Matthew subtly says, Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. The Maji are genuinely part of the story, but they arrived anywhere between 2 weeks after He was born to 2 months or some even say they arrived when Jesus was about 2 years old.
- Jerusalem was disturbed.
Why was all Jerusalem disturbed?
Because Herod was obsessed with Greatness—with Up.
- He named himself Herod the Great.
Herod was obsessed with moving “UP.” And the only thing he was more obsessed with than “UP” was the fear of moving “DOWN.” It was the only 4 letter word in his vocabulary.
So when Herod was disturbed, it disturbed everyone.
History tells us Herod the Great would do anything to obtain more Power and Wealth and hold onto it. Herod would do whatever it took to be Great:
- Arrests, beatings, extortion, blackmail, kidnappings, torture, and execution—they were all a part of Herod the Great’s gear for climping up.
- He devised an elaborate network of spies so that no word was breathed in the kingdom without his knowledge.
- He built an elaborate network of Palaces and fortresses on the backs of 10’s of 1000’s of slaves. Herod built a majestic palace called the Herodium
- He arranged all his relationships to flow more power and wealth his way. He was the king of Kissing up.
- He bankrolled a remodeling of the Jewish Temple in downtown Jerusalem to win favor. Herod built the Temple in Jerusalem.
- He built a state-of-the-art Harbor City and named it “Caesarea” after his Boss – Ceasar Augustus.
- More than several of Herod’s ten marriages were politically motivated.
- And there was no price too great to keep moving up and avoid moving down. He ordered the execution of any possible candidate to his office—including two of his wives, three of his sons.
So when Herod learned from the Eastern Magi there was a new King in town, he was disturbed, and that fear swept through Jerusalem—he ordered the execution of every boy under age 2 in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. The Christmas Cards never tell of King Herod’s state sponsored infanticide—killing all male 2-year olds in Bethlehem to kill Jesus—this potential rival to building His Kingdom of Greatness!
Herod was obsessed with being Great – even to the point of killing babies.
By the way, the death of innocent children is often a line that once crossed leads to the destruction of a culture. Throughout the Scriptures, we see kingdoms fall once they move to the point of sacrificing babies for the sake of power or in worship to their angry god. The Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Israelites, and now in this story the rulers known as the Herodians
Let’s pause—cause we’re not Herod, so what can we learn from this?
It’s a warning that seeking Greatness, significance, impact is not bad—it’s good.
God created us to be great ones.
Jesus didn’t say “Don’t seek greatness—he said,
“whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Mark 10:43-44
The world’s way to Greatness for ourselves is the opposite but it’s a trap.
We too can become obsessed with building our Kingdoms, our plans, our homes, our businesses and our recognition—and miss the path to Lasting Greatness.
The UP path to greatness leads to anxiety, worry, envy, jealousy, and in the end—nothing that lasts.
Yet into a world that celebrates Up, Jesus Descends!
The two Kings crossed paths—and Clashed from the start.
The Tale of Two Kings – Jesus
As one author noted:
- Both kings possessed immense power—but how they each used it revealed the heart of the men.
- One moving UP grasping for greatness; one moving Down—willingly relenquishing His Splendor.
- One motivated by self-interest, the other motivated by love.
- One manipulating, deceiving, terrorizing.
- The Other healing, teaching, delivering.
- One was a Tyrant, the other a Servant.
- One wanted to be God, the other was God!
You see, until we wrestle with how hard it is for us to willingly Move Down in order to serve others, we can’t even comprehend the Miracle of Christmas.
We don’t realize the Magnitude of what God was willing to do for us, until we consider doing just an ounce of downward mobility for the sake of others.
Do you see it?
Do you see how much love and sacrifice it would take for you to do that?
Jesus used his power and resources not to promote himself, but to promote us.
He paid it forward for us– willingly went Down, down, down all the way to the grave to lift us up.
Why did God do it?
- Because that’s how much He loves you!
- God gave us the Greatest Gift of love imaginable!
- He became small that we might become Great!
- He became like us that we might be like Him.
- He died, that you might live.
God wants to make you Great—Truly Great, He wants you to become Great, and he wants that Greatness to last for all eternity. But Eternal Greatness comes with Willingness– you must willingly empty yourself of building your Kingdom first in order to willingly build God’s Kingdom first.
Jesus changed the world through local churches of people following him.
“Your Kingdom come, your will be done” – Through our willingness.
Think about Christmas, the God of Creation, willing to leave perfection, glory, honor, to descend and unite with humanity.
He willingly descended into our poverty, scandal, helplessness as a baby.
His life charted the path to Greatness by submitting his will as a human to doing God’s will. The first thing he did was be baptized because it was “God’s will.”
Right after he goes into the desert and fasts 40 days. Then he’s tempted with this:
“if you’re God’s son, meet your needs now, turn stones to bread, prove yourself”
“No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4.
Three times Jesus is tempted, 3 times he quotes Scripture as what he will do. Willing to do what God’s Word says.
Every day, Jesus was looking only to do God’s will:
Jesus explained, “the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing.” John 5:19-20
Jesus lived in daily communion with God the Father, seeking to willingly do God’s will. He modeled for us how humanity is meant to live.
I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. John 5:30
And he lived this way to the end, in the Garden of Gethsemane facing execution—it was not his will as a human to suffer and die
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup [of suffering] be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39.
Willingness is what characterized Jesus life from birth to death—it’s why he never sinned, he never put his human will above God’s will.
That’s why He’s the Greatest for Eternity, there’s no great name.
And that’s how he changed the world, by launching a Kingdom of love, called his church, characterized by willingness.
So How willing are you? It’s an important question to ask. Because Jesus changed the world through his church.
I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 16:18-19
The church was always Jesus’ plan to change the world. That His Kingdom would come through willing people—those who chose God’s will over their own—that’s the key to seeing God’s Kingdom change earth through His local churches.
Jesus Changed the World – In Spite of the Church
But How has Jesus survived his followers—that’s another miracle. Because so many put their will before God’s will.
“The Inquisition and witch hunts and Crusades and defense of slavery and imperialism and resistance to science and wars of religion come and go and return. Judgmentalism and intolerance and bigotry infect continents and centuries, scandals of money and sex among church leaders never seem to cease, and Jesus’ followers cause him far more trouble than his enemies.”
It’s HARD – His church changed the world, but being Jesus’ church is hard.
There’s a lot cynicism about church, not our church so much, but it’s in the culture.
I hear it even from Christians.
“I don’t need church to love God, in fact, I can worship and connect with God much better out in nature. The church is too messed up. Too many hypocrites.”
So people easily quit church.
Here’s my confession—I get it. I wouldn’t do this either if left to myself—it’s too hard. You people are difficult—I love you, but you’re difficult.
So why be committed to church? Because it’s God’s plan. God loves all his churches—we are His Bride. Sometimes an Ugly bride, yes, but He loves us with all her blemishes. And WE, local churches, are how Jesus keeps changing the world—when we’re willing. When we say, Your Kingdom come, Your will—not mine first.
When we are willing to follow Jesus as He was willing to follow His Father, the church is the most beautiful thing in the world—it’s the Hope of the World.
A loving community, a new family, place of healing, hope, growth, a force for change—rescuing people from darkness, pushing back systemic evils, changing lives, a place of joy and peace and a new way to be Human.
That’s how the church changed the Roman empire–it’s how the church has spread across China amidst persecution.
When we are willing–Jesus leads His church into something beautiful–we are His Body. Paul says to the church in Corinth:
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
We are His Hands and Feet to do God’s will, just like Jesus came to do that first Christmas. He now continues to do through local expressions of church, his body—when we’re willing. How willing are you? It’s a critical question.
When we are willing–Jesus leads His church into something beautiful!
We unite as His Body—His willing hands and feet.
That’s why we’ve spent all fall encouraging you to Love your 20 Neighbors and Coworkers with God’s love.
- Just like Jesus went to local communities and taught 100s and 1000s on the hillsides saying “Come as you are”—the prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, Pharisees—all heard his sermons. So we’re establishing local Campuses where people far from God can come and learn God’s loving ways along with those already convinced.
- Just as Jesus sent 72 out ahead of him to minister and serve in the villages saying “God’s Kingdom is coming near”—We are organized into Networks of 20-100 people serving different people groups or neighborhoods.
- And just like Jesus took 12 into his small group to grow spiritually, we have Life Groups of 8-15 people meeting in homes to grow spiritually as a loving community.
That’s why we want to start 20 New Networks, with Life Groups in them, to love and serve every people group we touch—to bring Life and Freedom to people around us.
These New Networks and Life Groups can be the building blocks for New Campuses to be a local church in that area.
We want to launch 20 new Networks and 2 new Campuses this next year. But it takes a willing community.
Willing to serve together, willing to grow together, willing to push through when it’s not easy—and willing to invest financially to pay it forward for others.
You received a brochure when you walked in—which let me say—if you’re new to Gateway or just checking out faith, we’re not expecting you to participate in this—but read it–Read that super cool story of Bill and Scottie, and you’ll see the power of God’s Kingdom loving and serving people as his local church.
Every year end, we encourage those who call Gateway home to go above and beyond normal giving to be generous, so that we can pay it forward for others and bring God’s Kingdom to struggling people everywhere.
Your year-end generosity helped 1000s of flood victims in Houston last year.
The year before you helped 1000 refugee kids in Austin and the Middle East.
10 years ago, Year End commitments from our one Gateway campus helped launch our South Campus. Three years ago we helped launch our Central Campus. Through all 3 of our campuses we hope to launch a new campus in Buda/Kyle and sending Jon Eng to Pflugerville.
There’s a multiplying impact as we willingly pay it forward for others.
So here at Year End, I want to invite you to join the 1% Challenge – which is giving 1% more of your income than you do now over the next year towards our new campuses.
So read, pray, and tell us what you’re willing to do by Year End at GatewayChurch.com/Challenge because that will determine what we can move forward on in January.
Jesus willingness led to His Greatness—He changed the world. He calls us to follow his Willingness. How willing are you, be honest with God—he already knows, often we’re hiding only from ourselves. He’s inviting us to be a part of His Kingdom-building that lasts forever. I’ve given you a Willingness exercise—go do it today, it will help you grow. And remember—there’s nothing to fear with willingness—it’s the path to Your TRUE GREATNESS—now and for eternity.