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:
We sing these songs during Christmas, “Rejoice Emmanuel has come—Emmanuel means God with us—God has come to be with us, Rejoice. Jesus birth was a cause for great joy. Even while in the womb, Mary comes to her cousin, Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus) and when Elizabeth sees Mary she says:
44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. Luke 1:44-48
“Joy to the World, the Lord has Come” is another song we sing at Christmas. It was the news the Angels brought the shepherds in Bethlehem:
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God….” Luke 2:9-13
Because Joy himself was coming to Earth. Jesus came with all Heaven Rejoicing, [Jesus told the Pharisees, Abraham rejoiced to see my day. They were confused, because Abraham had died 2000 years before Jesus.] Jesus came in joy, lived in joy, invited his followers, his church, to live in God’s joy, and that joy changed the world.
And He is changing the world still—through his people, his church, as we live in God’s Joy. But is that what we’re like—full of God’s Joy?
As the Christmas Crazies cut us off in Mall traffic—as we get squeezed from all sides with year-end sales quotas, deadlines looming, mandatory kiss-n-up corporate parties, stockings to stuff, gifts to buy—when squeezed does Joy come out?
Is Joy just occasional, or our default state with occasional joyless days?
Can joy be more the norm? Is it even realistic?
I think it is—because—I think it’s how God changes the world. When we live in God’s joy, that changes the world.
How do we become people who can tap into a joy that transcends human circumstance? That starts with how we view God. When you think of God, what’s the mental picture in your head. What word pictures come to mind? What do you imagine? How you think about God affects whether you’re willing to trust him or not. In fact, I’m convinced the biggest reason we don’t trust God is because we have a messed up view of who he is.
- When you picture God, do you picture someone frowning, upset all the time, disappointed, not very fun or lively or outgoing?
- Or maybe just blah—just gray, old and misty, no emotion, no life, just boring rule-giver.
- Or do you picture God as full of life, full of joy, full of excitement and adventure and fun?
What’s your picture of God?
The first Christmas was full of joy, despite the circumstances. But if God was really like people think, the first Christmas announcement would have been more like this:
- “Elizabeth saw Mary, and yelled “ouch” as little John the Baptist gave her a swift kick to the ribs—Little JB knowing he was destined to grow up to live in the desert, eat locusts and honey, and wear Camel fur—which was not in style even back then—and he wasn’t too excited about the locasts either. Elizabeth moaned—”my baby kicked when you came near.”
- Mary exclaimed, “Quit your moanin, Cuz, you have nothing to complain about–why is God doing this to me? I’m 16, pregnant and unmarried, no hopes of a Reality TV show like “Teen Mom” or “16 and Pregnant”—this is not ok in Israel. And You try explaining to your fiancé “I’m pregnant…but wait…it’s not what you think…No, I’ve never slept with a man…it was…?”
- So the night of Jesus birth arrived, Mary said “This is going from bad to worse—Joseph, you can’t even find a Motel 6?” So she gave birth in a stable.
- Meanwhile Angels appear to shepherds in the field who were keeping watch by night and complaining about their stupid, smelly jobs. One Angel plugged in a Karaoke mic and sang “Tonights gonna be a good night“ a little out of tune, but bearable.
- A Big Angel killed the sound and said “Enough—okay, listen up sheep people. God’s gotta come to this ratty place, he’s not real excited about it—who would be excited about leaving Perfection (then have to put up with you people—it’s hard as a guardian angel, just watching how you treat each other, I can’t imagine living with you).
- But… He’s gonna do it for your sakes, cause he’s not always mad and angry—just most of the time—but you need this, so He’s gonna do it—but He’s not happy about it. Now go visit the Baby, so there’ll be more figurines for the Manger scenes of the future.”
That’s how the Bible would read if God were truly like many people think. He did it, but it didn’t give God joy, and it wasn’t for our joy, it was just good medicine we needed to take. Is that your view of God, maybe even Christmas?
Let’s do a little Gateway Quiz, can we. According to the Bible, which would be the most accurate picture of what God’s like?
- If you scored the winning touchdown in a bowl game, God would be most pleased with you…
A.Calmly handing the ball to the referee
B. Kneeling down, folding your hands and praying
C. Doing the NFL jig before God
Scripture tells of a time when King David, known as a man after God’s own heart, had a huge victory party as he led Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem and it says
“As the ark of the LORD was entering the City…[Michal] saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. 2 Samuel 6:16
Michal thought David looked like a fool doing the NFL jig before God, but as it turns out, that kind of joyous celebrating most pleased God.
- If God were invited to a party would he more likely:
A. Sit in a corner with a frown because people were having too much fun
B. Call the cops, shut ‘er down, and tell everyone to go home and read Leviticus.
C. Be in the center of it enjoying the company of all the guests, refilling the drinks?
19Jesus said, the Son…can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19
So when Jesus goes to a wedding party, what does he do when they run out of wine? He’s refilling the drinks with even better wine than they had before. Now, just so I don’t get emails, the scriptures are very clear that we are not to get drunk or high, or let anything control us except God’s Spirit. But if we miss realizing where Jesus lived and what he really did, we miss the joyous heart of God who celebrates in our midst, rejoicing when we rejoice in Him, with gratitude that He provides every good thing we enjoy.
3. Joe (a thieving, immoral, drug addict) prays his first pathetic prayer for God’s help, God…
A. Turns his head away in disgust and anger.
B. Thinks, “Prove it—clean up your act, then talk to me about it
C. In his joy, commands all of heaven to celebrate and throw a party cause Joe’s coming back!
Jesus says… “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7
4. If God could fully have his way with you he’d:
A. Send you somewhere you didn’t want to go doing something you hated
B. Take away all your fun, and make you marry someone you weren’t attracted to
C. Make your life so full of joy, you would want to follow him for selfish reasons.
Jesus once told a parable and said, when people see how great life God’s way is, it’s like a man who finds Millions of dollars worth of treasure buried in a field, and he goes and sells everything he has to pay $300,000 to buy the field. Did he come up short? Was he being unselfish selling all to buy the field? No way! Jesus is saying, the most self-centered, joy motivated, pleasure seeker—if he’s smart, will do whatever it takes to gain the joy God has for him. Jesus prayed this for all of us in front of his disciples,
“I pray…that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:13
Joy Comes from God
When said to his closest followers that night that this is my purpose, “I want you to have my joy, so your joy will be complete.” Jesus says, “I want you to be inebriated with My joy.” They didn’t say, “What joy?” They knew. See Jesus was the most Joy Filled Being to ever walk the planet. That’s why people were so attracted to him.
But many people have a very messed up view of God. We’ve got to get it through our thick skulls that God’s life for us is more interesting and exciting than ours (how many of you really believe that?).
God is the most joyful, happy, interesting, adventurous Being in the Universe. I’m convinced that’s why we don’t follow him with full abandon, doing all that he says, because we don’t believe it.
But the problem with human beings, according to Jesus, is not that we’re too happy or too pleasure seeking, and God wants us to sober up and be more serious. The problem is we’re not nearly happy enough. We dabble with drink, and drugs and sex but it won’t do it—we need God’s joy. Because I’m convinced from experience that Unless you seek your pleasure in God’s joy, you will not find all the joy you seek!
How do we experience and share the kind of joy God is filled with?
It’s why Jesus came—Emmanuel, “God with us”—God came to be with us—not just 2000 years ago, but every moment of every day. Zechariah, knowing from the angel that his son John the Baptist, would be the prophet foretold 400 years earlier by Malachi—the one who would make way for the Messiah–said this of that first Christmas:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,78 because of the tender mercy of our God…to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:76-79.
Jesus came and made a way for God to forgive all our wrongs, all our treasons against the rightful ruler of our lives—He joyfully forgives and takes back all who turn back—to guide us personally into His peace, His Joy, His life. That’s why Jesus came, so we would let God guide us daily.
Jesus told us how in John 15:
9 ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:5, 9-13
I have told you this, SO THAT my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full, complete, lacking nothing. That’s How.
Meditate on His Love
Remain connected to the tree trunk—the Source of all Joy, experiencing His love. God wants to fill you with His JOY this Christmas, and every day of the year, and all you have to do—is stay connected to God like a branch to a tree. How do you do this?… Jesus said “As the Father loves me, so have I loved you—now remain/stay connected to/soak your minds in that Love.”
We start to experience God’s joy as we Meditate on His Love – meditate on and think often about how God feels about us—how loved we truly are.
So many of us are joyless, frustrated, stressed out because we’re trying to prove we deserve love—yet you’re already more loved than you can imagine. But you have to learn to Live in God’s love for His joy to flow through you.
I heard a story from a person in one of our recovery support groups. They were all sharing why they were there. He said, “You know, since I’ve come to Gateway and discovered this relationship with God, it’s been so great, I just don’t want to do anything to screw it up—that’s why I’m here.”
See, when we begin to experience the enjoyment of life with God as he intended, sin loses it temptation–we see it for what it really is—a short-term fix that doesn’t satisfy the soul. God’s joy does.
And all you have to do is walk through the moments of your day—realizing God is with You, Emmanuel, he wants to love you, guide you, help you. All you have to do is stay open, willing, trusting His ways.
Jesus said, Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love. John 15:9-10
Keep God’s Commands
God’s commands are all about Loving God and Loving people—this is how you actually love people.
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13
No matter what it costs you, you’re willing to do God’s will—whatever He prompts your conscience to do, and Joy is the result.
- I’ve never heard an audible voice, but as I’ve read the Bible to learn what Jesus was like, what He did, what He taught, I’ve realized how God speaks.
- He LAO puts thoughts directly in your mind in line with what He’s revealed in Scripture.
- And when we act in faith, we get to see Him guiding us, and we experience His love and joy.
This is what changed the Roman Empire, and ultimately the world. Jesus’ church, His followers, lived this way, and out of them poured a love, life and joy that was contagious.
Listen to what letters to Roman governors and emperors reveal about the early church. Aristides presented a letter to the Emperor Hadrian (138AD) and described the uncommon joy of early believers as the reason so many joined them:
“Every morning and all hours on account of the goodness of God toward them, they render praise and laud Him over their food and their drink; they render Him thanks. And if any righteous person of their number passes away from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God and they follow his body as though he were moving from one place to another… They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they become so, they call them without distinction, brothers…When they see the stranger they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as over a true brother.– Aristides (138 AD)
The Greatest Gift We Can Give to God – Ourselves
I was thinking as I was preparing for this series—God’s gift is why we give gifts to each other, but what is a gift I could give God?
You know the greatest Gift You could give God this Christmas—no, not your money—that’s not enough. The greatest gift you could give is yourself. It’s all He wants, Your love—if You’ve never opened Your heart to God, accepting his forgiveness and love offered in Christ.
Do it today—get baptized as a public demonstration that You now belong to God.
But if you’ve done that—He entered relationship, so You would Stay Connected, abiding in His love. That’s the greatest gift you can give this Christmas.
Jesus said “Remain connected to me, and you’ll bear much fruit—love, Joy, Peace will grow naturally from within like apples naturally grow on a branch connected to an apple tree. But apart from me, Jesus said, you can do nothing.
Which means—this simple staying present and willing before God—is the greatest gift you can give God this Christmas.
As you interact with neighbors or co-workers—how can you BLESS them as God prompts?
Do it willingly as a gift to God, and see how God’s joy comes alive in you. Even as you interact with difficult family members, or that relative does that SAME ANNOYING thing every year. Let it prompt you—Lord, help me stay connected to Your Love, so I don’t kill him…no…let me love You by obeying Your will—show me how to love them. Watch Your Joy come alive as you do this simple thing this Christmas.
What About Pain, Evil, and Injustice?
It doesn’t mean be Pollyanna. Sometimes the world is just evil, painful, hurtful—this doesn’t mean put on a happy face and pretend. No, God also knows sorrow. Jesus was called a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” but the sorrow of God, and the anger of God are his temporary response to a fallen, evil world. They will be banished forever when the world is finally set right.
But Joy is God’s eternal destiny, His nature and purpose for creating us. How can God be ever joyful, yet experience sorrow and grief too? Can we?
God is not bound by time, but he can experience time. So in time—through a narrow lens as John Piper explains, he sees individual evils and they grieve him, cause him sorrow. But they don’t erase or eradicate his infinite joy, because God also sees everything from the perspective of eternity when every wrong is made right and all things worked together for good. Because through the greatest evil, God can bring forth the greatest good for those whose hearts seek him.
That’s why Jesus could say,
“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” Luke 6:22-23
Even when circumstances are horrible, though we grieve, we are sad, or even angry—there’s a greater perspective of Joy. As we love God by staying connected to His Spirit, letting Him guide us to do the next right thing—He promises eternal reward, eternal joy.
The early church reminded each other of this—the world saw a joy even in sorrow.
Hear these words from the Epistle to Diognetes about early Christians (written 3rd Century AD):
They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.
The joy of the early church, even in the worst of circumstances, changed the world.
Invited Into Joy
God invites you into his joy, so that even when life is not going as you planned, it doesn’t have to quench your joy. Though you can be sorrowful over the temporary evils and struggles of this short life, you can find joy in knowing you’re right with God, and connected to his love, loving others sacrificially—it will be rewarded in the end. It will be a joy like no other. We’re destined for a love and life of Joy that makes all our loves, all our pleasures, all our current joys seem like eating Mud Pie when we finally eat Heaven’s Cheesecake Factory of goodness.
Ultimately, we are his beloved Bride, that he will rejoice over forever. God finds joy in you.
When does God find joy in you? Get this – when you enjoy life with him. This is probably the most profound realization of spiritual growth I’ve ever had. God wants you to be joyful. Joy to the World.
God removes all your guilt through Christ, so you can enjoy life with him…and this gives him joy. Can you believe it? It brings Him happiness to see you enjoy life with him.
I will rejoice in doing good to them…. Jeremiah 32: 41
The LORD’s delight is in those who honor him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11
The LORD your God is with you…he will take great delight in you…he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17.
Who was the last person who found so much joy in you that they broke out in a song about you? Yet that’s the joy God says you give him simply because He love you like a child.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk with sincerity.- Psalm 84:11
He wants to give you good gifts, but only if you are ready to receive them! Open hands can hold more than clenched fists.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2b-3
Jesus endured the cross knowing it would mean a relationship with you!
You were the joy in front of Him!
That’s why being baptized is something we do to acknowledge we have asked Him to forgive us and bring us into His family! It is out of the joy we have for what He has done that we are willing to do anything He asks – including sharing this personal relationship in a public setting!
Just as Mary looked at her son with wonder, just as you may have felt holding your child or your nephew or your niece or your brother or your sister for the first time – overwhelmed with love for a little one who had done nothing to deserve it, that is how God looks at you – an unconditional love just because you are.
Let’s Give a Gift to God this Christmas—let’s love God back, remaining in His love, obeying His promptings, even when it’s difficult–it’s how He changed the world, it’s how He’s still changing the world. It’s how we live in His Joy.
Jesus is rejoicing, and we have reason to rejoice, because He invites us into His Family, and He gives us purpose as friends.
In every way we invest in His Kingdom, His church, we will also bear fruit with him and share in His glory.
There will be an eternal payoff for living for God’s Kingdom to come–investing and using our time and money and resources to build up His Body.
Rejoice not just in the season, but in being fully invested in God’s coming Kingdom.