A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on September 23, 2012.
2 Peter 1:3-9
Teach us, our Father, once again to trust you and to surrender our hearts to you. We pray today that you would give us rest from managing the world. Give us leave from controlling people so that we think we must make everything work together to accomplish our will. Remind us that you are God and that you have run this world long before we arrived and you will run it long after we have taken our last mortal breath. Remind us, as well, of times when we have prayed for the wrong things or pressed our will upon circumstances only to be proven wrong. Teach us true humility so we might learn to wait on your timing. Teach us true humility so we might follow your every leading and bend our will to yours. Help us to remember that you have always known best what we need and what we ought to have. Help us to remember all the times when you have worked things together for unexpected good in our lives when we saw no hope. Teach us and remind us all these things so that we might truly yield our lives today. Trusting in your goodness and your love, may we long only for what you have prepared for us, and hope for nothing more. Withhold all else from us until all we want is you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Which brings us to the question: Who is Jesus to us? We are all familiar with the fact that Jesus is God’s revelation to humanity. But what is not so often explained is that this revelation is a double-edged sword. For, as has been pointed out by several theologians, Jesus does not simply reveal to us the nature of God. No, Jesus also reveals to us the nature of humanity. He shows us what it truly means to be human by showing us a life lived in the hands of God and of God alone.
— Steve Pearson on whosoever.org
Everybody loves music, but not everybody likes theology. I found that out a long time ago. If we were to have a Sunday night program on the great music of the presidents, everybody would come. If we have something entitled “A Theology of Missions,” nobody will be there.
On Wednesday nights when we have our Family Night and adult seminars, if we were to have “Theology 101, Concept of Revelation” nobody would look at their watch in the middle of the afternoon and think, Oh, I have to be there for that tonight. I just love theology so much. Nobody really likes theology—until life happens. Then when life happens, certain events take place where we realize what we believe could be the infrastructure on which we could build some sense of meaning to understand what has happened in our lives. We really don’t care much about theology until we understand that life’s events sometimes require interpretation that can only be built upon understanding how God is at work in the world. If we had a descent theology, we might be able to make sense of or respond to certain things that come our way.
For instance, a young mother dies and leaves a family and people want to know, How is God at work in the world? That is a theological question. We think we don’t like theology until we need to make sense of something like that.
We watch the news and see how Muslims and Christians trying to occupy the same planet have a sense of intolerance for one another and we wonder, How can we hold fast to our personal convictions about Christ and still live tolerably in a world so that people can live at peace? That is a theological question.
Take an example like this: Let’s say that a couple has been married for 30 years. After 30 years of marriage, the husband has decided to move on. He calls the children to say, “I’m leaving your mother.” The adult children are trying to figure this out. One of them in a phone conversation says, “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve found someone else.”
“You have found someone else? How did this happen?”
The father says, “Well, I’m just human.”
In that expression is supposed to be the explanation, the excuse, the rationalization, and the answer that cuts off all further discussion. How does a young adult who is a child of two parents at that point answer that? The answer is it is theological. We think theology does not matter until the things in our lives take place where we have to have some sense of meaning built, some sense of infrastructure of trying to understand where God is at work in the world and in these things. All of a sudden, theology means a lot.
We have been looking at Great Themes of the Bible and if you did not realize it, this is a little bit of sneaking theology past you without actually saying so. The real crux today is what does it mean to be human? Believe it or not, the Bible speaks a great deal about this. Is it our excuse for moral failure anytime we fail to live up to a high ideal or anytime we want someone to look past our faults, to simply say, “I’m just human?” If that is an answer that comes built out of our faith, does that really mean what we say? Is it a valid reason for failing to live up to Christ?
It is a theological statement but I will tell you that I think it is a false one. If we take the thread of what it means to be human and follow it from beginning—and it does certainly start in the beginning in the Garden of Eden—we find that there are two essential pieces to what the scriptures tell us about being human.
The first is Adam becomes our example. Humans are like Adam. If we pay close attention, we find this is not an example of what it means to be human but it is an example of what it means to be broken as a human being. It is an example of something that is human but does not work like a human. It is a flat tire. It needs to be repaired before it operates correctly.
We have all these great theological words about the fall, sin, etc. but this is what the Bible describes as humans who have lowered themselves and have fallen short. “I’m just human. I’m broken like everybody else. You cannot expect me to work right when I have this to work with.” To be human is to be a failure or to have something hardwired into us that we cannot be what God intends us to be. If we follow the thread of what it means to be human through the Bible, we find that Adam is the wrong model. Jesus is the right model. Jesus is the example of what it truly means to be human. If we want to know what God has intended in creation for us to look like as humans, the example is not Adam who failed but Jesus.
If you are really up on your theology, you are thinking, Now wait. Just a few weeks ago you said that Jesus revealed to us what God is like. How can Jesus reveal to us what it means to be human? That is just one of the great things about the faith—fully human and fully divine. Jesus is a picture of what it means to be human.
A good place to settle down on this is to read the Book of Romans. The passage from 2 Peter 1 gives us a shorter and clearer insight. Peter, talking to the early church, says this is being a part of the divine nature. It is the only place in the New Testament where it talks about this. It is talking about God’s intention and harmony for us. This is what God intended for us to be in creation, to avoid the corruption, to avoid the broken model, and to avoid what does not work right which is in Adam. Jesus, in living the way it is described here and all of these characteristics we can see in Christ, is what God intended for us when God created us as humans.
I tried to think of a way to put this into an analogy. In 2 Peter 1 and other places in the New Testament, you will find lists that tell us to stop doing this and start doing that. Put off envy, jealousy, and strife and instead put on godliness, goodness, mutual affection, and love. Think of it this way: Which of these, as a human, would make your life work correctly?
When you go to fill up your car with gasoline, you open up the flap and, typically, you will notice that it says, “Unleaded fuel only.” It might say, “Premium fuel only.” If you have a big truck, it might say, “Diesel fuel only.” But assuming you are driving a car with a regular gasoline engine, it will say, “Unleaded fuel only.” What happens if you put the wrong fuel in? If you accidently pick up the green handle of diesel and put it into your car, will it operate correctly? The answer is for about a minute it will operate correctly until all the gas in the fuel line runs through and you start sucking that diesel into your motor, then it will not work right.
Think about these things: envy, jealousy, anger, arrogance, pride, and narcissism. If they are the fuel for your family, if they are what you put into your relationships to try to make them work, will your family, your relationships, your work, your school, or wherever you try to put this fuel in, run smoothly? The answer is no because that is not what they were intended to run on. If we were to take the things that Peter lists for the early church and for us—generosity, kindness, goodness, and humility—and if that is what we put into families and relationships, which list is going to make life run smoother? It is because we were meant to run on the qualities that we see in Jesus Christ. We were not meant to run on things like pride, rebellion, and all the things that we see in Adam. That is a broken model. If we ever wonder why sometimes our lives as humans are such miserable failures, it is because we are pouring the wrong values, the wrong fuel, the wrong activities, the wrong actions, the wrong way to relationships into them and somehow still expecting them to run smoothly.
The true model for what it means to be human is Jesus Christ. If we will incorporate into our own lives the things that Jesus shows us, we can live our lives in harmony with one another.
Whenever we say, “I am just human,” and use it as an excuse to do something that is less than human, maybe we should just be honest with ourselves and say, “Well, I was broken and less than human. I did not live up to Christ.” This is certainly not a good excuse to hear yourself say out loud, is it? On those occasions when we do things the right way and somebody says, “Why did you serve as Campaign Chair for that charity?” what if you said, “I’m just human”? What if you forgave somebody and it was a dramatic example? People just couldn’t believe it and said, “How could you forgive that person?” What if we said, “I’m just human. I’m just living up to Christ and living the example of what Christ showed me as the way it means to live if I am human,” would that change other things that we do? Would that capture the attention of anyone else as a witness in the world? “I’m just human. I’m just trying to live like Jesus.” Think about what it means to be a human being, a man or a woman. Which fuel—Adam’s fuel or Jesus’ fuel—was my life built to run on? It is the way of Christ because he is the best example of what it truly means to be human.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.