Who Is The Center Of Your Life?
Is Jesus Preeminent in our Lives?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Philippians 2:1-13 says, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” May God help us to live like that.
Shall we try loved ones the hymn #166. You kind of look at that hymn and you think, “Oh, he must have been a very childlike simple man.” And one of the most advanced books we studied in English literature in university was “The History of English Literature” written by Stafford Brooke so he’s a very sharp guy. But it’s interesting that he had that relationship with Jesus.
It’s very easy I think, to keep thinking that our life here on earth is to do things for Jesus. It’s very easy to think that. And we think, “Of course that’s what it’s about. Of course we’re here to do things for Jesus. He has done everything for us and now we’ve to do things for Jesus and that’s what we’re about here. We’re trying to do things for him in his service.”
In particular analysis in English, “we” would be the subject. We “do” would be the verb, the predicate, and the “things” would be the object. We do the things. And that’s what’s wrong about it all. I know it’ll sound terrible to you but that is sin. WE are the doers. And you can see it among ourselves that we tend to be preoccupied with what we are doing for Jesus. Actually, it leads to something that is really threatening for those of us who try to lead. Because as WE are important and do the things so the “WE’s” in us (that make a lot of the decisions), we become important and so we lionize each other.
We lionize especially our leaders but we even lionize each other. And it’s not long before the whole air is filled with “us” in spite of the fact that we say, “The Lord of all, the one who is preeminent among us is Jesus.” Somehow or other we still end up rather concerned with what WE are doing for Jesus and what we think we should do for Jesus, or what we think our leaders should have us do for Jesus.
But somehow or other we end up like the little fellows in Belfast, at the holiday home that we use to run for the children from the slums. There were two little fellows playing soccer. And one of the guys was mowing through everyone else, kicking everyone else around, and just blasting through. The other little fellow said, “He thinks he’s the fellow in the big picture.” The big picture for
us was the main feature in a movie show. The fellow in the big picture was the main actor. So he thinks he’s the fellow in the big picture.
We don’t want to be the fellow in the big picture. We want to be servants of Jesus. But somehow or other we tend to end up the fellows in the big picture, or the girls in the big picture. We tend to end up rather preoccupied with what WE are doing for Jesus.
I think it goes back to us not understanding the whole set up at all. I think it’s because from when we were born, we were brought up to believe that we are separate entities. We are separate entities. Our moms love us, and we were all the world to them. We were all the world to our parents and they thought the world of us.
Of course everybody makes a lot of a little baby. Then the little baby grows a little more and you’re proud of him. In North Carolina we have a bumper sticker that says, “I have the most terrific kid in our high school.” Yes, we put that on our bumper. I would feel kind of dumb if I saw my mother with that on our bumper.
It’s for the best reasons. We all want our kids to grow up balanced and not with inferiority complexes. We want them to feel they’re whole people — competent and capable. But somehow the result of it all is that we tend to think of ourselves as separate entities who are here to do some great things.
We get some of that knocked out of us as we go through school, university, and we go to work. But still we’re generally left with the feeling that we are here to do something. And when we give our lives to Jesus, then we’re here to do things for Jesus. And the fact is it’s not true, it’s all upside down.
I’d like to show you the first clue to it in John 8:58. John 8:58, is one of those baffling sentences that we have all read at different times but tend to just set it aside because it’s a baffler. What does it mean? It just is senseless. Either the tense is wrong or Jesus is saying something far deeper than we know.
John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” And it looks silly grammatically, “Before Abraham was, I am.” “No Lord, you should say, ‘Before Abraham was, I was.’” But of course Jesus is saying, “I am here. My Father conceived of me in one second in eternity. And in the second second, (the number two second), he conceived that within me Abraham would be created. And so I didn’t cease to be the moment Abraham was created in me, I am here and I saw those two seconds. So I am this second and I am this second. Before Abraham was, (and I’m talking about 20 AD), because he was back there and we are here, Jesus says, before Abraham was, I am. I am there.”
It’s a bit like that illustration you remember, of the procession through the little town and there were two brothers watching it. One was a little guy, six or seven years of age and he could just see through a little hole in the fence. He could stand at that hole, look through and see just what was passing in front of his eyes. The band was passing so he could see the drummers, then he could see the ones that were playing the pipes, and then he could see the marchers that came after. But he could just see the little bit in that hole.
His brother was older. He decided he would climb on to the roof of the shed in the garden. So he
climbed onto the roof and could look over the fence. He could see not only those people who were passing, but he could see the ones that were still coming way down the street. He could see the ones that had past, and the ones way out that way, where the little guy could just see those passing.
So Jesus, in that one second in eternity, sees all of time, just in one great moment. And not only did he exist there, not only did Abraham exist, but look at the verse that we looked at before it’s Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Because, we were created in Christ Jesus and so not only did Abraham exist in Christ, but we existed in Christ and we were created in Christ. And when God conceived of his son he conceived of him also as someone who is of all things – well, you can see it in Colossians 1:15. Colossians 1:15, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” And so the first second God conceived of his only begotten son and the second second he conceived of him as the first-born of all creation.
We always think of Jesus as being just the divine son of God that had nothing to do with earth. But here God is saying, “I conceived of him as the very first man, he was the first-born of all creation, he was the father of all of you.” Because that’s what that verse says in Colossians 1:16, “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”
The truth is that all of us were created in Jesus. We were created in him so that he would be preeminent. But we have the idea that even though we were in Jesus, he threw us off almost like a planet throws bits into space. So, he threw me off here and now I’m out here trying to do something for him. And someone else is out there trying to do something for him. And we’re cast off into time to fiddle around for 70 years or so and we do our best for him. Then somehow we get back together with him. No. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that. In fact, the Bible says the opposite. The Bible says, “You are individually parts of the body of Jesus. You are the body of Jesus. You’re Jesus’ body now. “I created you in my son and you are his body here on earth.” Jesus himself stresses that. He says, “Just as my Father is in me, I’m in you. I’m in you and you’re in me.” And then he says, “Now, stay in me, abide in me. I never threw you out, I never cast you out, you’re part of me.” But we have missed that.
When you think of it the church tried to get that over to us in some way. It wasn’t just chance that they baptized babies. It wasn’t just because they’re not evangelical enough that they baptized babies. We baptize babies to make it clear that this person was in Jesus. Now, sooner or later they either accept that and live like that or they reject it and don’t live like that. But the truth is they were created in Jesus, they were part of Jesus, and that’s where they are. I agree with you that in the church we baptized the baby but then we fell into living the way the rest of the world lived.
We than began to treat them as individual little creatures that had their own rights. And indeed, some of our own pride and our own independence got into it. We wanted them to succeed. In fact, we wanted all kinds of things that we didn’t know whether Jesus wanted or not. But the fact is, you don’t have an independent existence. The only way in which you and I exist is that we’re part of
Christ. And the truth is that we are part of God’s son whom he has sent to earth to bring the world into order.
And that explains the rest of that verse, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good words, which he has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In other words, God has an infinite mind and he doesn’t have to see you born and then pass through adolescence and then come into some kind of adulthood before he knows the kind of person you are going to be. We’ve said it before that even our computers enable us to foresee what our needs for gasoline will be 20 years hence. Even our computers can tell us what the population of the world will be in the 2000, or the year 2020.
Well, how much more can the infinite mind of God see everything in a second so that he foresees and can see all that will take place? He himself has seen all that in his son. He has foreseen the creation of each one of us in Jesus. He has foreseen the creation of the world. He has seen how the world will go. He has outlined the whole thing. It is laid out and there are good works prepared beforehand that we should walk in. And all the time it’s one person walking. It’s Christ himself. He has walked this road already. In two seconds he walked it.
He bore all the pain and the agony in two seconds and now for our little minds he lets that be played out from whatever it is — 4000 BC or if they want to say 25 million BC to what it is going to be in 2000 AD or 5000 AD. But to them he’s playing it right out. It’s all set for us and it’s Christ himself who will walk that way. And so you and I are part of Christ and that’s our meaning. That’s the purpose of our lives.
So you can see how ridiculous it is when we have this attitude that we are here to do something for Christ when we are part of Christ and it’s Christ in us that is doing the thing. We are not here to do something for Jesus. We’re not here to try and set out some kind of life for ourselves that will be fulfilling or will leave the world a better place than we found it. We are here only for one reason, for Jesus himself to live the life that he planned to live in us and to do the works that he has already done. We simply walk in those works.
But it changes everything, and sets everybody free. It sets us free. I mean, it’s not Marty Overby trying to work out, “Well, I hope Myron Kliewer, Pastor, and my wife care about my abilities and what I can do. I hope they sense the kind of hopes I have for my life. I hope I can find something that I can do that’s useful for God and I’m going to try.” No. The Savior knows what he has already done in your life and through you and he will reveal those works to you so that you can walk in them.
And I think that’s the wonder of it. It’s not Ada this little Chinese girl and I’m Ernest O’Neill having to think out how she can be used to expand Christian Corps or to do wonderful things for God.” That’s such an insult. It’s an insult to you, and to me too. It’s such an insult that we try to run each other’s lives. No, no, the wonder and the dignity, why I’m excited that you’re here, is that Jesus has a life that he has already planned to manifest in you and he will show you each step. And so there are things that the Savior can do through you that I have no idea of, Myron has no idea of, Marty has no idea of, and Joyce has no idea of. It’s exciting to see those things being unfolded. And it gives you a freedom and a liberty in Jesus that is far beyond being a worker in some little company or some little missionary organization.
It’s the wonder of Christ himself living a life in you that he has already planned, has already laid
out, and the thing is already achieved. You have all the excitement and the wonder of manifesting it here in time. That’s what it’s about. That’s why in the early days after Jesus’ resurrection there was that sense of excitement.
I always think of it in a funny way, “They seek them here, they seek them there, they find them anywhere,” — Scarlet Pimpernel. I sometimes think it’s like that. It was like that with Christ. He came through that wall last night in our time and he appeared to the disciplines on the lakeshore, where will he be next? And so there was an awareness that Christ was right there, right there.
And that’s what God’s will is for us, that we would be a community that would hang on our Savior. That we would be motivated by him and would worship him, so that as the Bible says, “He would be pre-eminent.” There would be therefore an awareness, a restraint, and a faith. It would be the obedience of faith. Not just obedience, but the Bible talks about the obedience of faith. That is, the obedience of faith that knows that Christ is in me and that I am part of Christ and that Christ himself has things to do through me today and I obey him. Because, you remember, the Bible says, “The Lord is the Spirit. The Spirit within us is Jesus alive.” And that’s the obedience that we’re called to.
If you say to me, “Does that result in obedience to one another?” Yes. It results in being mutually submissive one to another in Christ. So there’s a mutual submission to one another in Christ but that isn’t the big submission, that isn’t the big obedience. The big obedience is not me obeying Trish, or obeying Mary, or them obeying me. The big obedience is to this dear Savior of whom each of us is a part. That’s the obedience that counts. And I’d just put it to you a bit as I’ve put it to others at times. Is Jesus the big person to you? Is Jesus the big person in your life? Or is somebody else the big person in your life?
When you think of what you should do who immediately do you think of? Well there is only one. You’re part of one person and he’s the only one that knows what he wants to do through you and none of the rest of us really do. Do you know that’s why Paul said, “The spiritual man is judged by no one.” That’s why he said that. The spiritual man is judged by no one because he’s responsible to one preeminent person, the person in whom he was created, the person of whom he is a part. And whenever we live any other way but that, there comes a deadness and a sense of coldness into our lives because it’s unreal. Because, that’s a whole life that has been destroyed and crucified and cast out forever.
And so, whenever you live like that you feel a deadness, a lostness, an anxiety, and a worry, wondering what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to get through the day. The reality is that you’re part of our Savior; you’re part of Jesus himself. You’re part of God’s only son. You’re a part of his son that none of the rest of us is. So actually our moms and our dads were right. We are very important but not in the way we all thought. But you’re invaluable.
Do you realize that God himself thought of you a second after he thought of his son? God thought of you, he saw your life a second after he conceived of his son. I agree with you it’s almost inconceivable, but that’s the truth. God thought of you. That’s how much you mean to him. That’s how intimate and inherent a part of his life and mind you are. That’s how important you are. It is overwhelming.
There’s a line of poetry that we use with each other and it’s, “Tread softly; I shall layout my
dreams before you.” He says that I suppose to his loved one, “I shall layout my dreams as carpets so tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” So that’s why we walk carefully with each other, because when I touch you I touch the Savior. If I touch your life, I’m touching Jesus. So it’s very important that I don’t make you a robot. It’s very important that I don’t make you preoccupied with me and what I think you should do. It’s very important that I do not for a moment draw your attention off the blessed Savior because it’s you and it’s him that I’m touching.
So it brings a great holy reverence and respect for each other. It brings a gentleness and a restraint with each other that then in its turn encourages each of us to look to Jesus himself. Then, that sparks renaissance. That sparks the exciting creativity of the body of Jesus. That sparks all the life that produced the Shaker’s furniture, all the life that produced the Quaker village that became Welwyn Garden City. That sparks all the life that was in the old Mennonites, all the life that is in Ignatius and St. Theresa when they founded the settlement houses. That sparks the creativity of whom? — The blessed Savior himself.
Every time he comes the lake lights up with the sunlight that he brings and is turned into gold. Everything that Jesus touches turns into gold. And so when you get a body of men and woman who live in reality you get the life of Jesus multiplying. And that’s actually what happens when revival comes, the life of Jesus multiples the loaves and fishes. What have you to do? Oh just have this mind in you which you already have in Christ Jesus. You have this, you’re in Jesus. You’ve been created in him and he’s in you. Live that gloriously. Live that and let him reveal to you and through you to us what he’s doing and what he wants to do. And that’s life, and that’s the wonder of it.
But you do see that he then becomes preeminent. And you’re no fools, you know fine well we’ve only to look at a lot of the religious operations and religious movements to see they’re lionizing like that. They lionize this leader, and that leader, and this preacher, and that preacher. They lionize him, make him great and then in the shadows there is a one who says, “I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest unto your souls.” He’s in the shadows and we are out there, the supermen and superwoman. No, he is the king of kings, he is the Lord of lords, he is all of us. All of us are in him; we can’t breathe if he didn’t breathe today. We couldn’t see if he had not eyes today. We are him, we are in him, and we have no existence apart from him. Because he lives, we live also.
Let us pray. Dear Savior, we are ashamed how we have thought of you as the third person, a he, a him, up in heaven at our Father’s right hand all the time we have been this little cell inside you. All the time you have been bearing us, feeding us with your breath, giving us life with your blood, giving us ability to see with our eyes. All the time Lord, we’ve been in you as you’ve been in us. Savior, we see how we have sunk into ourselves and sunk into each other so that everything has become important but the one who is important, you yourself.
Oh Savior, we would embrace you today and enter into life and let you unfold the good works which you’ve already done and which you want us now to walk in. Holy Spirit, will you lead us in this? Our habits have been long established and they have a grip on our minds and emotions, and on our very bodies, so will you lead us out? Lead us out of this wilderness where we’re preoccupied with ourselves, and with each other, with everybody but the one of whom we are part, the one whom is our life.
Oh Holy Spirit, lead us back now to the loving Shepherd in whom we have been created and in whom we
now live and have our being. Holy Spirit, lead us now into reality. We hardly know how to change or what to do so we ask you Holy Spirit to show us. We don’t know what changes these things will bring about in us but you know. You, our Savior has told us, will take of the things of Christ and impart them to us. Holy Spirit, will you do that? Will you take of the things of Jesus and impart them to us so that we can turn this into actual actions, and words, and thoughts that will enable you Lord Jesus, to manifest the life that you have already lived.
We do thank you Father, for assuring us that you have numbered all our days. Before there were any of them you have numbered them all. You have seen them all. And so the way is sure before us and is plain, and is seen by you, and has been lovingly planned by you. Lord Jesus, take back the life that we have wrenched from your grasp. Take back the life Lord Jesus, that we have often unknowingly but sometimes knowingly, the life we have grabbed to ourselves and turned into nothingness.
Lord Jesus, come and live the life that you have planned to live, that rich life that has your creativity and your direction in it. Thank you Savior, thank you that we each one have a life that is rich and full that you have planned. Thank you Lord that it’s far beyond anything that we have seen with our own little human eyes. Lord Jesus, come and live now in us and live in us together so that we not only have your mind Lord Jesus, which is already ours because we’re in you. We don’t only have it in ourselves and think of things the way you think of them, but we also have this mind among ourselves so that we live this way with each other and you yourself are exalted.
Above all you are lifted up and you will draw all eyes unto yourself. Lord, we thank you for this day. Thank you for all the wonder that lies before us and for all the enjoyment of these next few weeks. Above all Savior, we look forward now to you living your life in us as part of you for your glory. Amen.