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Clearing the Way, Preparing the Way, Getting Out of the Way: How Great Men Respond to the Greatest Calling

Based on Jesus words in Matthew 11:11, you can make the case that the greatest man who ever lived was John the Baptist, but his greatness lay in the fact that he pointed others to Christ. On a day when we celebrate human accomplishment (Super Bowl Sunday), John challenges us to reconsider where true significance is found.

Todd WagnerFeb 6, 2011
John 3:17-36

Messages In This Series (10)
Compassion and the Compentency We Have with Christ: How We Can Feed Five Thousand
Todd WagnerJun 5, 2011
Bingo! The Answer is "Jesus". (And the Question is: "Who is God?")
Todd WagnerMay 29, 2011
The King and His Kingdom and What You Must Know to Enjoy them Both
Todd WagnerMay 1, 2011
Jesus on Jesus
Todd WagnerApr 17, 2011
Do You Want to Get Well? Here's Your Man and Here's How.
Todd WagnerApr 10, 2011
From Confusion to Crisis to Clarity to Completion: The Progression from Christlessness to Contagious Faith
Todd WagnerApr 3, 2011
What Worshiping in Spirit and Truth Means for Disciples and the Harvest
Todd WagnerFeb 27, 2011
The Woman at the Well: A Picture of Grace, a Picture of Us
Todd WagnerFeb 20, 2011
It's the Relationship, Stupid: The Right Well for Your Bucket
Todd WagnerFeb 13, 2011
Clearing the Way, Preparing the Way, Getting Out of the Way: How Great Men Respond to the Greatest Calling
Todd WagnerFeb 6, 2011

Father, thank you for a chance this morning to come in here wherever we are across the broad swath of relationship or lack thereof with you that we have. We know that there are folks who are suffering as a result of things that they have nothing to do with. We know that there are also folks in this room who are suffering because of direct choices they have made.

What we're not sure they know but that we do know and we gladly declare again as a source of praise to you and good news to them is that no matter what our circumstance, Father, you are kind and gracious and sovereign over it. I pray that you would just use our reflection on your Word this morning to be a means of grace for each of us wherever we are.

Whether we need to come to hope for the first time, come to Christ, or having known him, move seriously in full response to our relationship with him or having walked with you now for some time that we would continue in joy and more radical obedience and followership than we ever have because you've enlarged our heart's understanding. Thanks for friends who are here with me. Bless them this morning. In Christ's name, amen.

Well let me start by reading you an email I got from one of the many guys who are part of Watermark who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area who are part of the first responders that we are so grateful for: police officers, EMTs, firemen. One of our friends here who has been around Watermark for about 10 years has served in that specific community, and he shot me an email about two weeks ago that I want to start today by reading to you. This is what it says.

"Todd, I just want to paint a picture here. A picture of some parts of lives that most rarely get to see. This job that I have places me sometimes in the middle of people's lives when they are at their worst. We arrived this morning at the address that we were called to to find a father in tears, sitting in a plastic lawn chair on the front porch.

The front door was closed to block out the reality of what lie inside the home: the life and family he had been building for years. He was holding the cordless phone with 911 still on the line. Perhaps for a moment he thought there was still hope, but by the time we approached him, that moment had gone, and like so many others, the moments of hope had passed as his son's battle with drugs ended in death.

'He's gone,' was all he could bring himself to say as he led us into the house, stopping at the bottom of the stairs leading to his 24-year-old son's room. 'We thought he was doing okay,' the dad said. 'I went to wake him up because he was late for class. We thought he was doing okay. We thought he wasn't having problems anymore.'

I stayed with the father as our paramedics quickly lugged their medical equipment up the stairs to assess the medical situation. He slowly pinballed around the house, sobbing as I kept a watchful eye, always just several steps away from him. 'Is there someone we can call for you?' I asked.

From the look on his face, I could tell this question brought him out of his isolation of anguish and he said, 'I have to go tell his sister.' Turning away to walk down a long hallway, I thought he was going to find a phone, but then he stopped in front of another door. He closed the door. He lowered his head. He gently knocked several times before disappearing into the quiet bedroom.

'He's gone,' he says as he walks into the room. I could hear the woman's voice through the faint, muffled crying. Then a burst of scream that quickly subsided, 'What? No! What? Gone?' Alone in the hallway, I prayed for this family. 'It's my fault!' She now cries in the room. 'It's my fault!' The father says, 'Oh, honey, no.'

That was all I remember him saying before he walked out of the room and passed me in the hallway. A woman, also in her young 20s, stepped out into the hall, collapsed into a sitting position against the wall, folding herself into an upright fetal position. I stooped next to her, placing both hands on her bathrobed arm as she pulled her knees to her chest, sobbing.

I said, 'There's nothing you could've done to change the decisions your brother made last night. You were never in control of his life. He fought with drugs and he lost, and there's nothing that you could do to help him. This is not your fault. Don't blame yourself.' She sighed small sobs and said, 'Thank you.'

Todd, this was our second heroin OD call before 9:30 this morning. The first one, the needle was still in the young man's arm. He survived. This one was not so fortunate. Another life lost. Another piece of evidence of how closed doors will never stop or hide the destruction of the pain in your life that's going on outside those closed doors.

For 23 years right here in our own backyard, I've watched this constant flow of pain and confusion ravage the likes of mankind because of their choice to walk away from God. When I started, I had no idea how common the destruction was. There were times when I started to write to you before about other stories. I just never followed through.

So why now? I just want to tell you how fortunate I am to now be a part of a body these last 10 years that declares to others that there is hope, a body that consistently loves people in a way as to push open their closed doors, and a body who faithfully wounds and tenderly loves." Then he goes on to say some encouraging things about us together and just closes with another reminder of how desperate the need is.

So why do I read that to start this morning? The reason I do is because I want to let you know that the reason that we push through closed doors, the reason we sometimes bring open rebuke is because we know that when love is concealed and we don't speak the truth to one another, death continues to reign in our lives and because we are Christ followers.

What God did is he pushed through this barrier, this closed-ness in our hearts where we said, "You're not good. We don't need you. We don't want to know what you think. We'll choose what is good on our own. We'll decide what is evil on our own." And we closed ourselves off to the idea that the God who created us was a God who was necessary for our joy.

Yet God, in his love, did not leave those doors closed. God kicked those doors open and came into this broken, diseased, betrayed, deathly world and said, "Hope is here. I love you. Before the full extent of your death overcomes you and this life I've given you expires and you move into then an eternity where you experience the reality of that choice I have come to reconcile yourself to me."

You see, many people ask me the question all the time. "Todd, how can you say, 'God is good. God is wise. God is loving. He is sovereign and this is his world? 'I don't want to know a God who this world that he runs looks like this with this kind of destruction and death and pain in it. Why would you worship a God who is sovereign over this world?"

Here's the reason why. It's because God didn't bring death and destruction into the world. Death and destruction came as a result of our sin. What God has done is he has kicked open the doors that were barricaded because of sin. He has entered into that darkness and he has said, "Come out of that darkness into the light."

There's going to be a day when one time he vanquishes the darkness forever. The reason he doesn't accelerate that day is because he wants those of us who are still in the grips of sin to be delivered from it and brought into relationship with him so that when he judges sin, we are not consumed with it. You see, we are the problem.

This is not God's destructive world. This is our world that we have destroyed from being God's world. Sin brought death and destruction in the world, not God. God is not a rapist, so he doesn't make you love him. But he creates you, puts you in Paradise, tells you what is good, encourages you to stay and walk with him, and when you leave him, you move from light to darkness, from life to death.

Now last week, we talked about the fact that, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." That word life there is eternal zōē, not bios, not biological life. It's not just that you'll live physically forever. It is true. We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Some to everlasting life, others to everlasting judgment. But what believe means is that when you trust in God, you will move then to this idea of everlasting zōē. It's the word for soul life.

It is you will be alive again in spirit. You will no longer be walking in a way that seems right to you that in the end leads to death. But you'll now be reconciled to God, and you will no longer live behind the closed door of sin, medicating yourself to get rid of the pain, intoxicating yourself to avoid the sorrow, living in a fantasy world where there is no real relationship because you can't have a successful relationship in your real world.

Let me just say this again. God doesn't judge the world because of pornography, adultery, immorality, whether it's heterosexual or homosexual. He doesn't judge the world because of anger. He doesn't judge the world because of lust. He doesn't judge the world because of greed or materialism. All those things are the judgment that we have received because of one thing that God says brings death.

That is our decision to say, "You're not good, Father. You're not kind. You're not loving. You're not wise. I don't need you. I can do fine without you." We believe the lie that God is not good, his Word is not true, and disobeying him is not that big a deal. Here's the deal. When you separate yourself from God who is life, you necessarily get that which is not life, which is death.

If you separate yourself from God, who is light, you necessarily get darkness. So what happens in darkness? Betrayal, disease, loneliness, brokenness, everything is lost. Paradise, glory is lost because we go our own way. Again, God isn't judging us because of porn. Porn is the judgment.

Porn is the sad state of life that we have to go to because I can't love in a way that builds trust, I can't serve in a way and lead in a way that would cause a woman to give her heart to me and be so delighted in the intimacy that comes through our lives melding together that she would recklessly throw herself at me in all wonderful abandon to where she would share with me all the delights of her created beauty in a covenant relationship with intimacy and with confidence and security and peace and love for one another.

Because I can't live in a loving way that would allow a woman to enjoy physical intimacy with me, I have to move from the physical reality of a real relationship and real sex and real joy to have this imaginary world over here where some usually drug-induced miserable gal lives out some fantasy before me on the computer in some magazine or in some story so that in my mind I can have a relationship that brings me pleasure.

Do you see that's not what brings judgment? That is the judgment. You live in a Dungeons and Dragons world of victory and not in a noble world as a true king, a fantasy of greatness as opposed to the reality of it. What I am declaring to you, what the gospel of John is all about, what the gospel of Christ is all about is that God did not kick the doors of sin open to bring Jesus here to punish you.

He came because you are suffering, because you've left goodness and God can't offer you goodness and life apart from him because goodness and life don't exist apart from him. Veiled and shadowed representations of goodness exist apart from him. Fleeting joys, fleeting pleasures, but not deep abiding soul intimacy and real life.

You can numb yourself with pleasure and you can numb yourself with surroundings and you can numb yourself with drugs and alcohol and trips for a moment but in the end, you always are there lying alone desperate at night. God kicks open the door of darkness and in love he brings the Son to be a provision for your sin so that sin no longer rules and masters you. This great verse that we just read earlier in worship, this is it. John 3:17. Watch this.

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world…" No, judgment was already in the world when it left God. "…but that the world might be saved through Him." Are you here this morning and confused about who God is? Let me clear the way. Let me straighten out your thinking. God is good. He is not angry at you. He is a loving Father.

Like any Father who sees a prodigal son who is eating the slop of pigs instead of feasting at his table as a righteous King, he longs for you to come to your senses and return home, to acknowledge the foolishness of your choices, and to be reconciled to him. God, in his greatness, has made provision for you that you might come back to him.

For God did not send the Son into the world to tell you that you're bad. He said, "You know you're miserable. Why don't you just acknowledge it and come home? I have paid your debts. The righteousness you've squandered I can restore, and I can deliver you from that which you have earned, which is death. I can pull you out of the judgment that you live in and give you life."

You see, the Scripture says in verse 18, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…" Why? "…because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Who is life. This is eternal zōē, eternal life in the fullest. To know that God is good, that he is fully revealed in his Son and that he loves and he cares for you and, "…in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever."

As the psalmist said, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield…no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Come to him. Come to him. See, if you are here this morning and you're confused, let me clear the way. Let me get your mind right. Then let me prepare the way for him to come, which means you must repent. You have to turn from the way which seems right to you in the darkness away from God and say, "This is not bringing me the life that I want," and return to him in humility.

What I want to do this morning is show you what a great man is and what a great woman is. Do you know what a great man and woman are? It's somebody who does what I've already declared to you this morning. It's somebody who clears the way for God, prepares the way for God, and then gets out of the way, because it's about Christ and not about you.

The reason that we go into the world is not to get folks to connect with us as individuals or us at Watermark but to get them to connect with Christ. Then as other people who have found him, to walk with us, to seek other prodigals like ourselves who need to come home and to find the joy that we have in our relationship with our Father. We are building his kingdom, not ours.

This little section of John ends right there in verses 19-21 where it says, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." They ran away from Christ when he came because they were committed to their religion, they were committed to their practices, they weren't broken enough yet.

So what I tell folks all the time. I said, "Look, man, if you like what you have, keep doing what you're doing, but if you keep doing what you're doing, I'm going to warn you. You're not going to like what you're going to get. So just because you haven't felt the sting of sin to the point of brokenness yet, it just means that you are delaying the payment."

I love the illustration of a guy who jumped off a 100-story building. When he goes through the ninety-fifth floor, he watches me stuck inside and says, "See, you fool. There's life out here. You should feel the adrenaline rush of what I have going on here," and mocks me and my obedience to gravity. On the ninetieth floor, he still might scream up, "You fools! Live! You wouldn't believe the rush!" On the fiftieth floor and the fortieth floor, he is still full of life and joy.

I want to just tell you, sooner or later the reality of his rebellion against the law that is fixed in this universe will catch up with him. So some of you jumped off a very tall building of self-sufficiency and comfort and ease and you mock those of us who say there is life only in Christ. What I want to say, there is a law fixed in the universe, and that law is this.

Unless you come to the light, you will live in the darkness and the reality of that darkness will overcome you. Unless you walk with God who is life, you will experience death. You just might have a longer jump than others, but sooner or later the reality of your experience is going to catch up with you. The Scripture goes on to say right here in verse 20, "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."

Because he is committed to those deeds. He doesn't want to acknowledge that his deeds are evil and because he has a perverted view of whom God is. "He could never forgive me." Why? "Because I would never forgive somebody who treated me the way I've treated God. If there is a God, I am lost, Wagner. I could never get back to him." I want to just tell you. Quit telling God what he is like. God wants you to hear this morning that he loves you.

He is trying to get in that room to save you from your heroin-induced coma and the loneliness and your bondage to pornography and fantasy and to bring you out into life: real relationship, real joy, a place that you don't need to be numbed or medicated, but you can walk in victory and nobility and fullness of life. Don't tell God he can't love you just because you don't know how to love. Learn to love from him.

Verse 21 wraps up that little section. It says, "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." In other words, if you believe, you're going to behave differently. If you believe God is good, that means you're no longer going to trust in your own mind, but you're going to lean on his will and way.

So you'll say with me and others who have come to know and understand the goodness of God. "I trust in God with all my heart. I lean not on my own understanding, but I run to the light. In all my ways, I acknowledge him, because he'll make my paths straight. I won't be running my head into the wall anymore because I no longer live in darkness because my loving Father is revealing to me where life is." That's the gospel and that's the truth.

Now let me just show you what great men and women do. In fact, if you want something fun to do today at your little Super Bowl party and gathering, when you find a down moment, just go, "Hey, I have a question to throw out to everybody. Who do you think is the greatest person who ever lived? Just to make it easy, let's just say among those born of a man. So let's just throw Jesus out, all right? Who is the greatest person who ever lived and why?"

And just get that conversation going. All right? Say, "Hey, I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're all. We have a little deal over here. We're saying who is going to win and what the score is going to be. There's another pot over here. Write down who the greatest person who ever lived is and put it in that pot. When the game is over, those who want to hang around, we'll have a conversation about what we all thought and why."

Now I'll just go ahead and give you the answer if you want to be right. Because Jesus has already participated in that little party game. Jesus said it wasn't Abraham. It wasn't Noah. It wasn't Moses. It wasn't David the great king. It wasn't any prophet who revealed truth. It wasn't any pharaoh who ruled. It wasn't Solomon, the wisest who ever lived. It wasn't any caesar who was prevalent around the world at that time.

Jesus said among those born of women, there has never arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist. JTB is the man. That's his street name, his rap name, his handle. That's the guy. Matthew 11:11. He said, "That's the guy." That makes me stop and take note and go, "Okay, why is that guy the one who Jesus says, 'Among all guys, he is the guy'?" Let me give you two reasons.

The first one is pretty simple. God is so great that if you are associated with him, if you are the Robin to his Batman, he is such an outstanding superhero that even another superhero isn't as great as you and your Robin-ness to his Batman. In other words, if you are his Robin, then you can have a Superman and an Aquaman and a Spiderman in the room, and they are second to his Batman.

That is when you know you are a mega star, when your posse and the unknown hangers-on to you and servants of you are greater than the next biggest star in the world. See why John the Baptist was the greatest was because John understood who Jesus was. He isn't just some superhero. He is very God of very God and John attached himself to him and said, "I have three jobs. To clear the way," In other words to straighten people's understanding out of who God is.

John the Baptist did that specifically by saying this. "He is not a coming, conquering king, your Messiah. He is not some political power. He is not some economic miracle worker. Your Messiah will one day accomplish all that, but he is not just this Lion. He is also a Lamb that will come and be a perfect sacrifice to make a perfect payment so that a perfect God can be perfectly just and provide perfect grace for you.

This Messiah is coming to give himself for you so that you can enjoy him again. When God has completed his work of grace, he will then go and consume that which should be consumed, which is everything that is not righteous in his eyes and then he will create again a new heaven and a new earth where there will never be a tear, never be a sadness because all will know him and walk with him and know that he is good. So his work of grace is going on right now. So come to him while there is still time and he might be found."

John communicated that Christ, that the Messiah, must first come as an agent of grace before he comes as an agent of glory to rule with a rod of iron. He cleared up that misunderstanding. Because they were just looking for somebody to come and kick Caesar's rear end, somebody to come and make them a political power, someone to give them economic prosperity. He said, "You need sin work, soul work first."

Secondly, John came to clear their understanding of where true righteousness came from. It's not going to come through deeds which you have done, but it's going to come by mercy. The Old Testament teaches salvation by grace through faith. The whole Old Testament says the righteous shall live by faith and you have then dumbed it down to make it a system of rules and regulations and rituals.

Many of you are here this morning. Let me clear the way for Christ. God has never thought that your job is to clean up the nastiness in your dark little room before you open the door and have him come in and impress him with how neat your room is. No, you admit that you are in bondage to your own mess and you cry out, "Help me," and ask him to kick that door in by grace and to come in and to make new what you have corrupted.

What John was doing is saying, "You need to repent of your righteousness through ritual and trust in me, trust in Christ, specifically." So he cleared the way by getting their mind right with the truth that was already in Scripture, breaking them from the traditions of Pharisaism.

Then secondly, he prepared the way by saying, "This is how you do it now that you understand truth. You repent, which means you change your thinking about God. You no longer fear him because he wants to whup you. You understand that he has come to offer you grace. You should take it while there's still time. Repent."

Then John did the third thing which makes him great, which is he said, "It's not about me now. Let me get out of the way and I want you to love the Father. I'll do everything I can to teach you more about him and to push you toward him, but you're not my disciple. You're his disciple." Let me tell you, my goal at Watermark is not to make you love me as your pastor and have this be a great church but for you to love Christ and to know that he is your High Priest and that he cares for you.

I'll do all I can to teach you and encourage you and equip you, to lock arms with you as we run toward him, but this is not about you joining us here. It's about you joining us as we seek the King. That's what made John essentially great. Now watch this. There is a major shift in verse 22. Very quickly, this is what happens.

It says, "After these things…" What are these things? It's all of chapter 2 and chapter 3 up to verse 21, which is basically Jesus going into Jerusalem, cleansing the temple, having a little dialogue with the Pharisees about why he was saying, "Enough of the way things are done. Now the new sacrifice is here. You don't need that old sacrificial system. I am the one who is going to come. I will cleanse the temple myself. I will provide provision for sin for people."

Him explaining that whole thing, him doing miracles to authenticate those things, him being celebrated by some people, rejected by others, him having a conversation with Nicodemus. All that is the these things that are talked about in verse 22. That's John, chapter 2, verse 1, all the way through John, chapter 3, verse 21.

"After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea…" It means he left Jerusalem and he kind of went down to the wilderness area, which is where John the Baptist hung out. While he was spending time there with his disciples, they started baptizing. Now this is really great because that little phrase there, spending time, is diatribō, if you care.

Some words are really interesting to me. The word diatribō is where we get the word… It looks like diatribe. It's the word diatribe, in effect. That's how we would transliterate it. Now what's a diatribe? A diatribe is when you wear someone's heinie out. The Greek word dia- is a prefix, and it means to go through.

So diametros, diameter, that word is when you pass through a circle. It's a straight line that goes from one side of a circle to another. So there it is again. See, passing through the circle is the diameter. Diatribe comes from the word to pass through a conversation. The idea there, it came to me like somebody who rubs.

So a diatribe is somebody who keeps having the same conversation and just wears your heinie out because he is going to pass through again and again that speak. It implies friction. It came to mean to spend time. So what it is really saying there, and John used this word intentionally, he said Jesus went to Judea and he spent time, and that time there was going to cause friction with people who don't know who he is.

Why is there going to be friction? Because there's a guy called John the Baptist who has a ministry in Judea where he baptizes. Now comes another dude onto the scene into his region, opens up another hamburger stand, and guess what? Folks are liking Jesus' hamburger more than John's.

Now earlier Jesus had been doing some stuff up north in Galilee. "I'm great with Jesus up there in Galilee. Now he is down here opening up a hamburger stand where I am the hamburger man. I am John the Baptist of Judea. Why is Jesus here?" The disciples come to him, the disciples of John, and say, "This guy is encroaching on our territory." Watch this. Let's just read this for a second. There is potential friction because Jesus is there. Then we get to verse 23, it says,

"John also was baptizing in [the same area] , because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized—for John had not yet been thrown into prison." This is important because John wants you to know, John is still out there running in the wilderness, and he is still a man of some notoriety. He is not yet locked up so it's no big deal that Jesus has moved into his territory. He still has his hamburger stand working there.

What happens is in verse 25, "Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purification." Who basically was challenging them because earlier the Jew said, "Hey, why are you baptizing people? Why are you telling folks to repent from our systems of washings and cleansing that we say make them right with God? Only Gentiles who don't know Jewish law need to repent. Why do Jews need to get baptized?"

John's answer: "Because you don't know that the system that you have is not the system that God has revealed in the Old Testament. They need to repent of this system of being cleansed through dead works and washings and trust that there is another washing done by God that will cleanse you." So there was already that.

Then, secondly, then the Jews came back and said, "Hey, if your washing was so great, why are people leaving you and now having this Jesus wash them?" The disciples of John the Baptist were pretty insecure. They had thrown in with this guy. Some of them were like, "You know what? That's a good question. Hey John, Jesus is kind of moving into our territory. We were all fine with him being a prophet there in Galilee. He can open up his own McDonald's up north, but this is our McDonald's."

Watch what John does. This is what makes him great. It says right here in verse 26, "And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.'""It's hurting our market share. We're losing our congregation." What would a great man do?

A great man would go, "Are you kidding me? You mean you're learning to not trust and follow me and others are learning now to follow God? My whole job was to clear the way, prepare the way, and now get out of the way. I'm not trying to get folks to be fans of Todd Wagner at Watermark. I'm not trying to get folks to love John the Baptist.

This is not about raising up men who others go, 'Whoa!' It's about men loving you enough to say, 'Think clearly about God. Change your understanding. Repent of your own self-reliance. Fall in love with Jesus. I'll run after him with you. We will be brothers. We will be a kingdom of priests.'" This is what John did. Watch this.

Verse 27: "John answered and said, 'A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.'" First of all, John understood, clearly, sovereignty. John said, "Look, all I am is a guy who is serving the Lord. If God is done with me being the primary means through which Israel is coming to its senses and Jesus is here, and by the way he is, I'm great with that.

My goal was not to establish myself a kingdom and myself a position of influence forever and ever, amen. I'm trying to raise up the influence of God forever and ever, amen. This is his kingdom for his glory, and that's what I've been always telling you. My job was to clear the way, prepare the way, and get out of the way. So I'm not bothered by the fact that Christ is becoming more famous."

I sometimes get asked this question. Folks come up and go, "Man, Todd are you impressed and sometimes overwhelmed by the success of Watermark?" Folks have asked me that a lot over the last 10 years. I always answer it the same way. First of all I go, "How you define success? Are you talking about numbers? Are you talking about buildings? Are you talking about buzz?

I don't define success by buildings, size of budgets, or number of butts in seats. I've never defined success that way. Because that's not the way the Bible defines success. You are saying because we're big, we're successful. I disagree with that. Big isn't bad, but big isn't necessarily biblical. We judge our success here, always have, by our ability to be disciples and our ability to participate with the Spirit of God to make disciples.

So if you're asking me, 'Am I overwhelmed by or surprised of the success of the fact that we're big, I don't even think of it that way. Now if you're correctly assuming that we might be encouraged or maybe overwhelmed at the responsibility because folks are really trusting Christ here and really beginning to walk with him here and have their lives reordered here, the answer is no, I'm not surprised.

Why? Because God loves people. If we are at all being faithful and if we are all yielding our hearts to him and if we are all about lifting up the fame of Jesus Christ and if he is a shepherd, a shepherd always wants his sheep to be in green pastures and by still, refreshing waters. So if we're clearly preaching the Word of God, we're not just cutting the deal with folks so they will keep showing up but we're really calling them to full obedience, I am thrilled that God would want to bring people here to really know him.

So, no, I'm not surprised because God loves to seek and save the lost. In fact, the Scripture says, "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His." So no, I'm not surprised at the success of any ministry of people whose hearts are completely his.

I'm not overwhelmed either, because I have never been under the illusion that anything that I am doing here is what is causing this place to grow. I'm just trying to be faithful with what I do and make my way every day into obedience so that he would, if he chose to, strongly support me because my heart is increasingly his."

That for me folks, you need to know this, is a full time job. I don't want to discourage you with this, but you need to know that I spend a disproportionate amount of my days shepherding just a very small group of people. In fact, really one who is just a whipping for me. A person who I have to constantly rebuke and exhort and push into community and help him think rightly and clearly and be attentive to God's Word and yield to his Spirit.

It is me. I am the most difficult person at Watermark for me to shepherd. I have found that if I can just walk with Christ, yield to him, repent of my sin, live in community, invite others to admonish me and to count it as blessing in my life, seek encouragement, and provide encouragement in the Word for my own heart, then God in his great kindness takes care of everything else very, very well.

I mean, John understood this. John understood it is God who made kings. Go back and next time you're fretting about some new political leader or maybe just some new popular girl or boy in your school or some athlete who has made his way onto the scene, go read Psalm 75, verses 6 and 7. John understood this. John is saying, "Look, I happen to know who Jesus is, so I'm especially great with that, but I'm not fighting for turf here. God is the one who makes people great. My job is just to be faithful."

In fact, I get this question a lot from folks. People ask me, "Todd, what do I have to do to be useful to God? What can I do so that my ministry and my fingerprint for God on this earth can be really one of renown?" I just say, "Don't ever try and do something of great renown. Just be faithful where you are."

God is always looking for faithful men and women to strongly support them. I use this little phrase. I go, "Just be a Joseph," and Pharaoh never misses his Joseph. What do I mean by that? If you know the story of Joseph at all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold off as a slave, enters into Egypt as a slave, and while he is there he just walks with God.

Whatever he does, whether in word or deed, he does everything heartily unto his Lord and not unto Pharaoh. He doesn't live to impress those who are around him. He just goes, "I'm a Christ-follower," in his case a God-follower, "and I want to honor the Lord." When he sought to do his best at every circumstance, he happened to shine everywhere he was.

So humanly, you just go, "Hey, we put Joseph over at bathroom cleanup. Have you noticed? There's always toilet paper when you go in there. Hey, the sinks are always clean. It's always straightened up. They smell right because he has air freshener in there."

"Who is over the bathrooms?"

"That's Joseph."

"Well, get Joseph out of the bathroom and into the kitchen."

All of a sudden, now the food is a little bit better. The plates are cleaner. The employees are more encouraged. "Hey, what's going on in the kitchen?"

"Well, Joseph was promoted from the bathrooms into the kitchen."

"Great, let's get Joseph out of the kitchen and let's get him over to the administrative offices."

Next thing you know, there's no more corruption. Budgets are met. Modesty is enforced. Soundness and economics all through the company.

"What's going on? Now we're prospering."

"Well, Joseph is over there."

"Just make Joseph my vice-regent."

Pharaoh never misses his Joseph. God doesn't either. Just be faithful. Don't try and be the next guy. Be the guy or the gal where you are who is completely faithful. God will support you and he will use you.

The reason I don't ever fret about what I'm doing is because I've never tried to do this. I've just tried to be faithful where I was and then the next thing happened and the next thing happened. I'm not trying to hold on to anything I've created. All I tried to create is a heart that lives in fear of its own sin and that is constantly reminding itself of its desperate need to walk in the light, otherwise darkness will follow me everywhere I go. It gives you great peace. See John had a great sense of God's sovereignty.

Secondly, right there it says in verse 28, "You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent ahead of Him.'" He had a great security in who he was. He knew who he was. He liked who he was. He worked hard at being faithful at who he was. You know, so many of us fret about skills we don't have, gifts we don't have, opportunities we don't have. "O Lord, I wish I was that guy. I wish I had that skill set. I wish I had that job. I wish I had that provision."

You can start to go, "If I was that, I could really be useful to God." God doesn't work like that. He created you just the way you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. John knew what his role was, and he just said, "I'm going to know who I am, I'm going to like who I am, and I'm going to be who I am." That's it. See, you don't need to be some stud that you're not, some beauty that you're not. Just be faithful. God will use you. John was secure about who he was.

Thirdly, look at the next thing right there in verse 29, where he says, "Look, I am the friend of the bridegroom. I am not the bridegroom. My goal is not to get the bride for myself. I'm not competing for the bride. My goal is for the bridegroom and the bride to get together. When I hear the bridegroom's voice, my whole job is to protect the bride, to make sure the bridal chamber is not violated by anybody. Now that the bridegroom is here, I go, 'Great, my job is done. Go get your lady.'"

What kind of friend of the bridegroom is trying to have the lady love him? John is like, "Why would I be concerned that folks are going to Jesus? My whole life has been about getting folks to go to Jesus." That's what he says. He goes on and he says… Verse 30 is the key verse right here. He said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

It is all about him. This is what made John great is because he said, "I have to get less of the darkness that is John in rebellion against God. I have to get less of the way that John thinks is right out of me and I have to get more of what God says is right, more of what Jesus wants, and he changes everything."

Let me just make a note right here. Okay? Very quickly. John was confronted because people saw Jesus encroaching on his territory. "Are you okay with that, John?" Note to self. If somebody has not come up to me lately and said, "Wagner, Jesus is encroaching on your territory. I have noticed that he is moving more and more into your life. Are you okay with that? I mean, the way you think is different now. You're not thinking like the old Todd. You're thinking like a guy who thinks that somebody else knows more than you.

You don't spend your money the way you used to. You don't look at women the way you used to. You don't even deal with your issues the way you used to. You are leading your family differently. You are befriending differently. You're serving differently. You're stewarding life and resources differently. Jesus is encroaching on everything about your life."

If that has not happened to you, then you ought to take a real hard look as to whether or not you have a relationship with him. Because he always moves into your territory, and he changes everything when he comes. You should be great with that like, "Awesome. Thank you. Bring the light into my darkness. I want more of you."

What folks ask you, by the way… Very biblical. New Testament, 1 Peter 3:15: "…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts…" In other words, let Christ be more of who he should be in your life. "…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…"

So if folks ask you, "Hey, man. It seems like something is moving into your life. What is that thing that's moving in?" you should say, "I'll tell you what's moving in. Grace. Truth. Light. Kindness. God is moving into my life. There's still plenty of Todd here. Every now and then I grieve the Spirit and choke the Spirit and shut off the light. Even though I say it's good, I sometimes behave as if it's not. But increasingly, I'm letting the light invade everything that I do. It's changing my land. That's a good thing."

When was the last time somebody asked you to make a defense and to give an account for the hope that is within you? If that has not happened recently, it ought to be a cause of concern. You see, if you know who Christ is, you're not bothered when he moves into your territory. You're delighted. You're delighted.

John goes on from here in verse 31. He says, "Let me just tell you who this is, okay? I talk about the truth." This is truth. Guys, listen. Disciples of mine, listen to me. We are about Christ here, not Watermark. I get so frustrated when I hear people say to me, "Well, I'm just not into the Watermark way."

Well, good. I am not into the Watermark way. I don't even know what the Watermark way is. I didn't know we had a way. Okay? If anything that we're doing here is not way biblical, consistent with Scriptures, then let's deal with it. We don't have a Watermark way here. We are people of the way, the truth, and the life, though. It's all I want to be about.

If your problem isn't with the way that God does things, then hopefully you're going to have a problem with us. We're going to love you, and we're going to be your friend. We're going to speak the truth to you in love, and we're going to remind you that you don't need to live in that darkness. We'll be your friends while you do that, but we're not going to participate in the evil deeds of darkness with you, and we're going to keep running toward the light and be able to remind you all the time of his grace and mercy when you're ready to come to it.

There is no Watermark way. Never has been. Never will be, but there is a way and it's his. In fact, do you know early on they weren't called Christians? Christian was a smear term. Early on, you go read the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus were called people of the Way. That was their name.

If somebody has not come up to you and said, "Man, I want to tell you something. I have noticed that the way you do life is different. What's the source of that?" you should say, "Jesus moved into my territory. His light invaded my darkness. Life came into my way of death that seemed right to me. If there is good, it is of Christ." See, John was that guy. The world was trying to say, "Man, hey, Jesus is moving in on you." John was like, "Great! More of Jesus. Less of John." He says, "This is the truth."

"What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony [Because they don't like what God has to say, but I am a Christ follower] ." Verse 34: "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.""I give you what I can. Jesus gives you all the infinite wisdom of God. He is the exact representation of his nature. He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the Word made flesh. Why would I be concerned that folks are moving toward God? My whole life is about people moving toward God."

Do you see why John was great in Jesus' eyes? Because his whole life was about bringing people back to the Father. The Father loves his children. Do you know what? Do you know who I would tell you the greatest person on earth was?

If one of my kids were abducted and they were put out there into sex slavery and they were trafficked and I had no idea where they were and somebody went and they invested all their fortune, all their life, and they went and they sought my child and they removed them from the grip of that darkness and they brought them home to me, if you said, "Todd, who is the greatest person who ever lived?" I would not give you a sports figure. I would say, "It is the one who has rescued my child who I loved from wrath and destruction and death." That's why Jesus says John is so great. You want to be great? Be like John. Let Christ increase in your life and do everything you can to call other prodigals back to him.

This is a timely message for us today because today we have a world that is focusing on great men. The things that make men great are athletic accomplishment. A little bit later today, you're going to hear something called the Lombardi trophy given out. I just want to give you something to think about when that Lombardi trophy is given out.

This little picture right here? This is a picture of what is called 667 Sunset Circle. Does anybody here know what 667 Sunset Circle is? Let's throw the picture up there. See, there aren't any real Green Bay Packer fans in this room, because that house is consistently driven by in Green Bay, because that is the home of Vince Lombardi.

There was a great story this week on ESPN about that little house. It was the shrine, and all these folks go to this house except the kids who lived there. Lombardi is well known as being an individual who said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all-the-time thing." He was obsessed with winning and greatness.

The phrase about Lombardi… In fact, if you go and watch anything about Lombardi, they'll say, "Lombardi was more than a football coach. He was a man who set an example of how to live." I want to tell you, with all due respect to Coach Lombardi, I reject that. The reason is because no man will ever rise above the opinion of his children.

The guy who was his biographer says that while maybe Lambeau Field is the place of his greatest accomplishment, 667 Sunset Circle is the site of his greatest failure. I want to read you this little excerpt from this little article that I read this week. It says simply this. It says, "But the house is more than a rec room…" It talked about where folks want to get down and see where Lombardi would often watch game film.

It says, "…Lombardi is more than a symbol for long-gone work ethic and virtue. A man lived in this house—a great, difficult, funny, angry man; someone who loved his family but let football take him away from them time and again…" In other words, Vince was even a man who religiously went to mass, but he did not religiously decrease.

He was about what he thought would make him great. He was not about what God said makes a man great. It goes on to say in this specific little deal that, "…the house was a dark place, with narrow halls, that felt empty when he wasn't there. When he was, it felt tense. Marie [his wife] drank—and more—to deal with the pain. Twice, she combined booze with painkillers in this house and had to be rushed to the hospital.

The inside joke about 'Run to Daylight,' Lombardi's bio as told to the great W.C. Heinz, was that a more accurate title would be 'Shut up, Marie!'" "Dagnabbit [and that's not the word Lombardi used] Marie" was his favorite way of addressing his wife. "The children felt the sting, too. Susan heard her mother call her fat in this house. Vince Jr. once punched his father outside this house. They spent tense dinners here…everyone waiting for Vince to open his mouth, circling for crumbs of approval, rising in anticipation when he spoke, sinking back again when he asked for more potatoes.

Lombardi knew every detail about every one of his players, but he never watched his son's high school games. 'The Lombardi's never should have had children,' Cochran says. 'He always had his mind on the damn football.'" Do you know why? Because the world tells you football is where you can find life. Look, football is something that we can enjoy, but let's not pick on Lombardi.

What I want to ask you is this. If your mind is not on God, it is on something that is damned, and you're running toward that which is not going to give you joy. God loves you enough to whistle, "Over here! You want to be great? This is where greatness can be found. You have to decrease your understanding of what greatness is, because in the end it's the way of death, and find a life with me."

Now look when you walk with Christ, you can go compete on the gridiron and enjoy what's happening there, but you don't live for what happens on the gridiron. You don't live for what happens in business. You don't live for what happens relationally. You serve what happens there.

Last illustration. A young man who grew up a little bit at Watermark who is not playing in the Super Bowl today, a guy by the name of Daniel Sepulveda. This is the second time in three years Daniel, who was the only guy ever in the history of college football to win the Ray Guy Award down at Baylor University.

Then he went on to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the best punters in the NFL. In 2008, before that Super Bowl, Daniel actually blew out his knee early in that season, so he missed getting to kick for the Steelers in the 2008 Super Bowl. In 2009 he was healthy all the way through. In 2010, this last season, Danny had a great season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then on December 5, against the Ravens, he goes down the field to make a tackle and he blows out his ACL again. The Steelers are in the Super Bowl two out of the three years, and twice Daniel is not getting to participate, but Daniel Sepulveda loves Jesus. He goes, "It's not about me participating in the Super Bowl. It's about me clearing the way, preparing the way, and getting out of the way. If God is going to exalt himself by me not playing in the Super Bowl, let it be."

So the Pittsburgh papers have done an article on Daniel and they said, "Man, aren't you angry?" He goes, "I'm not angry. Am I disappointed? Sure. But my life is not about playing in Super Bowls." Let me read you what Daniel says. He says this. "When you look at this situation, well, sure it's unfortunate, but at the same time this is not a situation where, 'Oh, woe is me. I'm cursed. I'm so unlucky.' I'm about Christ, and I've lost nothing in my relationship with him. I want to be as closely related to God as I can be. If God has to decrease my time in the field so he can increase, and you want to know, no one ever interviews the punter, but you're interviewing the punter.

So let me just tell you, in order to do that, I recognize the truth in the Bible that God can work for my good in the midst of all circumstances even when they're bad, and this is something I would call a bad circumstance. I'm not living in denial. This is just acceptance of reality. It's not something I deny exists or deny I'm upset, but I put this in the proper perspective. I don't live for Super Bowls. I live for Jesus and my knee injuries have not affected that at all."

Now that's greatness. That's greatness. Because he's like, "Look, I'd love to kick, but if I don't kick, I still have Christ." Can you say that? Hey, I'd love for my wife to treat me this way, but if she doesn't? I still have Christ and I can love her. Hey, I'd love for my economic situation to be this, but if not? I still have Christ, and I can walk in wisdom in that.

Hey, whatever your story, the question is, "Do you know Christ or are you still living in judgment, fighting for life where there's no life to be found?" So when you see them lift up the Lombardi trophy today? Winning is everything? I agree that winning is everything, but you win when you're related to Batman, Jesus. Very God of very God who loves you and has called you out of darkness into light.

Father, I pray that we, as a body, would be essentially great for one reason, and that is because we follow you, we know you, and we trust in you, we depend on you. We compete well in every arena you give us to compete because you tell us "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…"

When things are not working out for us well in the field, we can still just say, "Thank you, Lord. I did my best. I trust you, and I'm still intimately acquainted with you. You are intimately acquainted with me and you love me because I am your boy, I am your girl, and I have sought to be faithful and to point others to Christ. So may you increase and I decrease."

Father, I pray for an individual in this room who has never understood that you did not come into the world to judge the world, but that the world might find life through you and they would stop living in the darkness and they would run into the light. They would find forgiveness. They would find life and hope. You would bring them joy on this day that it would be super indeed.

It would be a day above and beyond all the rest, the day that zōē, life indeed, rushed into them because they ran to you in grace. Would you not let them leave this morning without dealing with that, coming up here and letting us pray with them and encourage them and counsel them toward Christ?

Help us, Father, to be people who clear the way, who speak out against all the confusion about who you are, what the Scripture says. We call men to repent from their own self-reliance and then may we get out of the way. May they love Christ and not us. For his glory we pray and for the good of others, amen.

Well, you have a great week of worship. We'll see you.


About 'The Gospel Of John: The Visible Image, Volume 2'

Who was Jesus Christ? A mythical man created to give a false sense of comfort after we die? Some sort of character that enables us to justify our own choices while simultaneously giving us the power to judge others? Or was He something much bigger? God, in the flesh, walking and living among His creation. A sinless man who became the sacrifice for our sins. The Gospel of John is more than Christology 101. It is an invitation to a living and active faith in Jesus Christ. Come join us on this life-changing journey through the book of John: the story of Jesus Christ.