In the summer of 1995 I was a part of a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ, helping start a ministry on a University campus in a major Russian city. At the time, Russia was a place of great intrigue . . . the world was nearing the end of the “Cold War” and as a child of the 1970’s and 80’s (and someone who had seen both “Rocky IV” and “Red Dawn” multiple times) I was fascinated with the former U.S.S.R.
En route to our ministry destination, our plane landed in Moscow. A native resident of Moscow met us at the airport and arranged transportation to a hotel where we would be staying the night. On the ride to the hotel, I stuck close to Sergei and listened to him tell stories about his hometown. He showed us the bridge where Russian tanks sat during Glastnost. He pointed to the spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral in the distance. He talked about what buildings made up the Kremlin. But, despite all this talk, the most memorable thing he told me, was about a paint job. No kidding.
It seems that when President Ronald Reagan was coming to visit Moscow for a nuclear arms summit in June of 1988, the Russians wanted to put their best foot forward to impress their American counterparts. The cash poor Soviets did not want the Americans to see their deteriorating financial situation. To show financial weakness would be to lose yet another battle in this cold war. However, the Soviets did not have enough money to fully renovate all of the large city of Moscow. So, Russian officials came up with a resourceful solution . . . they would remodel and repaint only the buildings that lined the exact route and rooms that President Reagan would actually drive by or sit in. So, in the days leading up to the summit, the Russian government went to work putting a fresh coat of paint and doing minor repairs to the streets and buildings where Reagan would be. As the day drew near, though, the Soviets realized they needed to speed up their progress. So, they came to a creative solution. They would only repaint the exterior of buildings two stories up (these buildings were easily 10 stories tall or more.) The thought was that Reagan was an older man who probably could not see beyond the second floor anyway. . . so why waste good paint.
Let’s take this image and connect it to Jesus Christ.
Jesus is not an aging President who rides down the streets of our lives only able to see about two stories up. If that were the kind of God we served, we could decorate the visible areas of our lives with fresh coats of good works, and draw His attention away from the sin and struggle that we deal with seven stories up or on the streets less traveled. In fact, our God is a God who sees not just selected streets, but the entire city of our heart. He not only sees 10 stories up, He sees everything.
This is the problem with self-righteous religion. No self is that righteous. Upon thorough inspection, we all fall short. This includes any today who are relying on their own performance to impress God, but it also relates to the Pharisees of the first century who could not pass Jesus’ parade inspection.
The sad reality is that Jesus WANTS to save us. He wanted to save them . . . but they were unwilling.
This Sunday at Wildwood, we will be concluding our “Authentic” series from Matthew 21-23, with part 5 (focused on Matthew 23:23-36). My hope is that we would see the “woes” Jesus pronounces here as a “warning shot” designed to draw us to Himself. See you Sunday at Wildwood in our 9:45 or 11:00 service!