Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
Over the holiday season, I imagine there were lots of things you wanted to invite people to.
Come over for a holiday meal.
Come watch the Bowl Game with me.
Come watch the giant acorn drop with me.
Come shopping with me! There’s sales at Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, Sam Ash, Claire’s, Pandora, and Belk! And that’s just at Crabtree Valley Mall.
And then, if you’re a part of a church your pastor asked you to share a Christmas Worship invite with your friends.
How’d that go?
Was that at easy as inviting someone over for the Big Game?
Was that as easy as inviting them out for a Double Cheeseburger?
If you’re like me, then probably not…In fact, it can be downright intimidating.
Case and point – I was at the Pickled Onion the other week – because my favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, were not on regular TV. I was sitting by myself eating a delicious order of nachos, when I struck up a conversation with the Jacksonville Jaguars fan next to me.
First, I was impressed that a Jaguar’s fan even existed. And second, it was nice to talk to someone during the game.
And as we watched we talked about a lot of things: About the NFL and its concussion problem – about our favorite type of hot wing – about his former job in government – about our current government – about dogs and how to train them.
And, then about halfway through the game – he asked me a question during the lull of a commercial.
“What do you do?”
And…I looked over at him, cigarette hanging from his lip – PBR in his left hand. Football noise in the background. I know what I do. I’m a pastor. I tell people about the Almighty God, his hatred for sin and his answer in Jesus our Savior. But I also know how people react—I know how that answer could cause this new friend to switch spots – or at least clam up for the rest of the game.
Within that 5 seconds of silence – I had a crisis of conscience. I could answer. If I would, it might be the end of this friendship.
Should I clam up?
Should I make up something not necessarily true?
Should I tell him that I work in communications and leave it at that?
Maybe something like that has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve had moments to share the Gospel and clammed up.
Why? Why the anxiety? Why the nervousness? Why the fear?
Today – we are going to finish up our series called “Do Not Be Afraid” and we’re going to hear about the final time an angel said that, “Do not be afraid,” during the Christmas story. And as we do so, we want to learn (1) what is it about the Gospel message that’s so scary – to hear and to share (2) why we don’t have to be afraid of sharing it.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Afraid of Good News?
This takes place in Luke 2 beginning at verse 8. It’s actually the same night as baby Jesus was born – the very first Christmas.
You know how in movies, they sometimes segue from one scene to the next? Picture that here. We were just at the scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Mary’s crying. Joseph’s crying. The donkey is crying. Everyone is happy that the Savior has been born.
Segue to a shot of a dark night sky. A few stars quietly shining their light on the countryside.
The camera pans back to reveal a campfire. Smoldering. Roasting. A few men – ranging from age 19 to 67 are circled around the fire. One sits against a tree. One is laying on his side. Another is cuddled up with a gentle lamb.
They are shepherds. Their job is to watch sheep. They lead the sheep to water. They help the animals find food. They protect them from wolves and bandits.
And tonight, was a quiet night. As they passed around a loaf of stale bread that the eldest had kept in the side pocket of his tunic – they relaxed and listened to the hum of the locusts in the background.
It was a quiet life. Not a lot of exciting things happened. There was the occasional lamb in the thicket and the squirrel mistaken for a wolf, but usually the night was fairly dull. Boring. Uninteresting.
But on this particular night, something interesting began to happen. A light appeared in the sky. Slowly at first, but then building in brilliance.
One of them began to notice. At first, he didn’t say much – “It must be a shooting star.” But soon the light grew. It moved more quickly than a star and was more brilliant than a star – and it was getting closer than a star!
Wake up! What’s that?!
The star-like creature grew closer and closer until it stopped directly overhead.
It wasn’t a star.
It wasn’t a Chinese lantern.
It wasn’t a glow in the dark drone that wouldn’t be invented for another 2000 some years.
It was an angel.
Luke 2:9 says, “They were terrified.” Literally – they were afraid – a great fear.
The kind of fear reserved for horror movies, roller coasters and when you’re driving in the ice and snow and lose control of your car. That’s the kind of fear they have when they see an angel!
And why not?
(1) It’s an angel. Not an angel ornament or a stuffed Christmas angel. A real angel. Divine. Out of this world. Incredible.
(2) This angel was from God! He was messenger of God. He was a messenger of the Holy, All Powerful God. He was messenger of the Holy, All Powerful, sin hating God.
And these shepherds? Were sinners.
Their minds started racing.
Did God hear the gruff, four letter shepherd words that we were joking about earlier?
Does he know about what I did with the farmer’s daughter last weekend?
Can he smell the stale booze on my breath?
Is he here to confront me, because I haven’t been to synagogue in months?
Their minds were racing. This was a representative of God.
God knew all things.
God knew their sinful things.
God hated sinful things. He was undoubtedly about to destroy him. And all they had to defend themselves was a 5-foot piece of wood. A shepherd’s crook that might double as a bow staff, but what would that do against the fiery judgment of God?
They braced themselves for the attack. “It was nice shepherding with you. If you make it out alive, tell my wife I love her!”
I suppose that’s the rub. The friction between sinful humans and the divine message of the Gospel. It’s not God – It’s our sin. Our sin which burdens us with guilt. Our sin which stays on our hearts. Our sins which the devil uses to accuse us – God could never love you.
And, even after we know the truth of that message and we understand how God has used that to change our lives -- it’s almost like we project that onto others. They’ll get mad. They’ll get upset. They’ll not like the whole Savior from sin part – because it implies that they are sinners!
I was on Facebook the other day – and I saw one of my friends had posted something about Jesus being our Savior from sin. Sounds nice, right? But the comments that he had been receiving back were threatening. “Shut up with your religion.” “Yeah, some guy died a long time ago and that’s forgiveness.” “Keep your magical, mystical stories to yourself, Harry Potter.”
His response was this: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would upset ya’ll so much.”
Should we be surprised? Isn’t that expected? You understand – sinners naturally balk at God. In fact, Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Yours was. At times – it still is. And no matter who you bring it to – understand that may very well be their reaction.
II. Finding Joy in the Good News
So…how do you change their attitude towards God?
Take medicine with big scoop of applesauce?
Do you add applesauce to the Gospel?
Do you make it more pleasant by removing sin and hell?
Do you just say things like “Be kinda sort spiritual and I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”
OR do you do like the angels do – and bring them the good news anyways…
Verse 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
Zero in on that message. It’s good news. Not terrifying, you’re about to be eternally destroyed by God’s hell fire wrath news. Good news.
And it’s for all people.
For the young shepherd struggling to control his sexual urges.
For the foreign shepherd feeling like he doesn’t fit in.
For the lifelong, aged shepherd who has a history of gruff language, broken relationships, and death creeping closer and closer.
The message is for all people – all shepherds – you.
Listen to the message:
A Savior has been born. A Savior from your sins. A Savior form your past. A Savior from the worst things you’ve said – and the worst things you’ve done. A Savior from the guilt and the pain – and the name calling of the devil: “Loser. Failure. Sinner.” A Savior from God’s Almighty wrath – a Savior to his everlasting love.
He is Christ! That’s the Greek word for Anointed One! As in – this is the One that was promised to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob – Ancestors of the Jewish race. The One that is born is the one who fulfills God’s plan to save the world from sin. He is the fulfillment of God’s love to you.
He’s the Lord. As in master. As in ruler. And not “a” Lord or “a” ruler.” But “The” Lord and “the” ruler.
As in God. As in you needed a Savior from sin and death and hell – a job that’s impossible for any human being to conquer. Impossible for police. Impossible for firemen. Impossible for the military and political heroes and even a guy who’s really good at swinging a sword.
Impossible for humans! But not for God. So… God came.
God is that Savior.
And suddenly, more angels appear.
But this time the shepherds aren’t frightened.
This time they are overcome with joy.
And they find their gruff, off tune, monotonous voices to be humming along with the angelic choir:
14 “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to mankind on whom God’s favor rests!”
III. What now?
(1) Hurry and See
Look at what the shepherds did in response to the angels. Verse 15 says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”
Notice it says, “When the angels had left them.” As in, right away – right afterwards.
Not – in the morning.
Not – later on this week.
Not – after we find appropriate replacements to watch over the sheep as we’re gone.
They just leave. They go! Because this message was that GOOD and this news was that INCREDIBLE!
Do the same. Hurry and See!
If you’re struggling to tell others about Jesus, because you are unsure about the validity of this message in your life – Hurry and See!
Hurry to your Bible and re-read the Gospel of God’s love for you.
Hurry and listen to a devotion in which God’s love is shared again and again.
Hurry and free up your schedule on Sunday to hear God’s Gospel over and over.
Hurry and get into a Bible study, where you can talk about God’s love, encourage with God’s love and lift each other up with God’s love throughout the week!
Hurry and see Jesus – because in Jesus you have your Savior. I don’t’ care who you are. He’s a Savior for all people.
He says, “I love you. Though you have sin, I came to save you. And I have. I lived perfectly when you couldn’t; died innocently in your place; and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins.”
Hurry and be reminded of that awesome truth! No matter what others think! Mary has just gotten baby Jesus to fall asleep. The long journey to Bethlehem has worn them out. The family falls asleep in each other’s arms.
Then, a rag tag group of dirty, rough, tough shepherds knocks at the door. “What do you want? Don’t harm my baby!”
We aren’t here to harm. We are here to praise. To bow. To see the Savior.
Let that be the same with you. Who cares if your relative says, “That sounds crazy.”
(2) Hurry and Share
This is what the shepherds do next. Verse 17 When they had seen Jesus, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…
Remember: It’s early in the morning. Yet you get the impression with the conjunction and in this narrative – that as people are waking up, feeding the cattle, arranging their flowers, sweeping out their market shops for sales the next day – a group of dirty shepherds comes running through the streets:
“Stop what you’re doing. Something incredible has happened. A baby has been born! Not just any baby. A Savior. My Savior. Your Savior. Because of him, by faith in him, you won’t go to hell! You’ll be forgiven!”
But the shepherds didn’t care. The message was that incredible. The message was that good.
Like double coupons at Harris Teeter. Did you know about this? Apparently once a month, Harris Teeter will double your coupons. I think that’s awesome. If you find a coupon that’s fifty cents off, it’s now a dollar off. If you find one that’s 10% off, it’s now 20% off. If you find something’s a dollar off and the price of the item is $1.99, it’s free!
I really need to stock up on $2 off Doritos’ coupons!
It’s a good enough of a deal that you want to tell others.
Isn’t the message of Jesus that good, too? Eternal salvation for free. Forgiveness of sins for free. Heaven for free!
I want you to think about someone you know who doesn’t know the Gospel. Someone who doesn’t care about Jesus. Remember what we just learned – Jesus is their Savior, too. It’s even better than a double coupon deal at Harris Teeter. It’s double – no—infinite forgiveness in Jesus!
Don’t you want your family to know?
Don’t you want your friends to know?
Goodness – even that coworker that you don’t like that much --- needs to know!
But…what if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t want to listen to me?
Honest truth is: They might. But why let that stop you? The message is too good. The message is too important.
Picture the shepherds: Can you imagine how crazy that might have sounded?
How do you know?
Well, we saw a multitude of angels in the skies.
We saw a virgin who had given birth to a child.
We visited a barn and found a family there.
We saw God – lying in a feeding trough!
Because it was so crazy, you’d think that the shepherds wouldn’t have done this to tarnish their already poor reputation. Why would you knowingly put your reputation on the line like that? It’s the same reason I don’t run around telling everyone that I saw a purple monkey flying through the air last night!
But the shepherds did share this message – with everyone they saw.
Because it was true.
You share that same message. It's true.
Don’t be afraid. Go and tell.
Your husband. Your wife. Your cousin. Call up a neighbor.
That’s the challenge for next week Sunday. It’s a brand-new sermon series we’re starting called “Follow.” It’s all about Following Jesus and it’s a great Sunday to invite a friend to join you in church.
Your challenge? Invite and bring a friend. Ask them to come with you to see Jesus. If they ask why it’s so important, don’t be afraid to tell them about your Savior. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the good news.
And if you get nervous? What will they say to me? What if they mock me? What if they make fun? What if they block you on Facebook?
Remember this – This is God’s message. It isn’t yours. God isn’t asking you to share your message on your own. Nope. God has your back.
The God who sends multitudes of angels into the sky – has your back.
The God who makes Mary pregnant when she hasn’t slept with anyone – has your back.
The God who became a human to save you has your back.
The God who lived, died and rose against has your back.
The God who forgives you -- The God who empowers you – the God who is commissioning you has your back.
Don’t be afraid to share the Gospel.
I did end up telling that guy at the Pickled Onion that I was a pastor.
And he did ask me a question or two about God.
And he did say that he may join us for worship one time.
And God willing – he will.
Share the Gospel message. Don’t be afraid. God has your back. Amen.
Does Christmas scare you?
That might seem like a funny question. Christmas isn’t known for being especially scary.
Candy canes don’t usually cause kids to scream.
“Joy to the World” isn’t usually the background music for a creepy moment.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” is not under the horror section on Netflix.
Christmas is joyful. Christmas is merry. Christmas is holly jolly.
Yet all the family togetherness and joy of giving – seems to amplify our fears:
Fears that you won’t be able to afford food for the coming week thanks to your last dimes being spent on Christmas gifts.
Fears that you won’t be able to find work after the seasonal work is over.
Fears that your kid – whom you barely get the chance to see – will hate your gift and want to spend even less time with you in 2017.
Fears that dad will bring up that one time you said that one thing to him which will cause mom to blow up and the whole Christmas dinner to explode with fury.
Fears that the gift you got for your spouse – won’t make it up to them and the distance between you will only grow.
Fears that this may be your mom’s last Christmas – if she even makes it that long.
Today we are going to look at a very scary scene from the very first Christmas. We want to (1) see how God calmed Mary’s fears and (2) how the same truths can calm your fears this Christmas season and always. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Fear of God’s Presence
v.27 – a virgin – young lady – soon to be married – nervous excitement about upcoming life:
Will the wedding all come together?
Will the flower girl remember to throw the flowers in the right direction?
Will there be any wedding crashers?
Will I make a good wife?
Will I like being with Joseph – all day, every day?
Will our family be a blessing?
Something happened to truly frighten her: “God sent the angel Gabriel to her...And he said, “Greetings!”
Is God angry with me? Why would an angel come to me?
Is he coming to get me back for not going to synagogue the last couple of weekends?
Does He know about the lusting that I had for Joseph’s brother last weekend?
Is He upset that I’m not inviting Aunt Matilda?
I’m a sinner. God is holy. I’ve read the Old Testament. I know how he hates sin – how he sent a flood to destroy the world, fire on Sodom and Gomorrah and an infestation of poisonous snakes on the unbelieving Israelites. I’m a sinner too! He can’t possible have good news for you.
Mary fell to the floor. Her face grew pale. Her heart beat fast. Sweat dropped from her forehead.
She was more than frightened; she was terrified!
Can you relate? An angel represents God. God is Almighty. God is All Good. The All-Good ruler of the universe cannot tolerate evil – even for a second!
Maybe you get this.
Maybe American culture gets this about God.
In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons that church going is one of the least favorite activities for Americans at Christmas time.
Give me presents. Give me holiday songs. Give me holiday specials. -- Just don’t give me church.
Because they’re gonna talk about God and sin and hell.
And that’s not very merry.
I want Christmas to be about sitting back, having eggnog, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Because the truth is…
The truth is…that I get enough conviction on my own.
Voices that scream “you’ve done wrong.”
Phrases repeat: “You liar. You adulteress. You jerk. You sinner.”
I can’t go before God – To hear him say it…It’s too scary.
II. The Comfort of God’s Presence
But the angel didn’t let Mary to sit in that fear very long. Look at how he responds to her. He says, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.” Literally that means “You have found a gift by God!" – A gift of his grace. The gift is this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son and you to call him Jesus.”
Mary breathed a sigh of relief. Phew! She wasn’t going to be zapped. God wasn’t angry with her. He wasn’t mad at her past sins. In fact, he was going to give her a gift – the gift of a Son. What a blessing! What a nice message. What a….
… Wait!?! A son? How can this be? I am a virgin! My mom talked to me about the birds and the bees. I know my biology. You created biology. You know as well as I know that I haven’t done anything that would warrant a child!
Look at the angel’s response to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”
In other words – This will happen because God is with you.
This will work out because God is with you.
Don’t be afraid because God is with you.
This is so interesting. Because that’s what frightened her to begin with. She was nervous about what kind of a greeting this might be. (v.29) But now that she knew of his grace. Now that she knew of his love. Now the thing that once frightened her – God’s presence – was now the thing that would give her the most comfort.
God would be with her. Every step of the way.
And she must have repeated that to herself over and over as she journeyed to the first Christmas.
At this miraculous conception, God was with her.
In that scary moment when she told her parents, “God is with me.”
In that scarier moment when she told her fiancé Joseph, “God is with me.”
In the months that she began to show, “God is with me.”
In the dirty looks people gave her at the marketplace, “God is with me.”
In the moments she heard people whisper, “That sinner!” “God is with me.”
In the hustle and bustle of getting things ready to travel, unexpectedly to Bethlehem, “God is with me.”
In the long journey filled with bumps in the road and labor pains in her tummy, “God is with me.”
In the frantic search for an inn – with room after room being filled, “God is with me.”
In the barn, surrounded by pigs and horses without a doctor in sight, “God is with me.”
On the first Christmas night, holding her newborn Son in her hands, looking into his eyes and whispering quietly, “God – you are with me.”
III. What now?
The truth is that what comforted Mary’s fear throughout that nine-month journey to Christmas is also a comfort for you. Because the two things that the angel Gabriel said to comfort Mary are also true of you.
(1) The Savior has Come!
Have you heard of Gender Reveal videos? It’s the latest trend for new parents. They get the results of their child’s gender. The results are sealed in an envelope and given to a friend. Then, they set up some kind of epic reveal – where they find out whether the baby is a boy or a girl – and someone records the whole thing on an iPhone and immediately posts to Facebook LIVE, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
I saw one the other day for a friend of mine who is a body builder. In his video, he had a giant, big rig tire with some black bags of chalk taped to the top of it. In the video, he flips the tire over, the bags explode and blue dust floats in the area! IT’S A BOY!
As exciting as it is for Mary to find out that she would be having a baby boy, think about how much more exciting it was to find out that he would be the Savior of the world!
In fact, she even found out his name – Jesus. Do know what that name means? It means “He saves.”
Now there’s a lot in a name. Some people are named after their hair, “Ebony,” or “Autumn.” Some are named after their grandparents, “Bob, Jr.” or “Thurston Howell III”. My name, “Philip,” means “lover of horses.” I don’t even like horses that much. (I’m just named after some character on the old soap opera, “Guiding Light.”)
“Jesus” means “he saves.” And that had great meaning to Mary because “he saved” her.” He saved Mary from her sins. He saved Mary from her guilt. He saved Mary from hell.
And he saves you. He saves you from sin. He saves you from guilt. He saves you from hell.
But here’s the difference. For Mary, it was something that was going to happen. And on Christmas she said, “The Savior has been born!”
For us? That’s true -- The Savior is born! But we also have the benefit of looking back. The Savior has been born, but also the Savior has lived perfectly. The Savior has died innocently; and the Savior has risen triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
It means that by faith in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All that guilt. All that shame. All the sin that makes you feel scared to approach God – has been removed!
(2) God is Near
For Mary – that was so important. It’s the reason she was pregnant – the Holy Spirit came upon her and dwelt on her in a miraculous way. His presence upholding, uplifting, and fear shielding her throughout her 9 month journey.
The Holy Spirit is near right now.
The Bible tells us that he works through his Word.
Besides – it promises that he remains with all who believe in Jesus.
Is that you? Take comfort – God is near.
He’s near no matter what you’re going through.
Are you alone this Christmas? God is near.
Are you behind on rent? God is near.
Are you spending it in the hospital? God is near.
Are you far away from family? God is near.
Are you apart from your kids? God is near.
Are you nervous, frightened, and scared? Don’t be! The God who controls all things – who loved you above all things – and who gave all himself for all of you – is near!
It’s like going to give a gift. My parents used to make me hand gifts to people at church. I was pretty shy when I was younger. So it wasn’t easy. In fact, I remember once getting some guys attention – only to have him (towering over me) turn and ask me what I wanted.
I ran away and clung to my dad’s leg.
And he said. “Don’t be afraid. I’m right here. I’m near.”
And he was right. It wasn’t so scary. My dad who loved me was right by me.
It’s the same thing that’s true for you.
Your Heavenly Dad is near to protect you – his Divine muscles are bulging.
Your risen brother is close by to go with you – He went through death and back to make it happen.
The Holy Spirit dwells within you to comfort you wherever you go – He is always at work in his Word to say in the kindest way possible, “Chill. God’s got this.”
So…chill. Don’t be frightened. Find comfort in Christmas – not the toys, not the fruit cakes and not the decorations – but the Savior.
Let me set the scene.
It was 7:30am on a Tuesday morning. Our Seminary classroom was in the basement. It was the only room without windows. But what it lacked in light, it made up for in warmth.
Dim, cozy, & early.
Sounds like the perfect place to preach a sermon right?
I started speaking. “Umm…uh…this is about…Jesus.” (My Professor, who had one of those moustaches that screamed “I’m a scholar” slowly shifted his pen and began scribbling into his notebook in back.)
I started sweating. I took a deep breath I continued.
Thirty some minutes later I was, thankfully, done. All in all…I wouldn’t say my first sermon was very memorable. The only thing that was memorable about it was the AMEN (which woke up a few classmates from their slumber.)
Today we’re taking a look at Jesus’ first recorded sermon. In contrast to my work, his first sermon is very memorable.
I. Jesus Preached In Church
Take a look at Luke 4:14-15. It says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Since we left Jesus last time, his ministry has kicked off. After changing water into wine, he went to be baptized by John the Baptist and as he did so the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God the Father’s voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Would you be interested in hearing from the one who changed water into wine AND about whom a booming voice from heaven spoke in person?
It worked exactly how God wanted. These signs perked people’s interest so that they would come to see Jesus. And did they ever come. Scripture says that people came to see Jesus in all kinds of places. At the beach. On a hillside. In the streets.
But there was one place that seemed tailor made for listening to Jesus teach: THE SYNAGOGUE.
The synagogue was the Ancient Jewish version of church. People would gather together daily to read and discuss God’s Word. They would hear God’s law and they would discuss theological things. It was the place to be if you were in any way interested in learning about God.
But there was one synagogue Jesus hadn't been invited to just yet. It was one that was near and dear to his heart.
Take a look at verse 16: Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up. This was his home synagogue. It was where he went to Sunday School. (To be fair, Jews worshipped on Saturdays, so Saturday School would have been more like it.) His neighbors went there. His relatives went there. He had sung in the choir there.
But it's not as if they even had specially requested Jesus to come and speak. Look at it again. Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. Zero in on that last phrase. “As was his custom.” Think about that. Jesus wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary when he went to this church.
It was his custom. It’s what he did.
Have you seen those new GEICO Commercials? They’ve got one where everything is going wrong in the peanut butter factory. Jars on the ground; wrappers flying through the area; peanut butter mushed everywhere. When the manager asks, “Who’s responsible for this?” the workers point at the goat.
The ad says, “If you’re a scapegoat, you get blamed for things. It’s what you do. If you want to save money, you switch to GEICO. It’s what you do.”
If you’re God’s Son, you go to God’s house. It’s what you do.
By faith in Jesus, we’re God’s children, too. Isn’t it a little strange then that we don’t take invitations to our Father’s house quite as seriously?
· I believe. I just don’t go to church. I don’t need to. Church is unnecessary.
· My church? It’s in the field on Sunday morning.
· I can go to church online. That should be good enough.
Think about this: the Divine, Universe creating, God’s Word sending, author of life itself – Jesus Christ--- went to church! As God, he already knew all there was to know about the Scriptures (He inspired them after all) yet he went to church.
You? Are you better than Jesus?
If you aren't, perhaps you should be going to church.
In fact, Scripture calls it a necessity. A necessity for salvation? No. Necessity for strengthening faith, connecting to God, rebuking your sins, reminding of salvation, encouraging with prayers and serving others? Absolutely.
Granted. Church can happen at times other than Sunday morning at 10:30am. It happens during midweek Bible studies. It happens at Chick-fil-A with the Young Adult Group. It happens down at Elmcroft Retirement home for a Bible study. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my mind, there I am with them.” That’s church, too. Gathering together with Christians to hear God’s Word – that’s church.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a Christian, you do church. However you do church, you do church, because you are the church. It’s what you do.
II. Jesus Preached From Scripture
But one thing you might not have to do is to get up and give a sermon. Can you imagine if that became our practice? "If you are sitting in Pew 7 seat B, come up front—it’s your turn to do the sermon."
That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Scriptures says, "He stood up and read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written."
Did you notice something very interesting? Jesus is the Son of God. He knows all things.
Yet – he didn’t just speak off the cuff. He read from the Bible.
Granted back then the Bible looked a bit different. Instead of books, they had scrolls. Generally, these were long pieces of parchment that had been rolled up. As you scrolled, you would roll the ends of it to get to the next page and the next words. There also wasn’t any New Testament yet. Jesus was busy living the New Testament.
Still, there's something to learn here. Jesus had a deep respect for the Old Testament. He had a love for the Bible. His sermon was based on God's Word.
Take this away from this section: Good sermons are based on God's Word.
This is key. Preachers should preach on God’s Word.
Not on last night’s debate.
Not on their political parties' latest agenda.
Not on the latest article in Time Magazine.
Not on some Facebook post.
Preaching, good preaching, is Biblical. It is based on the Bible.
Pastor, what does this have to do with me?
True. You might not be asked to preach in front of a congregation of people in a church building anytime soon. But that doesn't mean you won't preach.
You might get a chance to talk to your kids about some moral issue.
You might get to tell your coworkers about what you believe.
You might get to show your spouse how important Jesus is by going to church.
When you preach, use God's Word. Don't base your words and actions on what you want or what you feel. Base them on God's Word.
III. Jesus Preached About the Messiah
Now take a look at what part of the Bible that Jesus read from, it’s Isaiah 61. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Sounds awesome right? Most of the people knew who this Scripture was talking about. It was talking about the Messiah. The Anointed One. The One promised by God to save them.
Think again about what the Messiah had to offer them AND has to offer you:
Good News for the Poor. If you receive bad news after bad news. Late fee after late bill after late fee. The power just got turned off because you’re too far behind. You don’t have enough money for gas to get your kids to school – and they’ll be expelled because you can’t get them there.
The Messiah is good news. The golden studded, eternal riches of God.
Healing for the Brokenhearted. If you’re brokenhearted. If the man you loved cheated on you. Broke your heart. Left you behind. Dumped you…alone, by yourself, with nothing but pain. “Why did I give so much of myself to him?”
The Messiah is good news. He will be faithful and will not leave you.
Freedom to the Captives. If you’ve been to jail. If you’ve been behind bars. If you’re now behind the bars of your own guilt and shame – unable to escape what you’ve done. Reminded of it at every job interview and every government application...
The Messiah is good news. He frees you from guilt. He releases you from your chains.
Recovery of sight to the Blind. If you are losing your sight…if you’ve lost your way. If you remember God, but you can’t see how he is in your life. If you can’t see the right path and everything looks…dark.
The Messiah is good news. He is the Light. He is the Way.
Deliverance for the Oppressed. If you are oppressed by your own thoughts. If the devil tells you that you are worthless, that God hates you, that God wants nothing to do with you, that you can never be saved - and these thoughts filter through your brain throughout the day. Each day. Especially in the quiet moments --- revealing a tumult inside your soul.
The Messiah is good news. He says, “You’re mine. I love you. I died for you.”
The congregation of people smiled. It was nice to be reminded of what the Messiah would do. Here in this Roman dominated culture, they felt oppressed and poor. They couldn’t wait for a Messiah to lead them back to glory.
I imagine that as Jesus closed the scroll, the people nodded with approval. Ms. Mertz who he used to help carry groceries in winked at him. Uncle Karl gave him a big thumbs up. They knew what was coming next. “The Messiah will come. Israel will be restored to glory.” It would be nice to hear this young man who had grown up from their own congregation preaching that same message.
Jesus returned to the center of the front. He looked at them. He sighed. He spoke.
Their jaws dropped.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you understand what Jesus was saying? His sermon theme and parts were simple.
PART ONE: You need a Messiah.
PART TWO: I am the Messiah.
He was saying that the portion from Isaiah that he read was talking about Him! Listen to Jesus:
I AM good news for the poor.
I AM healing for the broken-hearted.
I AM freedom for the captives.
I AM recovery of sight.
I AM Deliverance from oppression.
I AM the Messiah.
This wasn’t political either. This wasn’t his version of Trump’s “Make America great again.”
This was spiritual. It was eternal. He would be the Savior from Sin.
And…that’s it. He doesn’t say anymore. It’s short. (Even our fast paced, YouTube generation minds can pay attention that long). Jesus wants you to have one simple YET incredible takeaway.
HE IS YOUR SAVIOR.
Brothers and sisters, that’s still the main point today. Jesus is your Savior. If you never got anything out of sermons than that, so be it! That’s all that matters. YOU NEED A SAVIOR and JESUS IS THE SAVIOR!
As a church, this needs to be the central point too. When you new members come up here in a bit, that’s what you’ll confess…faith in Jesus as your Savior. After that we’ll have the Lord’s Supper, where we receive the true body and blood of Jesus our Savior. At the Voter’s assembly, we’ll talk about what the church is up to…keeping in mind our main reason for existing: PREACHING JESUS AS THE SAVIOR!
May it be the same in your life too. As you preach your sermons, make Jesus the center. Make him the center of your relationships, your church life, your quiet mornings, your work day, your conversation with friends, brushing your teeth, saying your prayers and going to bed.
In short, make Jesus the center of your life. It's all about Him. He is...the Savior. Amen.
It’s 2016. The beginning of a New Year. And, here's a behind the scenes note, usually at the beginning of the year it is a time for the church leadership to assess the state of the church and make plans for the coming year. The same is here at Gethsemane. We talk about worship. We talk about in reach. We talk about what flavor coffee tastes best in the hallway. We talk about a lot of things and make plans for the New Year.
But one of the key things that we talk about in the church is something called OUTREACH. Outreach is "reaching out." But not just for a high five. It's reaching out with the life saving message of Jesus.
Think about it. Somebody reached out to you. It might have been your mom. Maybe a pastor. Maybe a friend. Maybe a Facebook post OR a coworker's invite. Whoever it was someone reached out to you and said, "Come and hear about your Savior. "
That's why Outreach is in the DNA of a Christian. In Jesus, we know forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and victory over the devil. We desire for others to know that as well.
Today we’re starting our first sermon in our Firsts sermon series of 2016. We’re going to take a look at a few key firsts in the life of Jesus. I want to look at one of the very first OUTREACH Programs.
I. The Program's Goal
We’re going to look at Matthew 2. Take a look at it. This takes place somewhere around 1-2 years after Jesus’ birth. It says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
It says that "magi" came to investigate Jesus' birth. Magi appear to have been some kind of astronomers, hence the term "wise" men. They had been observing the skies and recording the shapes of constellation patterns and star movements throughout their lives.
Why did they suddenly drop what they were doing and embark on a long journey across the desert? They noticed a different kind of star. Something new. Something peculiar. A star so divine in it's presence that it was obvious there was something amazing at the end.
A star that God had put there.
Think about how badly God wanted to do this outreach and get this news of Jesus' birth to them. He didn't send an email. He didn't call them on the telephone. He didn't even send a text message. He didn't even boost a post on Instagram!
HE MADE A GIANT BALL OF GAS EXPLODE INTO THE SKY.
It's kind of like one of those big spot lights that businesses might shine up in the sky at a grand opening. It can lead to a car dealership or a casino or a brand new mall. I saw one in the sky once and decided to followed it. The spotlight led to a small Minnesota country town's grand opening of a local gas station.
God's spotlight directs the world to a much bigger prize than a 2 for 1 slushie sale. God's spotlight directs the magi to the Son of God. The Savior. The Messiah. A Messiah that God desperately desired for these men to learn about.
That's the first thing about God's first outreach program. God had a DIVINE DESIRE for it's message to be shared. This must be our desire too. To tell the coworker who has been cheated on by her husband - that there is a God who is faithful and just and will never leave her. To tell our friend who has hated God -- that God took his best insults and went to the cross for him, to die for him. To tell the man who has struggled with drug abuse -- there is hope. It's your Savior. It's Jesus.
II. The Program's Reach
Now some of you might be saying, "What about the shepherds? Didn't God reach out to them with this message as well?" That's true. He did. On the night of Jesus' birth, the skies lit up with their message.
But the shepherds were only a couple of hills away from Jesus. They were of the people Israel. That means they should have been familiar with the promise of the Messiah, because the promise of the Messiah had been made to the Jewish people, was recorded by the Jewish people, and passed on by the Jewish people.
it's not so much outreach, but inreach.
But this divine star outreach, God doesn't stop within the borders of Israel. These Magi were "from the east." Scholarly study suggests that they must have known about the prophesies of a Messiah from Scripture. Scripture would have made its way east in the Babylonian captivity -- which segued into the reign of the Persian Empire. An empire in which Daniel (of Daniel and the Lion's Den fame) became a key part.
That would place these men in Ancient Persia -- Modern Day Iraq. That's hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem.
That's real outreach.
It's proof that a godly outreach program isn't just for people that like Mary and Joseph. It's for people from the East. It's for people from the West. It's for people from the North and the South ...and 2000 years in the future across the atlantic ocean just south of I-540 in the triangle!
Its' for us!
But it isnt' just for people like us. We can't just be concerned with looking for Christians who move down to the area and need a church. (Don't get me wrong those people need a church home. I'm happy to provide it and I hope they'll take up the outreach message with us.)
But if that's all we're doing, we aren't doing what God has called us to do. Check out the Great Commission. It says, "God and make disciples of all nations!" Not "of all the Midwesterners already a part of your Synod that look just like you." Nope. He says, "Go into all the nations."
We've got that opportunity here in Raleigh. We've got people from all over. I've met people from Russia and Nigeria, Congo and Korea, China and Chinatown, Mexico and Canada, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, New York, Bew Nampshire, New Guinea, Florida, Panama and Ecuador. I've met people who speak Spanish> People who speak French. People who speak with an accent. People from all over!
And they all need to hear about our Savior. They all need to be a focus of our outreach.
III. The Program's Message
But what do we tell them? "Come. We've got good coffee." "Come hear how you should vote in the next election." Come, eat some delicious cookies." Come, Hang out. Pastor's cool. Kind of?"
Listen to the message that the magi had heard. "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
They came looking for a King. They came looking for one who ruled over sin. They came looking for one who ruled over the devil. They came looking for one who ruled over death. They came looking for one who would release them from the bondage of sin. One who would crusht eh power of death, One who would defeat the enemy -- Satan himself.
They came looking for one who would issue in a time of peace -- with God and an era of joy -- in salvation.
This was the message of the star. The King has come. It's Jesus.
That is our Message as well. Our message is beautiful in its simplicity. It's a message that our youngest members know very well. "What's that?" A cross. "Who was on it?" Jesus. "What happened to him?" He died." Why?" To take away our sins.
You know it too. Our message isn't, "Hey-- everything's cool-- no worries mon." It's "You have a savior from Sin death and hell. His name is Jesus!"
This has to be what our Sunday School teaches. It has to be what our Adult Bible classes teach. it has to be what our Facebook posts lead people to. it has to be what you tell otehrs when you invite them to church. Come and hear about the Savior!
IV. The Program's Success Rate
"But Pastor," you might be thinking, "How will this work? I've got this one friend who hates chruch and this other friend I invite all the time and they don't seem to care at all. There's no way this is gonna work. It's impossible.
Tell that to the Magi.
They were from the East. They saw a change in the stars. They packed their bags. they left their homes. They travelled by animal across the desert. They followed a star. They came to a home over which the star shone. They knocked on the door.
And they saw...a toddler.
This can't be right. We're looking for a king. Where is the giant muscles? Where is the palace? Where is the golden crown? Were we supposed to take a right at the sycamore tree?
But, then again, the Star. The Scritpures. The hand of God.
They approached the child. They knelt down on their knees. They bowed down and worshipped him.
Then, they opened up their bags and delviered him gifts for a king gold, frankincense and myrrfh. There weren't any shopkins in sight!
These men travelled hundreds of miles. They followed a star They bowed to a toddler. They gave him gifts for a king.
The Outreach Program worked.
God is behind the same outreach program today. He works through his Word. he works faith in the hearts of people. Keep that in mind. Our task isn't that impossible, because we have an impossible doing God behind it! He made a star appear out of nowhere. He can make faith appear in a person's heart out of nowhere. He will be behind our outreach in 2016!
V. The Program's Tool
Of course, there is one key difference in God's outreach program now as opposed to the plan in Matthew 2. Then, he used a star.
Now? Last I looked outside I didn't see a star shining down upon Gethsemane's steeple. we did get a nice new lamp that shines ont eh words "Gethsemane Lutehran" on the side of the building, but you can't see that unless you're on Newton Road.
What are we supposed to use?
Take a look at Jesus' words in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men."
We don't depend on a star. We depend on us.
This is humbling. God could use another exploding ball of gas to bring people to the Savior. Intead, he chooses you. He chooses me. He chooses a bunch of sinful, failing, mistake making human beings to carry his message.
God has chosen Christians to be his light. He has chosen you and I to reflect his love. He has chosen you and I to pass on the message of the Savior!
This isn't just a pastor's job. You are a part of this. That "you" is plural. It encompasses us all. It encompasses you. You are so important in this.
Think about it. If only one of us invites a person to church, that means we have one light shining. One person coming. It's addition.
But if two people invite one person. That's 2 times 1. If ten people do it, that's ten times 1. If 100 people do it -- invite and bring just 1 person in the month of January -- that's not addition anymore.
Do you see why you are key in all of this? Whether you are young or old, male or female, long term Chrsitian or just come to faith, you are a key part in this outreach!
May God bless your outreach. Amen.
What in the world was going on?
The man looked around him. His friends were dragging him by the hand through a large group of people. Hands were moving and mouths were opening faster than he had ever seen them. He couldn’t make out a single word. Not because there was so much noise, but because there was so little.
He was deaf. Always had been. So the scene was surreal – a sea of commotion without so much as the background music of a silent film.
If only he could slow them down and get them to explain the situation better. He opened his mouth to shout, but the people didn’t hear a thing. It wasn’t because it was too noisy either, but because he didn’t make a noise.
He was mute. Always had been. Just like it had always been the case. He was deaf. He was mute. Now he was frightened.
But as he and his friends made their way to the center of the crowd, the man’s eyes caught a glimpse of something that calmed him. A face. A kind face. A smile from a rugged looking man who seemed to be the leader of the group.
Not that he had heard his name before, but perhaps this was the one – the one his friends had written down for him. The one’s whose name whose name was spelled J-e-s-u-s.
Brothers and sisters, today we’re continuing our DEEP series by taking a look at DEEP COMPASSION. Our goal is to learn about (1) Our need for compassion, (2) God’s deep compassion and (3) how to show compassion like God.
I. The DEEP Need for Compassion
Take a look again at what exactly was going on in Mark 7. 32 "Some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.” Notice that this man was unlike many others who had come to Jesus. He had more than one problem. Jesus had healed the blind, the lame, and the sick. He had probably healed the deaf and the mute. But nowhere else had Jesus run into someone who had two related, but different problems.
Doesn’t that make compassion more difficult? Think about it. A teacher might be willing to teach a student with ADD, but if they had Autism too, they might ask that they be taken to a special school. You might be willing to drop a buck to someone who is homeless, but if they are also addicted to drugs – you think, “Why even bother?” We might be willing to spend time with a friend who is handicapped physically, but if they are mentally handicapped too…don’t many of us suddenly become too busy because that takes a lot of work.
It’s kind of sad. But when people have more than one problem – we often label them UNTOUCHABLE and save our compassion to those who are easier to help!
But I think there’s something else that added to the UNTOUCHABILITY of this man was. Verse 32 says “Some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.”
I was watching an episode of What Would You Do? the other day. It’s a show where they use actors to stage a social situation and hidden camera record the reactions of everyday – non-actor people.
In this episode, they recorded as a young woman walked around at the gas station asking for some money to help fill her tank and get her back home. Guess what? She didn’t have much a problem raising way more than she needed. She was kinda cute, so there were plenty of guys willing to help her. But even other women helped too.
Then, they changed one thing. Same story. Same gas station. Only this time, they used a man.
Guess what? It took him an hour and a half before he even got a buck.
Right or wrong – society has less compassion on men. Perhaps it’s because of the Biblical precedent that the man should be the leader of his family and perhaps it is often the case that the man hasn’t taken any responsibility. Whatever the reason – it’s true that men often receive less compassion.
There’s one more thing to keep in mind. The man was mute. So it’s possible that he had no idea what was going on and he had no idea that he was going to get help. In other words, it’s kind of unlikely that he was even asking for help. No doubt that would be a nice thing, but in the specific scenario he isn’t the one leading the charge to Jesus. His friends brought him.
If someone isn’t asking for help, that severely reduces the risk that they will receive help, don’t you think? If you don’t send in to the government asking for social support and welfare payments, even if you qualify, you won’t get them!
All of these things lead me to believe that this man probably didn’t receive a lot of compassion in his life. Now here he stood before the Son of God himself. But there’s one more thing that, a hidden thing, that could have easily prevented this many from receiving any compassion from Jesus.
If your child comes to you with a boo boo after falling down in roller skates, you might be compassionate. You get a band aid and some Neosporin and pour on a healthy dose of mommy love.
But if your child comes to you with a boo boo after falling off of the tree that he climbed up in roller blades AFTER you told him repeatedly not to climb up because "that’s a terrible idea and you will get hurt,” you might not be as compassionate. They might not deserve it.
Sin is what happens when we do that to God. He warned us. He told us not to. We did anyway. From Adam and Eve – to you and me — when we don’t do what God says, should we be surprised when there are consequences? Guilt, shame, relationship struggles, anxiety, even physical pain!
You’ve sinned. I’ve sinned. We’ve all sinned. We are as in need of compassion as this deaf and mute man was! We need an ALL HOLY God not to deal with us as we deserve, but to deal with us in His incredible COMPASSION.
II. How Deep is God’s Compassion
Listen to how deep God’s compassion is.
“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."
This is incredible. Notice Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches the man’s tongue. That’s not just the touch of a human being. It wasn’t just his mom holding his hand or his grandma squeezing his cheeks. It wasn’t the doctor feeling for his heartbeat. This was the touch of God.
That’s how deeply involved God gets. He literally puts his touch into this man. The same hands that had formed this man in the womb; the same hands that had guided him on his way; and the same hands that would be crucified for him – were actively involved in healing Him!
Next Jesus looked up to heaven – this is key! Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that this is from God. It’s a prayer. It’s a communication with his heavenly Father. This doesn’t come from one of those Miracle Cure All Bottles that appear on the Home Shopping Network at 2 in the morning. This healing came from The Almighty Hand of God!
Do you want further proof? Look at his words: "Ephphatha!” (which means “be opened!”) He doesn’t say, “this medicine should help.” He doesn’t suggest, “This treatment has a 50% success rate.” He doesn’t say, “This is about all we can do." He’s speaks directly to the problem. He commands the man’s ears to hear. He orders the man’s throat to open.
And what happens?
Quietly, a sound. A melody. A bird chirping in the distance. The mysterious rustling of the leaves. A voice asking, “Did it work?”
Then another sound. A sound that not only the man, but none of his friends had heard before.
The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. He felt God’s compassionate touch.
Jesus went out of his way to find this poor man and heal his inadequacies – Jesus went even farther for you and for me! His compassion drove him to the cross. His compassion for you drove him to suffer for you. His compassion for you drove him to die for you. His compassion for you drove him to rise triumphantly from that grave that whoever believe in him will not get as their sins deserve and perish, but will graciously, compassionately, be gifted eternal life in His name.
That’s a compassionate God. It’s the same compassionate God that is reaching out to you right now.
May he open your sin-blinded heart to see that He is your Savior.
May he open your sin-stopped ears to hear that He forgives you.
May he open your mute mouth to sing aloud – I believe!
III. Compassion Like Jesus
Notice that the mouth of the formerly deaf mute man wasn’t the only thing opened that day.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. Most likely because the more word spread about him, the quicker the Pharisees decided in their hearts to kill him. But it didn’t even work. Look: the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” People were singing Jesus’ praises everywhere they went. They couldn’t contain it. They told their sick aunts. They told their blind grandpas. They told the widow down the street who was feeling lonely.
Jesus didn’t just open the man’s ears and mouth; he opened the people’s mouths too! I’m also praying that this message this morning opens up a few things on us too.
1) Open Our Eyes.
There are people in need all around you too. I bet you that each day you will run into people who need compassion.
How do I know? Because you’ll run into people. People need compassion.
Keep your eyes open:
Instead of a bum in need of some money; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of an addict in need of a 12 step program; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of an impoverished family in need of the government to do something; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a mentally handicapped man in need of a professional’s help; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a physically handicapped woman in need of a physician’s therapy; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of the terribly sick in need of a doctor’s prescription; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a coworker in need of a chat with human resources; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Then, approach them and ask God to…
2) Open our Ears.
Too often we assume we know what others need right off of the bat. That guy needs a haircut. He needs to work harder. He needs some medicine.
But sometimes we are so interested in our answer, we miss the question.
Husbands, doesn’t this happen to you? At the supper table, you ask your wife about her day and she says, “It was a mess. The plumber couldn’t fix the leaky pipes, the kids were late to school, the baby has been crying all day; the dog made a mess in the living room, your mom called and reprimanded me for the amount of money I spent at Kroger last week. Ugh!”
And you’re like, “Call the plumber again. Leave the house earlier. Feed the baby some rum. Sell the dog and never answer my mom’s phone call again. Pass the potato salad, please.”
But she says, “What? You don’t care!!!”
She wasn’t asking you to fix it. She was asking you to listen.
Listen. That’s compassion. Listen to your spouse. Listen to your kids. Listen to your kids. Listen to that guy at work no one talks to. Listen to your boss. Listen to your neighbor.
And once you’ve listened…pray for God to...
3) Open your Mouth!
Because it wouldn’t do a lot of good to be walking down the hall this week, see someone in need of compassion, state out loud, “That person needs compassion,” and then walk away whistling to yourself that you did a good job identifying someone in need of compassion.
We need to speak. After we’ve listened, we need to speak and bring comfort. It can start pretty simple: “How are you? Nice to meet you. Tell me about your week. I love your outfit.” Those are nice things.
But how can it not, at some point, in some shape or form, involve the message of your Savior? His message is true compassion. That deals with sin. How much more compassionate is the message of Scripture, “That God so loved you – my dear friend – that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life!”
I'll bet that the formerly deaf and mute man – never forgot that day. Because he could hear? Sure. Because he could speak? Absolutely. But mostly because he could see – His Savior.
When you see someone in need of compassion, when you open your ears to listen to them and God gives you the courage to open your mouth and speak his love, may that be what they remember - their Savior. Amen.
Today’s topic is Race. I picked out this sermon series about three months ago and it is unfortunately very timely.
This past week an African American church in Charleston, SC was attacked during Bible study. 9 people were killed. Immediately my stomach churned. A peaceful place like the house of God – turned into a terrifying, madhouse of violence?
Since then facts have come out about the shooter. He is a 21 year old white male. About two years ago he began posting on a website that discussed all of the atrocities that African Americans had brought into America. According to the few who did survive he gave a speech mid gunfire to explain that “He needed to do this – to get back at African Americans and retake his country.”
Racism. Plain and simple.
But what’s scary is how the devil is using this terrible event. Because if you scroll through internet articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and Tweets , you’ll find anger. You’ll find fear. You’ll find deflection. You’ll find people more interested in defending themselves as some kind of representative of their race, than in defending and understanding those of another culture.
It’ easy to see the devil in this. He’s using these events to divide us! We cannot let him. Brothers and sisters, today we will reflect on race – our culture’s perspective and God’s perspective.
I. Our Culture on Race
The media is huge in forming our opinions on race. Consider this – in almost every violent attack over the past couple of years – what is one of the first details to be released? Not the victim’s family name. Not the shooter's job.
“Black Male Kills White Cop.”
“White Male Kills Black Cop”
“Latino Man Attacks Asian Family”
“Middle Eastern Terrorist at Large”
This has worn on our society. We have stopped seeing each other as individuals and instead see each other as our race.
Hispanic. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Native American. Indian.
Think you’re not infected?
Pretend you’re walking into a coffee shop. As you enter – you see a room filled with African American men with the faint beat of hip hop in the background. What did you think?
Now imagine the same coffee shop. This time you a bunch of white men in business suits talking about the latest Bloomberg report? Did you have the same thoughts?
Or what if you saw a group of men speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect with turbans on their heads and prayer shawls attached to their waist? Grab a coffee, sit down next to them and engage in conversation?
If there’s a difference to you, then you’ve been infected. You’ve stopped identifying people as individuals, and started identifying them as their race. Sadly, this has unintended consequences.
Jesus Loves the Little Children was written by C. Herbert Woolson during the American Civil War when racial tensions were very high – Woolson meant the song to reflect God’s perspective. We usually sing just the refrain but the verses add to it a special focus on God’s love for his children.
Did you hear how it went? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
But is that really how we view it? Tell me if this doesn’t sound more like how Americans like to think of it:
Jesus loves the Little Children…
All the children who look like me.
Brown hair, tall and German,
Accent gruff and Northern
Jesus loves the little children just like me!
Wait….That’s not how it goes, is it?
Here’s the problem when you find a person’s identify in their race only – you will develop a superiority complex. This is part natural and part defensive. We are sinful human beings who have done sinful things – and if we can’t placate God’s wrath with our own actions – at the very least it’s soothing to think that I’ve got a better chance at appeasing God because he loves my culture best.
Our Culture views our race as what defines us and uses it as a way to divide us.
II. God on Race
The Jewish people struggled with that exact thought. (I can understand why). God had promised to them that he would send a Savior through them. Because of that promise, God protected them throughout their history with incredible miracles. They were very blessed. But many had taken this too far. Viewing it far more than God’s merciful blessing, they began to think of it as something they themselves had done by simply ‘being’ Jewish. Many became convinced that God only loved their kind of people.
Take a look at the first passage you’ve got listed in your bulletin from Romans 10:12-13, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile" (and Gentile means “not a Jew” so here we could include “European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Australian Americans – even Antarctican Americans --- if that’s’ even a thing) There is no difference --because the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Do you want some visible proof that God loves all people just the same? Dive into that last verse with me.
“The same Lord is Lord of all.” This means that God created all of us. He spent careful time, thoughts, and planning (and he had eternities of time) to make and create you the exact way that he did. He placed you into the perfect culture. He dyed your skin a beautiful color. He made your hair just the way he wanted it.
And look around. God did the same for the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person to your side. God created all and loves all.
“God richly blesses all.” Think about the different foods of this world. Isn’t it amazing how BBQ pork is drastically different from sushi which is drastically different from a burrito which is extremely different from a peanut butter sandwich? God has given people different foods, sure. But God still gives food. He gives clothing. He gives blessings to all of his people
Different blessings sure, but blessings all the same. Blessings that come from the same gracious hand of our loving Lord.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Because as different as the shades of brown our skins might be, God looks beyond our skin. He looks into our souls. As he looks at our souls, he sees something eerily similar.
God sees people who are dying because of sin. He sees people who are lost because of sin. He sees people in danger of hell because of sin.
He sees people who need a Savior because of sin.
God sent a Savior. He sent his Son Jesus for all people. Jn. 3:16 well known verse of the Bible says just that, “God so loved the world – not Irish people, not Mexican people, not everyone north of the equator –nope. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
Did you see that? God loves people – all people – even the one who hate him – so much that he died for them.
He died for you. He died for people like you. He died for people who looked totally different than.
And he loves you all just the same.
Did some of you ever grow up watching black and white TV? It’s nice for what it did. It brought live action picture and sound into people’s homes. But compare that to what they have now! Beautiful colors – reds, yellows, greens and high definition. You can see the crystal blue of the ocean. You can watch the golden corn kernels pop in Midwestern field. You can see gorgeous array of purples and blues off the feathers of a peacock.
God’s world is a lot like that. He doesn’t see his people in drab grayscale. God sees a beautiful, HD colored world AND loves it.
III. A New View on Race
If God views us all the same, how should that affect the way we interact with one another? James 3:1 tells us, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” That starts as a matter of the heart. When you see how much Jesus loves you, his love will motivate you to love others in the same way.
But after that, how do you make such a countercultural statement visible to a world that divides by race, sticks us into our own little box and says, “That’s where you belong?”
The answer? Radical love.
There was a Jewish man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road goes through the desert. That means it was pretty quiet. It’s not 440. It’s not Capital Blvd. It’s not even Falls of Neuse. It was a lonesome road…similar to walking down a dark alley in the middle of the city.
Suddenly, the man was mugged. The raiders stripped him of his clothes, beat him silly, left him bloodied and bruised, and left him in a heap on the hot desert sand.
Thankfully help wasn’t too far off. It just so happened that a priest, the head of the Jewish religious community, was passing through. He was well trained in the things of God and trained to help the people. Surely, he’d help the man!
But he didn’t. When he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
Then a Levite approached. Levites were the ones who helped the priest. In fact, while the priests might have focused more on the ceremonious aspect of their religious, the Levites would have been useful in connected with the people in need. Here was a chance for him to do his job.
But he didn’t. He too passed by on the other side.
Then, a Samaritan approached. Now this is a big deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other. They were different races. They were races that didn’t get along. At best they didn’t trust each other. At worst they hated each other. It’s probably similar to how our own sad American history has pitted blacks and whites against each other. But maybe worse – picture a card carrying member of ISIS getting off his donkey and approaching you.
What do you expect him to do? If this were America, the options are too familiar. A few swift blows to his head to get him back for how his people hurt you in the past. A quick selfie with the body in the background, a degrading caption on it, and post it all over social media. A few muttered words: “It’s his people. It’s his problem. If only they worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” The man passes by and makes his way into town, tells everyone passionately about what he saw, and says, “The government should do something about this.’
But that’s not what happens. Note what does.
1) The Man Offers His Resources
The man pours olive oil – expensive stuff – all over his wounds as a salve. He takes wine –maybe the wine he had saved for the party he was heading to – and rubs its on his bruises to kill infection. He creates makeshift bandages from whatever linens he had available in his donkey’s sack and covered the man up. Then, he puts the man on his donkey. Remember they’re in the desert! Yet he decides to literally get off of his high horse and allow this stranger the luxury of riding into town. Then he takes him to a hotel and puts him to rest.
Do you have resources you can use to help? Has God gifted you with wealth? Has God gifted you with time? Has God gifted you with talents? Start thinking how can you use them to show love to those of another culture. How can you use your resources –God given resources – to reach out with the love of Jesus?
2) The Man Helps Immediately
I imagine that was a frightening situation for the Samaritan man. Here was a stranger lying in his blood. That’s something that might have given him pause just like the priest and the Levite that he’d resolve – I can’t help now, but maybe I can come back with some friends later.
But that wasn’t what the man did, was it? He dropped what his plans were and immediately helped this victim.
It will be tempting after this sermon to think – I like some of the ideas. I’ll put them into practice…someday. Someday when I have enough courage and when things settle down.
Number one, things won’t settle down. The devil’s on a roll and he’ll keep trying to divide us. Number two, you’ve got Jesus on your side. The Lord Almighty is with you. As those kids sang back in May, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Why be afraid? Go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love…and do it now!
3) The Man Doesn’t Forget His New Friend
In the story, reality catches up the Samaritan. He has to leave. But notice that though he physically leaves, he doesn’t abandon his friend. He finds the manager. He says to the manager “Take care of him.” He offers to pay all of his medical expenses – whatever the hotel manager tells him it costs – just as long as the man is taken care of.
This was probably an inconvenience for him! I’m sure he had stuff of his own to take care of. Whatever business he had in Jericho he needed to tend to it. But now this man was his business. It was his brother -- of a different culture, sure, but his brother all the same. His brother was his business and he wasn’t going to forget about him.
May I advise you to do the same. Check back in with those you are reaching out to. Don’t just do it once, wipe the sweat off your brow, sigh and say, “There, I did what pastor asked and boy was it hard.” Instead – make them your business. Keep learning about them. Keep listening to them. Put them on your prayer list. Think of ways to reach out to them. Invite them for dinner. Ask them for coffee. Do something to say that I still care about you.
Would you start thinking like the Samaritan? Start think of ways you can put your love into practice with those who are of a different culture. In the midst of a terrible tragedy, you’ve got an opportunity. I want you to intentionalize this. You’ll naturally be friendly and loving towards those who are similar. That’s easy. Go out of your way to improve your relations with those different than you. Do the Jesus thing – He went out of his way (out of heaven to the cross) in order to show his love to us.
Let’s intentionalize our love!
That’s what one of the church members from Charleston did. Ethel Lance was her mom’s name. Ethel died in the shooting.
Her daughter had a chance to talk to the shooter. Her words were striking in the CounterCulture love.
She said this, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but…I forgive you."
May God give us all this unifying, Christlike love. Amen.
What makes you shout? Your kid reaching for a cookie even though you told them not to? A coworker expecting you to do something when it isn’t your job? Someone cutting you off in traffic on the way here this morning? Duke making it to the Elite Eight? UNC not making it to the Elite Eight?
Question: Does Jesus ever make you shout? I’m not talking about a firm “Yes” as you politely sip coffee and wait for the next part of the sermon. I’m talking about a feel it in your belly, this is so exciting, I’m just that blessed by God so I’m gonna let the world know, kind of shout.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday before they even knew it was Palm Sunday, the people couldn’t help but shout. But it’s a bit strange shouting, isn’t it? Because there wasn’t anything altogether that spectacular about Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem. This morning we’re going to examine two things: (1) Why Shout? and (2) How to Shout?
I. Why Shout?
Picture the scene. Jesus was on the Mt. of Olives – which is just outside Jerusalem at about 2700 feet. That’s a decent height. From there he can see Jerusalem. Now – if you head back in Scripture just a chapter before Jesus tells his disciples this truth: 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem…and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Do you suppose Jesus could picture it from there? Could he see the garden where he would be betrayed and arrested? Could he see the courtyard where he would be falsely accused and condemned? Could he see Calvary…a hill not too far away…where he would hang on a cross and die?
Understand this. If you book a hotel on Priceline and you want to write it off for your taxes, you have to list the purpose of the business trip. A conference. A client meeting. A nearby Expo.
The point of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem was that he would suffer and die to save people from their sin. Do you think the IRS would let him write that off on his taxes?
Yet in spite of the gloomy circumstances surrounding his impending stay in Jerusalem, Jesus made preparations to enter. As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
Maybe Jesus had made arrangements beforehand; maybe he’s just being divine and knowing exactly where to send the disciples to borrow a donkey. Because verse 6 says, The (disciples) went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
Now how many here have been to a parade before? Parades are exciting. There are marching bands, beautifully decorated floats, acrobats, a giant balloon or two, and a few people tossing candy.
I grew up in a small town of 20,000 people. We had parades. They had the local beauty queen. A few dozen firetrucks. And that guy who’s driving along in a car--not a particularly impressive car either – maybe a 1997 Chevy Lumina minivan – and on the side of the car is the name of his business – “Bob’s A/C and Heating Supply”. The only thing interesting happening is that the guy is waving from the window. Maybe he’s tossing a few of those hard candies you get in droves from the dollar Store.
It’s not the most exciting.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem in a similar fashion. He’s not on a beautiful stallion. He’s not in the back of an awesome chariot. He’s not driving a fancy muscle car. He’s not at the top of a gigantic horse drawn podium like Santa Claus in the Macy’s parade.
He’s riding a donkey. A young donkey. He’s sitting on a coat for decoration. That’s it.
And the people went bananas: Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. The Apostle John tells us they were palm branches. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our Father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
I’ve never reacted with that kind of fanfare for a parade. How about you?
It makes you wonder why. Why are they that excited to see Jesus? If we examine their words closely, we’ll get clued in as to why this is so exciting:
Hosanna! Hosanna is a Hebrew word. It’s an imperative. It simply means “Save!”
If your basketball team has been struggling in any tournament game, maybe you caught yourself chanting: “Score!” Score! Score already!” It’s something they are capable of doing and you want them to do.
Why were these people chanting “Save!?!” “Teach!” we could understand. “Love!” would seem appropriate. “Make the Pharisees look bad,” would be a fun chant as well.
But this word “Hosanna” teaches us so much about who Jesus is. He’s more than a teacher. He’s more than a nice guy. He’s more than a rebel that made the local officials feel foolish.
He’s the Savior.
This is key. Your level of understanding of this one word alone will affect your excitement today and always.
Truth is there’s a lot going on in our lives – financial struggles, relationship breakdowns, constant business. Learning about Jesus at church or in your Bible seem just like one more thing to cross off the list of ‘ToDos”. Indistinguishable in importance from one bullet point to another. This whole idea of Jesus it might not seem all that exciting all the time. I don’t even toss out candy…usually.
So whether you’ve forgotten, not pondered it in a while ,or simply never been told, consider what Jesus saves us from. Here’s three simple passages:
1 Timothy 1: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…
Sinners are those who have done sin. Sin is anything wrong, selfish, greedy, lustful, rageful. Sin is God’s Word for wrong. It is the word for the awful things that humans say and do to each other.
Are you a sinner? Have you ever said or done something wrong? (I’m raising my hand real high right now.)
Not what 1 Timothy says though. Jesus came to save sinners. It doesn’t say that he came to show off. It doesn’t’ say that he came to high five the righteous. It says that he came to save! To remove sins that had marred our souls from before God’s sight. He came to wipe away our guilt. He came to cleanse us from sins!
This is a big deal. Because sins leads to God’s wrath. That's something else we need saving from. That’s because God hates sin and wants nothing to do with sin. He must punish it.
That may sound harsh, but consider how humans demand fairness. If you are driving down Falls of Neuse at 55 mph –the exact same speed as the car next to you and the cop pulls you over but not him, don’t you demand justice?
If you and a friend complete a test in school, but they get a higher grace because the teacher likes her better, don’t you demand justice?
If so, you’re like God. He’s just. He must punish all sin. Which means he must punish sinners. Sinners like you. Sinners like me.
Romans 5:9 says, We shall be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus! It’s as if Jesus saw God’s wrath coming and stepped in front of it for us.
Like a friend who stands in front of a fan, so that you don’t feel it’s cool breeze, Jesus stood in front of us so that we don’t feel the full force of God’s wrath! He did it on the cross. He suffered and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Then Jesus saved us from one more thing. 2 Timothy 1:10 says, “Our Savior, Jesus Christ…destroyed death and brought life…through the Gospel.” That happened on Easter. He broke open the grace and broke open death. Death no longer means eternal separation from God and from loved ones. By faith in Jesus death means life. Eternal life.
Maybe you are thinking, “That all sounds nice. But how do we know it’s true?” Check out the second line of praise from the Palm Sunday onlookers: “Blessed is He Who Comes in the name of the Lord.”
Ever been to the store looking for FDA approved meat? If you see that seal on the package, then you know the meat is safe to eat. The practices are humane. The food is not going to poison you. It’s approved by the FDA.
Jesus is God approved. He came in the name of the Lord. We know this from more than just the people’s words. We’re smarter than that. We know this from Jesus’ miracles. God miracles. Things no one else could do! He stopped storms, cast out incurable diseases, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to talk, and the dead to rise. On more than one occasion, a voice came from the skies – long before the time of microphones and speakers – and this voice said, “This is my Son whom I love with Him I am well pleased.”
God the Father had given his seal of approval for Jesus’ work. Jesus was now entering Jerusalem -- to suffer and die – work that was approved by God. Approved by the Father as the only way for you and me to get to heaven.
Buddha didn’t get that kind of approval.
Neither did Mohammed.
Neither did that Yoga teacher from Daily Burn ‘becoming one with your spirit’ breathing enhancement.
Jesus is the God approved way to be saved!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of the Father. This wasn’t the chant of some political zealots excited that the “God” party was being formed and soon all the rules in Ancient Rome would match up with God’s rule.
It means God had come to rule in hearts. To speak peace. To give joy. To hold in love. To promise a forever—happily ever after—in heaven to all who believe in Jesus.
Fear doesn’t rule. Peace does. Guilt doesn’t rule. Joy does. Hatred doesn’t rule. Love does. Death –awful, terrifying, frightening no longer rules. It’s not even death anymore. It’s life.
Hosanna in the Highest! Translated loosely this means “Raise the roof!” Why not? Look at all the awesome things that Jesus was going to do for the people in Jerusalem – the things he has done for you. He saved you from your sins. He saved you from your guilt. He saved you from eternal punishment. By believing in Him, he saves you to an eternity of pain free, guilt free, sin free bliss in heaven!
You see – we shout because God shouts! When our consciences shout, “Guitly. You are condemned. God can’t forgive you.” God speaks to us in His Word. He speaks through Jesus. He says, “You are forgiven. You are loved. You will be in heaven!!!”
That’s worth shouting about, isn’t it?
II. How to Shout
So…how loudly have you been shouting?
I don’t own an applause meter. I’m not going to hold it up and see if we can break Gethsemane’s all time decibel record on the next hymn. This isn’t an imperative to go downtown, set up a box on the curb, and scream at everyone who passes by.
Let’s worry less about how loud your voice is and more about how loud your life is. Think about the last couple of weeks…even months. How loudly have you been a witness for Christ?
· Are you certain to never miss a Sunday singing Amazing Grace in church OR just certain that you never miss a chance to sing karaoke?
· Can people glance at the cross by your workplace computer OR is it hard to find under the stacks of Duke memorabilia?
· Does your Facebook wall state, “I’m a Republican. I love country music. I’m obsessed with Hunger Games. I bleed NC State red. But…my religious views? That’s none of your business.”
Brothers and sisters, there are lots of people telling you to quiet down with your Christianity and your Jesus. Today I tell you crank it up! Turn that Jesus praise volume in your life all the way up! Do it in 3 Ways.
1) Shout in More Places.
If there’s anyone outside on a walk and I ran out and asked them what I just said, even if I was screaming it they would probably have no idea.
You can’t just shout in church. You need to “shout” in other places to.
Shout at home. Let them see you reading the Bible. Let them hear you praying. Make sure you practice forgiveness. Let them see you leaving for church. Shout at work. Invite someone to Easter. Pray for your friends. Lovingly, calmly, boldly share your faith in Jesus. Shout on the internet. Pass on Bible passages. Share what God has done for you today. Invite people Easter! Shout in other places too -- Shout in your neighborhood. Shout with your friends. Shout at the dog park, the laundromat, at Starbucks, at Goodberry’s for an ice cream. For goodness sakes shout in the library.
Wherever you are give glory to Jesus and don’t be afraid to let others know what Jesus has done.
2) Shout without Shouting.
The truth is that sometimes audible words aren’t enough. Sometimes big flashy, obnoxious, neon colored signs get your attention better than a few loudly spoken words. Krispy Kreme knows this and their light up “FRESH RIGHT NOW” sign drives people into the restaurant until the cars back up to the street.
Think of your life the same way. Jesus said, “Let your light shine that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ point? Do everything you can to show people the love of Christ with your actions. Maybe they’ll take notice and then ask you and you’ll be able to tell them about what Jesus has done for them.
So be the best coworker you can be. Be the best neighbor your neighbor has ever had. Be an incredible mommy. Be a respectable father. Take pride in showing people love in a incredible, selfless, servant minded, “I’ve gotta pay attention to that” kind of way.
3) Shout Clearly
I love the Precious Lambs kids. But sometimes when I’m eating lunch with them, I have no idea what they just asked me. Perhaps it’s my ears OR perhaps it’s all the mashed potatoes up in their mouths.
Make sure your is a clear confession. If someone is seeing you drunk on Saturday night, but off to church Sunday morning, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you use foul language one minute and then, saying a prayer the next minute, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you invite them to church, but then you don’t show up at that same service, how is that clear? If someone is hearing you say “show love to everyone,” but then you are cold and abrasive to someone just because they look different than you, how does that clearly give praise to Jesus?
Shout clearly. Examine every aspect of your life to make sure it’s coming in line with God’s will. Make sure that everything you say and do points people back to Jesus!
Because here’s the deal. If on that first Palm Sunday – only a few people had politely golf clapped – thousands of people would have missed it. They would have missed seeing their Savior. They would have missed the cue to what he was about to do.
But together –that first Palm Sunday was an event for all to see. With everyone shouting God’s praises – it was clear that something awesome was going on. Something awesome was coming.
Together we are that voice. We are one loud voice. Shouted loudly in all kinds of places. Shouting loudly throughout North Raleigh. Shouting clearly this Easter message: JESUS IS THE SAVIOR! Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Amen.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Hero, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12
What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken?
4 hours to Charleston? 8 hours to New York City? A day and a half to the Grand Canyon?
If you take a long trip, there’s should be a good reason. There needs to be! The goal is what gets you through endless cornfields, static radio, countless Capri Sun spills, Dramamine induced headaches, flat tires, and that wonderful sounds from the back seat: “Are we there yet?”
Some good reasons for a long road trip: To see family. To attend a wedding or a funeral. To visit a national landmark. To ride the Teacups at Disney.
What about visiting an infant that you’ve never met before from a family you’ve never met before that is definitely not expecting your arrival in the slightest?
This is the trip that the magi took. A trip over thousands of miles. A trip that took over a year. A trip on the back of a beast of burden. A trip without DVD players, cruise control, or Trivia Crack to entertain you on the ride.
Why would the Magi take such a trip?
Magi in the Greek refers to an astronomer. An ancient stargazer. Men like this were very scientific and used the latest technological advances to track star movements in the sky. Recently, the magi in question, had noticed a strange thing. A new star. A special star. A bright star. One that appeared to the West toward the land of Judah.
They packed their bags. They began their long journey. If they were riding on camels, I’m sure whenever they stopped at an oasis they bobbed up and down as they felt like they were still riding between humps. Why go on such a trip?
They came to Jerusalem and explained their visit. “Where is the one who was born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him!”
Doesn’t that still seem a little strange? King of the Jews. Why would they travel so far to meet a king from a different nation? To pay respects to their on king, sure…but to travel across the continent to visit a new king from a different country?
Do you know the name of the current Prime Minister of Canada? The leader of Australia? How about the governor of South Carolina? (Isn’t it someone from American Idol?) The truth is that we don’t usually care about government and governors unless they directly affect us!
The Magi must have been convinced that this king directly affected them. It didn’t matter that he was “King of the Jews.” It didn’t matter that the prophecy from Malachi said, “Bethlehem…out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel!” It didn’t matter that seemingly an ‘earthly rule’ of this king wouldn’t come close to affecting their day to day lives. They were convinced that this baby born countries away from them would be their king?
1) MYTH: The Messiah is the Savior the Jews Only!
This idea flew in the face of a very popular myth at that time. The Messiah is the Savior of the Jews only. It’s easy to see why they might have gotten that sense from Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God operated though the Israelites. He did miracles in and among the Israelites. He made promises to the Israelites. Very easily the devil would get a hold of Israelite hearts and lead them to believe – God hated the other nations. God wanted nothing to do with the other nations. God was not the God of the Gentiles.
This is a big deal. Because Gentile means “someone who isn’t Jewish.” If you aren’t Jewish (and this would be true), then Jesus would not have come to save you!
What was it then that convinced these Gentile men to travel a long distance to visit a king of a country that seemed to be opposed to their very existence?
Simple. They saw the birth announcement.
It wasn’t on Facebook. It wasn’t Tweeted to them. They didn’t receive a postcard with a blue bubble gum cigar in the mail.
It was a star.
And how many people do you know that can create stars? We’ve got smart phones, smart TVs, and robotic limbs, but still not the technology to create stars in the sky – BOOM – just like that. Yes, if you pay thousands of dollars, you can buy the right to name a star, but humans cannot create stars.
Only ONE has the ability to create a star in the sky. Only one could be behind the intergalactic birth announcement. God himself.
This is huge. Because it was God who announced to these foreigners, these Gentiles, these strangers to the land of Israel, that their Savior had been born. It means God wanted them to know about this Savior. It means this Savior was their Savior. The God of the Jews, yes, but also the God of the Gentiles.
The book of Galatians talks a lot about this. In chapter 3 Paul wrote the following beginning at verse 7, “Understand then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham--the father of the Jews. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advent to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” This means the Magi. This means you.
Later on in verse 26, Paul describes what this inclusive Jesus means for you, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus! If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise!”
Jesus is inclusive! He came for all people. He didn’t come just for the Jews; he came for the Gentiles. He came for you.
Of course, once you grasp and believe this awesome truth, it isn't long before the devil starts to trick you into believing a brand new myth about how Jesus includes in his love:
MYTH #2: The Messiah is the Savior of my people only.
My people could mean a lot of things. The people who like the same style of worship as I do. The people who like the same football team as I do. The people who go to the same church as I do. The people who have the same taste in clothes as I do.
The people who are of the same race as I am.
One sad thing we learned in 2014 was that racism is still very much alive in America. If it wasn’t from the big events themselves, then the bickering in the media, on TV, and in the comment section of blog posts revealed some very sad disconnects between races. Selfishness and even hatred.
But I don’t believe the saddest thing has even been covered…When this racism leaks its way into the eternal, saving message of Jesus.
Does it leak into your message of Jesus? If not verbally, subconsciously?
Brothers and sisters, hear my heart: There is no worse racism than withholding the saving message of Jesus from someone, simply because they look different from you! If that is us, when that is us, we need to REPENT! Repent and turn to our Jesus who really is his own race: a divine race, a sinless race, a perfect race – he’s God himself and all people came from his creation. Asian, African, Hispanic, Native American, White…whoever from wherever, God created them, loved them, and died for them.
What does John 3:16 say? “For God so loved the world. The World. THE WORLD!!! That he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him, whoever, whoever, whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life!”
Jesus is inclusive. He is the Savior of all people. He wants us to reflect that.
MYTH #3: Someone Else Will Tell Others of this Inclusive Jesus.
Think about what told the Magi about their Savior. It was a star. Brilliant and bright. It was obvious to these men that this was a special star. God was shining that star so brightly that people from very far away knew that God had a very special message for them.
That star is no longer in existence. But…that doesn’t mean the light has gone out.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” He was talking to his disciples He was talking to you. Previously he used starts to point people toward Jesus. Now he wants to use you.
To continue Jesus says, “You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” That would be foolish. Similarly, you don’t learn about Jesus and then…not tell anyone! That’s foolish and you can’t expect others to learn about Jesus this way.
Shine. Shine in your actions. A smile. A hug. A gift card. A listening ear. These are things that speak through languages. These are things that speak to people - even if they are of a different race: YOU ARE LOVED!
That needs to be a goal of our this 2015. As a church we will to think of ways to reflect that truth – to speak to people with our words, our worship, and our actions – this is a church for you. You are included in his message of Jesus!
Shine in your words. Tell others about Jesus in your interactions. As Raleigh becomes more and more global, teach these global neighbors about the Savior you have in common.
You know those mission videos that show parts of Africa or Russia and how they need to hear about Jesus. Those are in our backyard. You can be a part of this! You can be a part of this now!
Take a look at your Connection Cards. On the back are some ways we are reaching out in 2015. Can you be a part of this? Some are simple. Some take some courage. All of them will be backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same God who put the star in the sky to guide the wise men, has put you on this earth to guide your neighbors.
Brothers and sisters, shine! Shine to tell of your Savior. Shine to tell of the Savior of the World. Shine together!
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen one star peeking out? One star gives a little light, but it’s not enough to see much without street lamps and flashlights. But if you head out into the country on a clear night – stars are everywhere! Many stars light the way easily.
That's us. Together we will light the way to Jesus. With our actions and words pointing people to the inclusive love of Jesus.
What’s on your bucket list?
A bucket list is a list of things that you want to have done before you “kick the bucket.” Normal bucket list items include: travelling to Europe, sky diving, or snorkeling in the Bahamas.
My bucket list? In no particular order – here are a few things I’d like to do before I die: Visit the Holy Land of Jerusalem, go to the Super Bowl, defeat every Legend of Zelda video game, and play Michael Jordan in a game of HORSE.
Ah yes – and create my own flavor of Doritos.
What’s on your bucket list? Any ideas? What would it take to make sure that your life is fulfilled?
Today we’re going to hear about a man named Simeon – he had only had one item on his bucket list. ONE ITEM. There was only one thing he wanted to do before he died.
I. Simeon's Fulfillment
Take a look at Luke 2:25:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Immediately you get the sense that Simeon was very old. He had been waiting and he was near death. I bet a bucket list was something he thought about all the time.
Being a Jew at the time of the 1st century, there could have been a lot of things Simeon might want to do before he had died. Enter the Holy of Holies. See an angel. Slap a Roman soldier in the face. Enter the Holy of Holies.
But Simeon wanted none of those. Instead Simeon simply was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
Just like in a tournament, the consolation bracket exists to encourage the losers of the first round, so the consolation of Israel would encourage Simeon. Only the consolation of Israel wasn’t some tournament for a tiny 6 inch trophy.
It was a person. The Messiah. The One who would save people from their sins.
What do you think about that list? Is that all you’d want to do before you die?
Regardless we easily see what God thought about such a list in verse 25. God’s Word calls Simeon righteous and devout. This is a commentary on Simeon’s list. It’s God approved. God loved where Simeon’s heart was at. More than that, God sent his Holy Spirit and had promised to Simeon that it would happen. It’s like the Divine Make-a-Wish Foundation. Simeon’s list was God Approved! God makes it happen.
Check out what happens next.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Jospeph enter the temple. Jesus is only a couple of months old. He’s a baby still. He’s not some gigantic conqueror with a sword slung at his side like The Rock, Dwayne Johnson in the new Hercules movie.
He’s just a little baby.
Yet look at how Simeon reacts in the first part of verse 28. He runs over to the parents and took him in his arms.
Do you guys ever just run over and grab newborns from their parents? Maybe if they are relatives – but strangers? No. That’s strange. But Simeon doesn’t care. Throw any sort of societal rules out the windows. Simeon is excited to see and meet the Savior!
Then in the second part of verse 28 – he praises God! He gives thanks to the LORD for making this dream come true. For bringing fulfillment to his life.
Finally, in verse 29 – what does he say? “In peace LORD, you let your servant now depart according to your Word.” Simeon wasn’t just saying, “Now I can leave the temple and grab some lunch at the local Bojangles.” Nor was he thinking, “I can finally retire from my job.” Remember: He had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. “Depart in peace,” therefore, meant: “Die in peace.”
Simeon was so thrilled after having met Jesus that he was ready to die in peace. He didn’t need to do anything else. He didn’t need to say good bye to his family. He didn’t need to make some more money. He didn’t need to run a half marathon.
He saw Jesus and his life was fulfilled.
II. American 21st Century Fulfillment.
Imagine for a second that Simeon was on TV. They were interviewing him. “Have you lived a fulfilled life?” What if Simeon’s answer was – “Yes. I got to see my Savior Jesus Chrsit – who would live perfectly for me, die innocently and rise triumphantly for me.”
How do you think they’d react? Maybe it’d be like Ben Watson the NFL player who wrote a wonderful Christian response to the happening in Ferguson and was asked to talk about it on live television. The second he mentioned Jesus as the reason for his hope --- this television station magically lost him over the air waves. All day long no problem. As soon as he mentions – Jesus – “our broadcast equipment broke.” Coincidence?
Jesus doe not fit into the fullness of an American life. What does? You could answer that in a lot of ways. But here are just a few ideas that are out there that might be negatively affecting your idea of a full life.
· Money. As in a full life has lots of money. You won’t feel fulfilled until you have enough money for retirement, for a second beach house, for spoiling your grandchildren at Christmas. If you don’t have enough money, your life isn’t fulfilled.
· Travel. We have full cable television stations devoted to this. It’s no wonder The Amazing Race is in its 23rd season. This isn’t a bad thing. From a Christian perspective, it’s nice to see God’s creation. From a secular perspective, it’s awesome to show off all of your souvenirs and say to people – “Look at how well traveled I am. My life is fulfilled because I’ve been there!”
· Experience. Similar to travel, but you can have the experiences in your own backyard. Our America is fixated on experiences. Some good – helping in a homeless shelter – spending a day reading at a children’s cancer Ward. Some neutral – trying the Fire wings at Buffalo Wild Wings – riding a pogo stick. Some sinful – having sex without someone you aren’t married to – having sex with someone of the same sex – trying a drug – drinking 21 shots on your birthday!
· Relationships. For some, it’s the quality of relationships that leaves your life fulfilled. “Am I truly living out the Notebook in my marriage?” “Is my friend really as good as all of those Friends on TV?” For others, it’s simply the quantity of friends. As in – “Did I get to 1000 friends on Facebook yet? Until I’m there I don’t think my life will have really been fulfilled.”
· Longevity. Sometimes people just find fulfillment in the length of their life. It’s why we spend thousands on gym memberships, organic food, and pills guaranteed to extend your life each day. This perspective acts as if each day is a grain of sand that you add into a jar. The more you have – the fuller your life is.
III. Your Fulfillment
What do you think about these options? Are they good things to pursue in having a full life? Are these things that you pursue in your life? Are these things that you place at a higher importance level than pursuing Jesus? The truth is some of these thing are harmful. Some of these things are good. Some of these things are neutral.
But if you ever make any of these things more important than finding your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior – you will never be fulfilled.
If eternity isn’t taken care of, then even the now isn’t fulfilled. If eternity is taken care, then even the now will be fulfilled!
So– be like Simeon. Find your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior. Look at Simeon’s song again and hear how it is Jesus will fulfill you:
1) Peace with God.
Don’t think that if you save up enough money you can bribe God into being your friend. Don’t be under the impression that if you travel up to the highest mountain suddenly you and God will get each other. Don’t think that if you Facebook message God and say– “Hey God, I’ve got lots of friends. If you want to be cool, you better be my friend too,” will not convince the Almighty to suddenly friend you and be “cool with your sins.”
The only One who can make us at peace with God is the little One that Simeon held in his hands. It’s Jesus.
Listen to what Scripture says. Jesus would be “Pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) So that in Jeremiah 33:6 God says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” In Romans 5:1 “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is clear throughout Scripture Jesus himself is the ONLY ONE who brings us peace with God. He is the ONLY one who brings you the message; “You are forgiven.”
2) God’s Salvation.
Look at what Simeon proclaimed was his reason for peace. “In peace, Lord, you let your servant depart, according to your Word…for my eyes have seen your salvation!”
Simeon was a human. He too had his sins. He too had his failures. He too had guilt. The only One who could save him from the eternal consequences for his sins is the very God who was at peace with him!
The problem with all those human ideals for fulfillment is that they are human ideas on how to save your life from being linked into these categories of failure, pathetic, or normal. But when someone else surpasses us…where is your salvation? When someone else makes more money, where is the salvation? When someone else has more friends, where is your salvation? When you die, how many people in how many generations truly remember you!?!
The only one who understands true salvation is the very one who invented salvation. And in Jesus, Simeon held the salvation of God himself.
God’s salvation was that little baby. The little child who would grew up without any sin. He would give up his life innocently on a cross. He would rise triumphantly from the dead. He would defeat sin – he would defeat death – he would defeat the devil. He would save you from failure to live perfectly and failure to get to heaven. He would save you from those voices that accuse you. He would save you so you can have eternal life!
Jesus is the Only one who does the Only thing that takes you the Only way to the next life!
3) Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel.
Simeon uses that phrase in his song: “The light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” A light to the Gentiles – people who weren’t Jews – because now they were no longer in the dark. They knew that Jesus loved them. The glory of the people Israel because now they knew God had meant it. He did love them enough to send them a Savior from sin.
In Jesus, you know God’s love too. You have been enlightened to see just how much God loves you. You get to glory in the fact that God loves you with an unquenchable, awesome love – willing to die to take away your sin.
If you have God’s love, who else’s love do you really need? His love is the only LOVE that lasts forever. It’s the ONLY love that is UNSTOPPABLE. It is the only love that loves you completely and fully even when you don’t deserve it!
So how do you respond?
Stop running to earthly things for fullness in life. Stop looking to earth ideas – even sinful ideas to feel full. In fact, if you are feeling unfull – it’s not Jesus’ fault. He’s the fullness of all things. It’s a problem with you. You’re too focused on earthly pursuits and earthly ideas of fullness.
Instead, run. Run to God’s idea of fullness. Run to Jesus. Like Simon pick him up in your arms. Sing his praises. Give glory to Him. Hold on to him every chance you get. Stop thinking that you can find fulfillment in something else and find your fulfillment in God alone.
The New Year is very soon. As you make out your life change lists, put “see Jesus” as number one on your list. Sign up for that Bible study. Become a member at that church. Get involved in children’s ministry. Do whatever you can at whatever point you are at in your spiritual journey to get closer to Jesus.
Then…your life will be filled. You’ll have everything that this life is all about – peace with God, salvation from death, and the knowledge of God’s love! Whatever else you get in this life? Those are just awesome and added bonuses. Because come what may you’ve got Jesus. Your life is full.
God is fully behind such a notion. Amen.