Every year people like to make New Year’s resolutions.
But I noticed on social media that the New Year’s resolutions going into 2021 were a bit downgraded.
One person on Twitter listed their resolution as:
“Walk to the other side of the room.”
Another said they wanted to:
“Cut screen time from 12 hours a day to 11 hours a day.”
Another’s goal was to:
“Eat a vegetable.”
And my personal favorite resolution for 2021:
People made more serious resolutions, too. Most were based on wanting to improve their physical, mental, or emotional health.
But you know what I didn’t find on Twitter?
I never found a resolution that said, “Stop sinning.”
Or some kind of variant:
Stop looking at porn.
Stop being racist.
Stop yelling at my kids.
“Extinguishing sin” doesn’t usually make it onto New Year’s lists.
Yet the reality is that there is nothing that can more easily derails God’s plan for you in 2021 than sin.
Our goal today is find motivation from God’s Word to make battling sin a top priority in 2021.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What Sin says to Jesus
The lesson for today comes from Romans 6. The book of Romans is an excellent source of teaching. It’s similar to our Starting Point series. It’s a great summary of Biblical truth.
Chapters 1 & 2 teach about the plague of sin on all humanity.
The first half of chapter 3 teaches our deep need for a Savior
The second half of chapter 3 teaches that the world has a Savior in Jesus.
Chapter 4 & 5 teach the free forgiveness that is ours by faith in Jesus
Chapter 6 contains a shift in thought. It poses a rhetorical question that just about any sinful person has asked when hearing about the free forgiveness of Jesus.
What shall we say then? Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1)
Imagine you did some Christmas shopping on Etsy. You bought $100 in crocheted Baby Yoda coffee koozies from your friend Sally. Now you get the bill.
But you don’t have the money.
So, you write an email explaining that you lost work during the pandemic, you don’t have the money, and could you have an extension to pay off the bill without interest.
And the unthinkable happens.
Your friend Sally says, ‘It’s ok. I’ll cancel. Keep the Koozies. You don’t owe me anything.”
How many of you would respond to that incredible gracious email with another email that says,
“Awesome! Then, can I order another 20 more koozies? If you want give me those for free too, I’ll write a really good review on your website.”
That’s not the appropriate response.
We can’t do the same thing with sin. Reread the rhetorical question and listen to Paul’s non-rhetorical answer: Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! (v.2a)
Another way of answering this might be:
Or definitely not!
Or positively not!
Or even…NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!!
Sin is an UNGODLY response to God’s grace.
It’s not thankfulness.
It’s not godly.
It’s selfishness and ungodliness.
It’s telling the one who unselfishly gave up his life on the cross, “Hmm…Thanks Jesus. But uh…can I add on a few more sins? I know it’ll probably hurt you, but I really like the way this sin feels on me.”
But the problem is deeper than that…
II. Sin’s Dangerous Path
Check out the next reason Paul gives for fighting against sin:
We died to sin. How can we go on living in it any longer? (v.2)
Have you ever been talking on your phone and it beeps? It’s telling you that it’s about to die. You need to plug the phone in or else you won’t be able to finish the conversation about the new Bachelor.
Or have you ever been on your laptop and suddenly the screen grows dim? It’s your computers way of conserving energy because it’s about to die and when it does, you’ll be unable to finish writing your blogpost about how awesome Doordash is.
Or you’re watching a squirrel play out on your lawn. It’s entertaining to watch it run back and forth – find a nut – open a nut – chew on a nut. Until the squirrel runs out into oncoming traffic and…you aren’t able to watch Mr. Squirrel anymore.
Death always means the end of something.
Sin always leads to death.
Sin always leads to THE END of something
Sin is the reason that physical death is a part of this world.
Sin is the reason your lungs end their breathing.
Sin is the reason your heart ends its beating.
Sin is the reason your brain neurons end their firing.
But sin can cause end of something long before your physical body ends…
Drinking too much means THE END of your chances of being a good parent.
Cheating on your spouse means THE END to your marriage.
Gossiping about your friends means DEATH to your friendships.
Being grouchy around everyone else at work means THE END of others wanting to be around you.
Being lazy at your job means THE END of your employment.
Posting racist comments means THE END of people’s good perception of you.
Staying away from God’s Word means THE END of your faith.
Bragging to everyone about how awesome you are at following Jesus means THE END of your chance of encouraging them to follow Jesus.
Sin is responsible for so much death.
Based on the law of culpability…
If we keep sinning, that makes us responsible too.
III. The Baptism Effect
But here’s the thing about Jesus.
He hates death.
He hates that sin causes death.
He hates that our sins means our death.
He underwent death to put to death our death-causing sin.
He underwent death to put to death our death causer, sin.
He underwent death to put to death…Death.
Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (v.3)
This changes at least one Trivia questions.
Do you guys know how many people died on Mount Calvary with Jesus?
You might be thinking two?
A criminal to his right.
A criminal to his left.
But that’s incorrect.
There’s one guy to his left.
And one guy to his right.
But you forgot about the one who died on the same cross as Jesus.
This is deep theology. Scripture isn’t talking about your physical body. Obviously, you are alive and well.
Scripture is talking about your sinful identity.
Your sinful identity died in Christ.
Your identity as “jerk”? It’s dead. No more.
Your identity as “easy?” Dead. Long gone.
Your identity as “addict?” It’s dead. Bled out there on the cross.
You are convict no more.
You are racist no more.
You are vengeful no more.
You are bitter no more.
You are lazy no more.
You are sinner no more.
Your SINFUL IDENTITY died in Christ.
I suppose this is strange to think of, but Paul is really saying that baptism is a funeral.
Maybe we need to start treating baptisms differently.
Maybe we should cover the font with a black shroud.
Maybe we should add black flowers to the altar.
Maybe we should provide packages of tissues for all the crying that will happen as a result of the impending death.
But then again…
The one who’s dying, no one is going to miss!
No one will miss their sinful identity.
No one misses the one responsible for our own impending death.
Maybe we should treat baptism more like a celebration.
More party music.
Maybe even a pinata!
This is more of a Wicked Witch of the East situation.
Ding dong the Witch is dead?
Ding dong our sinful identity is dead!
And in its place?
We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. (v.4-5)
If you’re united with Jesus in his death.
You are also united with him in his resurrection.
And when Jesus rose, he had a new identity:
He was no longer the dead Lord, but the resurrected one.
He was no longer the one who will save us, but the one who did save us.
He was no longer the one can conquer death, but the one who did.
Jesus had a new identity.
Because you are connected to him,
You have a new identity you too.
You have a NEW Identity in Jesus.
You are no longer felon, but forgiven.
You are no longer angry, but at peace.
You are no longer impure, but pure.
You are no longer faithless, but faithful.
You are no longer sinner, but sin fighter.
And this new identity comes with some new power.
We know that our old self was crucified with him, to make our sinful body powerless, so that we would not continue to serve sin. For the person who has died has been declared free from sin. (v.6-7)
It’s just like the game of Mario Bros. Have you played it? You start out as regular old Mario with the ability to jump, wear plumber overalls, and stomp tiny walking mushrooms.
But if you touch a fire flower, your power source changes.
You don’t have to just jump on the Goombas.
Now you can throw a fireball at that.
Because of Jesus, you have been changed.
You are no longer SINFUL you, but SAVED.
You have a NEW POWER in Jesus.
This power is to fight sin.
This power is to do what’s right.
This power is to follow your Lord and Savior in 2021 and beyond.
And it’s a very powerful power.
Because it comes directly from a very powerful God.
Have you ever heard about Jesus’ baptism?
It was unlike any other baptism.
Number one, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized to connect with himself and wash away his sins.
He was sinless.
But he needed for an entirely different reason.
As John the Baptist completed pouring water on Jesus’ head, the skies opened up.
A brilliant light shine.
A dove came out of that light and hovered over Jesus’ head.
A voice spoke and said, “This is my son, whom I love.”
Power to rip open the sky.
Power to speak with a booming voice.
Power to be Triune – three person – one being.
That’s the power you have on your side.
That’s the power that works with you to defeat your sin.
That’s the power that works with you in 2021.
Back in 4th grade, one of my favorite recess games was Kickball. It’s similar to baseball only instead of hitting a small white ball with a bat, you kick a big red ball with your foot.
On our playground, the most impressive kickball feat was for someone to kick a “roof ball.” In this instance, a ball would be kicked so high and so long that it went to the roof of our 2-story school building.
During one particular game of kickball, I was feeling a bit cocky.
I decided to point to the roof to signal my impending “roofball.”
I was calling my shot.
My teammates started chanting my name.
The pitcher pitched ball.
I ran forward and…
Dribbled a bunt to the first baseman for an easy out.
I remember almost immediately asking for a REDO.
A second chance.
A do over.
Because I wasn’t ready.
Do you wish you could REDO 2020?
Maybe you weren’t ready for what 2020 threw to us.
2021 is a great chance for a REDO.
And even more so, because in Jesus we get countless REDOs.
Our goal? To learn from Scripture, to grow in faith, to make the most of the REDO God has afforded us.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Philippian Redo
The lesson we are looking at is found in Philippians. Philippians is a letter written by a pastor named Paul to a congregation that lived in Philippi. This congregation had been going through a rough year.
For starters, they had been dealing with persecutions to their church. (Philippians 1:27-28) The Roman government had begun cracking down on Christianity.
It meant soldiers would interrupt their church meetings to tell them to stop.
It meant they had to be sneaky about whom they told they were a believer.
It meant that they probably lost some of their membership to jail.
In addition, the group had been dealing with racism. The majority of the congregation was Greek. They had been told by a segment of Jewish believers that God would never fully love them unless they started practicing Jewish custom. Even then – it might not be the full kind of love that God has for Jewish people. (3:1-3)
Finally, the anxiety from the threat of arrest and the stress caused by these racist statements led the church group to be bitter with one another.
To attack one another.
To bad mouth one another.
And they didn’t even have Facebook.
Pastor Paul writes them a letter because he wants to give them a REDO. This redo won’t change the challenges they were facing, but it was an opportunity to change how they were responding to these challenges.
Same thing for us.
If you want your REDO not to result in the same, old traps you fell into last year, listen to Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired words.
“Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (v.7)
With this statement, Paul is acknowledging they had lost quite a few things this past year:
They’d lost a sense of security.
They’d lost members to jailtime.
Probably they lost income and jobs and friendships.
Paul says, “I feel you. I’ve lost things too.”
Paul no longer has those things.
But he doesn’t want them.
In fact, he doesn’t consider them to be gains at all.
But a loss.
He explains why, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. (v.8b)
Paul used to be a bigwig in the Jewish faith.
He used to be a Pharisee. The Pharisees were big wig, impressive members of Jewish society.
When Paul was a Pharisees, he had gained a lot!
A higher income.
A more impressive position.
Friends in high place.
A good reputation.
A career path.
But now Paul has a different perspective about them.
Notice that last sentence.
Paul had been a Pharisee with all the Pharisaical perks!
But the Pharisees were against Jesus.
When Paul started following Jesus, he lost it all.
He lost income.
He lost his position.
He lost friends in high places.
He lost the good reputation.
He lost safety.
He lost political standing.
He lost a career path.
But notice Paul’s perspective.
Those things were no longer gains to him.
I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him (v.)
Christmas creates a lot of garbage, doesn’t it?
Torn up wrapping paper.
Crinkled gift bags.
Plastic packaging for new toys.
The little bit of eggnog that got left out overnight.
Whatever it is you consider garbage, you have no problem throwing it into the garbage can, having it hauled off to the dump and never seeing it again.
Paul says that is how he feels about what he’s lost.
Because what he’s lost never will compare to what he’s gained.
There is no greater GAIN than Jesus.
Think about what you’ve lost this year.
If you’ve got Jesus, you’ll still come out ahead.
Because nothing is more valuable than Jesus.
Jesus is greater than crowd noise at a football game.
Jesus is greater than skin that isn’t dried out due to hand sanitizer.
Jesus is greater than hugs, kisses and even – high fives!
Jesus is greater than a 40 hour a week job.
Jesus is greater than a booming economy.
Jesus is greater than a bulging bank account.
Jesus is greater than the freedom not to wear masks.
Jesus is greater than being able to gather in groups of 20.
Jesus is greater than free samples at Whole Foods!
Jesus is greater than your family.
Jesus is greater than your friends.
Jesus is greater than anything lost in 2020.
Why do I say that so confidently?
Why does Paul say that so confidently?
In Jesus you gain RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Because when sinful people get hit by challenges, they tend to respond sinfully.
2020 had lots of challenge and people responded in lots of sinful ways.
Maybe that was you:
Shouting matches with your spouse because of the close quarters.
Losing it on your kids because they can’t figure out online school.
Four letter names to acquaintances on Facebook because they have a different opinion than you.
Developing a new addiction to porn, alcohol, or telling everybody how awesome you are!
Planning to stay connected to God and his Word and his church.
But ultimately, staying more connected to spoilers for the Mandalorian.
Reflecting on all of this at the end of the year can make you feel really guilty.
It can be overwhelming.
As if you’re wearing it.
But in Jesus, you aren’t wearing your guilt.
In Jesus, you wear something else.
…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (v.9b)
Do you see that?
God knew about all the unrighteous things we would do in 2020.
He knew about hem and he took care of them way back in 35.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He rose for you.
Then, he gave you his righteousness as a covering.
And God’s good at sewing together righteous clothing.
It’s not like the pair of pants that was only like fifteen dollars. Seemed like a steal. But when you wore them a couple of times, washed, them and put them back on you noticed…
There’s some fading on the knee.
A hole is forming!
God’s righteous clothing is much better.
There’s no hole in the righteousness in which God covers you.
God sees you as pure because he only sees Jesus’ purity.
God sees you as forgiven because he sees none of your 2020 sin.
God sees you as his because you are.
This leads to a second reason there is no greater gain than Jesus:
In Jesus you gain ETERNAL LIFE.
According to CDC.gov, the COVID vaccine is going to be helpful. It helps your body create an antibody response to the virus and gives it immunity that is needed to come in contact with the virus, not get sick, and not spread it to others.
Granted --Scientists are still unclear how long the immunity may lasts. As more people have it and they are able to study its long-term effects, they will be able to learn more, produce a better vaccine and any booster shots.
But there is one thing that Scientists do know.
The vaccine only works on people who are alive.
It doesn’t raise the dead.
But Jesus does.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (v.10-11)
There is nothing that you lost in 2020 that can raise the dead.
Only Jesus can raise the dead.
And he didn’t go anywhere.
If you’ve got Jesus, you’ve got everything.
II. What Now?
1) Reconsider your Losses
Remember all those losses that Paul underwent?
He now considered them gains.
He lost his position in the Pharsees; but he gained a position in God’s kingdom.
He lost money; but he gained eternal riches.
He lost fame, but he gained a God who knew his name.
Did you undergo a loss in 2020?
In Jesus, there isn’t loss.
For example, I was talking toto someone a while back. They told me that they had recently lost they job. They had lost their income. They had lost the plans they had for providing a nice vacation for their family in 2020.
I said, “I’m sorry.”
They said, “Why? This is one of the best things to ever happen to me!
“I’ve gained more time with my family .
“I’ve gained more time with my God.
“I’ve gained a stronger faith.
“I’ve gained more time to share that stronger faith with my kids and provide them something that lasts a lot longer than a week at Disney.”
That’s what Paul is talking about.
Reconsider your losses.
Praise God for the gains among the losses.
2) Forget What’s Behind
Because if you are in a race you don’t do very well by turning around and running backwards. In fact, you will probably make the “worst of” on ESPN’s Sportscenter.
It’s the same thing in life. Paul says this, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (v.13)
The start of a new year presents us with the unique opportunity to START OVER.
But you won’t do that very well if you dwell in the past.
Make this conscious, God-inspired decision right now.
Don’t dwell on the past.
Don’t dwell on the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.
Instead, look ahead.
In fact, here’s your final what now.
3) Strive Ahead
Do you know where Paul was when he wrote these words?
But he didn’t sit around in prison lamenting about what he LOST.
He spent time in prison excited about what he GAINED.
A great chance to be in quiet prayer with God.
Awesome opportunities to share Jesus with his cellmates.
The time needed to write down a God inspired piece of God’s Word that will bless people two thousand years in the future.
Good choice Paul.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (v.14)
What opportunities to you have this year?
What chance do you have to share Jesus?
What unique things about your situation here in 2021 might God work through to bring people into his kingdom?
It’s the same thing here at church.
Because things have changed a lot here thanks to the pandemic.
Online presence has increased.
Group studies have moved online.
We do communion differently.
We spent our evangelism funding differently.
At some point, some of might turn back to the way we did it previously.
But some of it? Won’t.
Understand this --
Our goal as a church is not to get things back to the way things were.
Our goal as a church is to share Jesus in the way things are.
Our goal as a church is not to get things back to the way things were.
Our goal as a church is to share Jesus in the way things are.
And the way things are?
Is an incredible blessing.
I’m excited for 2021.
I hope you are too.
May God bless us in this REDO. Amen.
It’s almost over. The year 2020. Many people have been waiting for this year to be over. It seems they will heave a sigh of relief rather than celebrate on New Year’s Eve. Indeed this past year has been filled with tragedy and death, from a pandemic, from racial injustice and reactions to it, from super storms and fires. And yet what changes when we flip the calendar page? (Does anyone do that anymore?) When 2021 comes, the Covid-19 virus will still be around, storms and fires will still come, angry, vindictive, and violent people will still attack. And we all will still have a sinful nature which can and will act out.
So what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the right thing? What should we be waiting for? The men in our two texts give us direction in what we should be looking for. So let’s see what they were anticipating and what we can wait for that is truly certain and good.
Are We Waiting for the Right Thing?
I. Two Men Waiting for Salvation
Today we hear about two men in two very different times and situations. Jeremiah, almost certainly the writer of the book of Lamentations, was in or near Jerusalem after the Babylonians had destroyed the city, including the temple, and taken most people into exile, over 500 years before Jesus was born. Simeon was in Jerusalem, in the courts of the temple rebuilt twice since that destruction. Jeremiah concludes, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Simeon “was waiting for the consolation of Israel” and from his lips we hear, “You [Lord] may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Jeremiah and Simeon were waiting for salvation.
Salvation is one of those words we Christians use a lot. Others may not understand what we mean, and we ourselves may not stop to consider what it all includes. In its basic sense it is “the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.” Waiting for salvation means recognizing that you are facing harm and destruction, and implies that you can’t get out of it yourself. Jeremiah, while a believer himself, lamented how Jerusalem had been destroyed because most of its people refused to listen to God, who was calling them to repentance. They were offered, many times, the opportunity to turn away from their evil and be saved from the coming destruction, but they would not. Now they were languishing in exile hundreds of miles away. Simeon, also a devout believer, was looking for salvation, which implies he recognized his situation of being less than holy and separated from God because of his sins. Like all people, he faced destruction, which he couldn’t avoid on his own. So he waited for salvation because he knew he was facing destruction by a holy God without it.
What about Us?
As we wait for the end of 2020, are we waiting for salvation because we recognize our lost condition? Why do we fear getting sick with Covid and dying from it or fear being caught in a flood or hurricane and dying? We know we can’t face our holy Maker in our present condition. Some will try to claim there is no God to give answer to, but only a fool says that. Our conscience tells us otherwise, the universe tells us otherwise.
The best way to face the new year is with a repentant heart, a heart that recognizes we have sinned, but a heart that waits quietly for God’s salvation.
II. Two Men Seeing Salvation
Unlike Jeremiah and Simeon, we don’t have to wait like they did; we can look up and clearly see how God’s salvation has come. We celebrate how that story began at Christmas. Now we just look up. What is that in the front of our church? Even our children know, that is a cross. It is in fact a place of death, the place where God’s Savior died for us, to save us. The cross stands there as an instrument of execution, like a guillotine or a gallows, and an execution did take place there, but it is empty, it is done. The God man who died there has come back to life. Sin has been paid for. Death has been overcome. These are the main problems, the overriding malady, of the human race.
Even while Jeremiah was lamenting over the rubble and desolation of Jerusalem, he knew that God had plans to bring his people back to this city in 70 years and rebuild it and rebuild the temple. He waited for that, he knew for certain it was going to happen, even though he never got to see it. It was a picture of the salvation Jesus would bring. And we know it happened that way, just as God had said. Just as the people of Judah were held in hostage by the Babylonians, the human race is held hostage by sin, death, and the devil. Even as the people were finally saved from that exile to return to their home country, the human race has been saved from sin, death and, the evil. And even not all of the people of Judah chose to return to Palestine, not all people turn away from sin to the forgiveness God has for them.
Simeon looked ahead to the crucifixion of Jesus, which would take place some thirty years after he spoke these words in the temple. He knew there would be people who would stumble because of Jesus, reject him, execute him. Others would believe him and follow him and be saved. It would be a sorrowful time for his mother, but as one who believed in him, she would accept it. In her own special song, she had rejoiced in God her Savior, who carried out his saving act for us through sacrificing his Son on this cross. Simeon probably did not know all the exact details of how this would be carried out, but he quietly waited for God’s salvation, and was ready to depart just having seen the baby who would grow up and carry out this salvation.
What about Us?
While we can look back and see how this salvation was carried out, we still do wait for the culmination of God’s salvation, when Jesus returns to raise us from the dead and take us to heaven to live with him there in total joy and blisss. No more pandemics, no more floods and hurricanes, no more devastating fires, no more murders or robberies, no more evil people. Yes, we ourselves will be stripped our sinful nature and confirmed in holiness.
So we can go into 2021 quietly waiting for the culmination of our salvation. We can go through much suffering on our way. But that doesn’t mean we ignore this world and its problems. God has work for us to do here. Jeremiah faced much suffering. He was ridiculed and mocked for predicting that Jerusalem would be destroyed. His preaching of repentance fell on mostly deaf ears. He was thrown in a cistern to die, and rescued from it to sit in prison until the king of Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem. His life was spared, but he had to witness the destruction of his city and temple and see its desolation. He had work to do. He continued to call people to repentance, to faith, to waiting for God’s salvation. As in Elijah’s, when there were still 7000 believers though God’s cause looked lost, there were certainly some who listened to Jeremiah, but for the most part he didn’t know them. And in any case, God has long since carried him off to heaven where he enjoys the salvation he waited for.
In the new year we will continue to face restrictions and economic problems because of the novel corona virus, there will be more storms and fires, there will murders and evil all around. We will face the death of loved ones. We ourselves may face death this year. But if we are waiting for God’s salvation, we will welcome it, though it is terrible to go through.
In the meantime, we will carry out the work God has placed before us. We may have a family to provide for or care for. There are young to be taught, things to be made for this life, business to conduct so this life can go on smoothly.
But especially there is the need to focus on waiting for God’s salvation, the need to remind ourselves that we are sinners, to bask in the news that Jesus was born, lived a perfect life for us, paid the price for our sins, conquered death so that it is no longer fearful for us. And as we get refreshed in our faith, we will be like Jeremiah and Simeon, telling others about God’s salvation, even when it means suffering and opposition. Others need this news in our present world, though many will reject it.
But it is good to remember that a large part of our life as believers in Jesus is waiting, quietly waiting for his salvation. This doesn’t mean doing nothing. Knowing that faith comes from hearing the word of Jesus, in the new year we drink in God’s through which God saves us, coming together when we can to hear it, sitting at home hearing it, letting it work in our hearts, waiting for it change and strengthen our hearts, waiting for it to change our attitude and lives. Then we will put that change to work in our lives because God saves and changes us, seeking ways to do good and tell others of Jesus and his word. We continue to live in a sin-ravaged world, and we will continue to face suffering and persecution. But we have joy and peace in our hearts, knowing our sins are forgiven, our guilt is removed, and we are eternally part of God’s holy family. Wait patiently for the culmination of his salvation when he comes to take us home. We repeat Jeremiah’s words, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Amen.
There was a dad who was reading his daughter the Christmas story before bedtime. He got to the part where the angels talk to the shepherds and decided to test her knowledge:
And the angels said to them, “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find a powerful, well-trained soldier…”
She interrupted, “No dad. That isn’t right.”
Ok. How about…You will find a democratically elected president?
A motivational speaker?
A movie star?
A time-travelling cyborg?
None of those, Dad.
“Then, tell me,” he said, “How does it go?”
She smiled and continued, “Today, in the city of David you will find a baby.”
The Christmas story sounded strange to the girl.
And she called her dad out on it.
What about this year’s Christmas?
Is this how the story is supposed to go?
A half empty church.
Unable to visit family.
No parties to attend.
Barely any gifts.
It doesn’t seem like this is how Christmas is supposed to go.
Instead, Christmas 2020 seems strange.
I. STRANGE Events
But should it feel strange?
Let’s revisit the night of Jesus’ birth. Scripture says, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…And everyone went to their own town to register. (v.1-3)
In the Ancient world, censuses were important. They helped the government learn how much food the people would need, how big of an army they needed to protect their people, how dense to make the population spots on a map and…
…how much money they needed in taxes.
In the ever-expanding Roman world, censuses are recorded as happening every five years. That’s not strange.
What is strange is paying taxes and being forced to register for a census that was demanded by a government you hadn’t elected.
Caesar Augustus didn’t win the pools.
He simply took over.
He was #NotTheirCaesar.
And this census was forced on them without their asking.
(Kinda like a pandemic…and all the rules and regulations that go with it.)
This census was a not voluntary. You had to partake of it. There was no way that any average Joe…
Could avoid the government mandate.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth…to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (v.4)
That’s about an 80-mile journey, if the family took the shorter and more strenuous route directly through the desert land of Samaria. If they took the easier walking route along the Jordan River Valley, it was longer.
And Mary was about 8 months pregnant.
I did my research.
I talked to some pregnant ladies.
Going on an 80-mile trip while pregnant isn’t preferable.
And there weren’t cars back then.
In fact, tradition usually places pregnant Mary on a donkey while Joseph walked alongside it.
Scripture never actually mentions a donkey.
It’s possible pregnant Mary had to walk that whole way.
Speaking of pregnancy…
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (V.5)
Pledged to be married.
Do you see that part?
They had not been intimate together.
Meaning Joseph had no part in producing that child.
This was long before science and test tubes and miracles of modern fertility clinics.
But it’s still more amazing.
Because even those clinics need two parts to create life.
This baby in Mary’s tummy?
Needed only one part.
And suddenly she was showing.
And suddenly people were talking.
And suddenly Aunt May was giving them both the cold shoulder.
There’s no family togetherness.
They were outcasts.
While they were there…there was no guest room available for them. (v.6-7)
Joseph frantically rapping at the doors.
Knocking at the Super 8.
The Motel 6 – They didn’t even leave the light on!
None of them have space.
And he’s running out of time.
Finally, some guy shows him to a pile of hay out near his animals.
And Mary lays down while she’s sweating and breathing heavy.
While Joseph is frantically fluffing the hay, wiping away the donkey slobber from the feeding trough and waving his hands in the air to get the nauseating smell of the animals out.
And there’s no midwife.
And there’s no family.
And there’s no epidural.
…The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger… (v.6)
In the midst of the unwanted mandate, at the end of a strenuous journey, separate from their families, alone in a barn…
II. More STRANGE
But that’s not all that’s strange about this Christmas.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (v.8)
In Ancient society, shepherding is a lowly job.
It produces a lowly income.
It is looked as lowly in society.
These guys are probably not wearing the finest fashion.
They probably don’t smell the best.
They were probably sitting around a fire, eating some beans and gambling for the file bite with a pair of dice.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
What a strange visitor!
And his face is gleaming
And can’t look straight at him so you cover your face and squint your eyes, incredible!
And they are terrified.
They probably thought he was coming to tell them bad news.
An increase in taxes.
More Roman occupation.
A pack of wolves on its way.
God was mad at them.
God could see they were cheating at dice.
God was about to fry them for all their sins.
Something they knew was right.
They’d done wrong.
They deserved justice.
But the message is actually much stranger than that.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (v.10-11)
A Savior – as in God wants to save you from all your sin, all your guilt, all your shame.
The Christ – as in God has been prophesying this for millennia. It’s always been the plan.
The Lord – as in master, ruler, Chief. The baby is God himself.
His plan would fail.
He never fails.
And if that message told to lowly shepherds isn’t strange enough, suddenly: Music!
It’s not coming from Alexa either: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (v.14)
Friends, do you get it?
That first “Christmas” was not the Christmas celebration we consider normal.
It wasn’t filled with peace among people, togetherness and joy.
But an unwanted mandate, strenuous work, loneliness, stress, and pain .
But the strange events only amplify strange glory of Jesus’ arrival.
God had come.
God was born.
God was going to bring peace.
And as strange as this year it has amplified the glory of this message:
God has come.
God was born.
God defeated your sin.
God defeated your guilt.
God defeated your shame.
God has brought peace
Even during 2020.
Because of your Savior, you are forgiven.
III. STRANGE Response
This strange truth produced strange responses among the people part of that first Christmas.
I pray it produces the same strange responses in us.
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.” (v.15)
The one thing shepherds are supposed to do?
Watch the sheep.
And as soon as the angels leave, what do these shepherds do?
Stop watching the sheep.
I suppose they could have brought the sheep with them
But verse 16 says, they “Hurried off to find Mary and Joseph.”
That implies it was fast.
Since it might be hard to “hurry off” when you’re chasing your sheep, I doubt they brought them.
Nothing was more important to the shepherds than seeing their Savior.
1) Hurry to see your Savior.
There is still nothing more important.
Not a certain gift.
Not a paycheck.
Not a type of Christmas cookie.
Not time with a relative.
Not wearing a mask.
Not getting a vaccine.
The most eternally important thing for you to do this Christmas (and always) is see your Savior.
Whether it’s in person.
On your own.
Go; see your Savior.
Because there you see your salvation.
But when they shepherds had seen Jesus, they had more to do:
they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. (v.16)
Who cares if we need to get back to our flocks…
Who cares if the beans are getting cold…
Who cares if we are getting cold...
We need to tell others about the Savior.
Because they need this good news too.
2) Hurry to tell about your Savior.
If you’re watching this online, can you share this with a friend who needs to hear this?
If you’re here in person, can you text a friend a line or two from Luke 2 tonight?
If you’ve got plans to open gifts, eat a meal, and shove 7 candy canes in your mouth tonight, can you first tell your family about Jesus?
Maybe read Luke 2.
Reading Luke 2 rather than watching a Netflix special?
That might seem strange to our world.
But there’s nothing more eternally important.
One more thing.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (v.19)
Honestly, this seems odd.
She had such a weird day.
A strenuous journey.
Disapproving looks from others.
Inability to find a room.
Camping out in a barn.
Pain without a midwife.
The smells of the cows.
The birth of her boy.
And strangers busting in telling her that he was the Savior!
Honestly, it seems like the kind of events that you might try to forget with a couple of spiked Egg Nogs.
Mary treasured them.
Strange as they were.
She treasured these things.
Because God worked his plan through them.
3) Treasure this Christmas.
2020 is unlike any other.
Your Christmas is unlike any other.
But in the Strange sadness of this year…
The strange glory of God is amplified.
God has come.
You are loved.
God is working his plans.
And he is working in your life…
May this strange Christmas draw you closer to his strange glory.
The other day I was putting up some Christmas lights.
I started by getting the extension cord out and plugging it into the back of the house.
I went back downstairs and got a second cord, because the first one wasn’t long enough.
Then, I went downstairs a third time to get a third cord, because the first two weren’t long enough.
I got out the lights and began untangling…
I thought: “Who put these away last year?”
I finally got them straight, ran the lights across the front awning, when my wife stopped me. She said, “Could we not put those light there? And instead take those downstairs on our bookcase?”
I rewound the lights.
Took them downstairs.
Carefully lined the entire bookcase without knocking down the knickknacks on each shelf.
I inserted the plug into the outlet and…
It was about that moment that I said to myself, “Is this worth it?”
Maybe you’ve been thinking the same thing.
As you make cookies that could have used a bit more sugar.
As you wrap presents that are uneven on the end.
As you put up the do it yourself ornament that looks nothing like what you saw on Pinterest.
Perhaps you thought…
Is this worth it?
Am I making a difference?
Especially this year.
I’m not churning out the vaccine.
I’m not curing COVID.
I’m not helping hundreds of people with their rent.
Can I make a difference this Christmas?
Today, pay attention to Jesus. Because he thinks you can. But before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A STRANGE Statement
The words we are going to meditate on were spoken by Jesus himself. It’s only three verses, but it’s jam-packed with significance for you this Christmas. We’re in Matthew 5 beginning at verse 14. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”
Jesus is talking to believers: the believers that were listening to him back then and believers who would read it in the future.
Jesus calls believers “light.”
This is a compliment.
People like light.
People enjoy light.
People need light.
Light helps to guide people.
Light keeps you from being afraid in the dark.
Light catches people’s attention.
Light warms people up.
Light can be breathtaking.
Jesus calls believers light.
But I want to draw your attention to the tiny, insignificant-looking word right before that.
As in, believers are the light of the world.
Do you get the implications?
He didn’t say that you are a light of the world.
Or one of many lights of the world.
Or even part of the light of the world.
He says, “You are the light of the world.”
According to Jesus, there is no other light in this world than believers in Jesus.
That might seem strange to you.
Because, could not a person of any faith type be a spiritual light for another?
Kinda like Christmas lights.
There are many varieties:
There must just be different kinds of spiritual lights too.
An unbeliever could be a light and bake cookies for their neighbor.
A person of the Jewish faith could be a light and buy a dreidel of chocolate for a family member.
A Buddhist could be a light and inspire you with a rousing rendition of Walking in a Winter Wonderland – all while being in a yoga pose.
People of all faiths or no faith can do nice things, right?
In fact, in preparation for this sermon, I read an internet article called, “We asked a Satanist what he’s doing for Christmas.”
I was expecting to read about some kind of creepy ritual.
“Well, we'll probably open our presents in the morning, then have Christmas lunch. My dad's not very well at the moment so maybe we'll go and see him in the afternoon if not on Boxing Day. After lunch we'll probably watch a few films and then go for a walk before tea – if it's really nice we'll go to the beach and have tea on the beach…”
That sounds kinda nice.
How is then that Jesus would have the audacity to imply that believers in Jesus alone are the light of the world when even a Satanist can do a nice thing?
Let us examine a very dark situation.
A woman has been caught in adultery.
She cheated on her husband.
She disappointed her children.
She frustrated her parents.
She made her dad cry.
Her friends have disowned her.
Her coworkers gossip about her.
If she would have lived at a time of the internet, there would have been a whole blog post written about how awful she is.
And the comment section is filled with horrific names all attributed to her.
Worst of all, she lives at a time when adultery can legally be punished by death.
So, the local religious leaders have gone to her house.
They confronted her with her sin.
They have taken her into the streets.
They are getting ready to throw stones at her until they kill her.
“What are you guys doing?”
“We’re getting ready to punish her with death. She sinned. She committed adultery. The wages of sin is death so…You want in?”
Jesus looked at the rock the guy was handing to him.
He looked at the woman.
He looked back at the men.
“Sure. But why don’t we do this…The person who hasn’t done any sin; they get to throw the first stone.”
It isn’t long before someone does throw a stone….
…to the ground.
And all the other stones follow.
Until it’s only Jesus remaining.
He approaches the woman.
He asks her to get up.
He looks her in the eye and says, “I don’t condemn you.”
That’s a story from Matthew 8:1-11. Read what Jesus says in the very next verse:
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)
Have you ever thought what would have happened if some other religious leader approached the situation?
If it would have been a Rabbi, he might have said, “You are right to stone her, but you don’t have regulation size rocks. Here. Let me join you.”
If it would have been a Roman pagan, they might have said, “You don’t have to die, as long as you sacrifice your child to the gods.”
If it would have been a humanist, they might have said, “We’ve all got urges. Leave your family and move on. Make more mistakes. And enter into an even deeper depressive state.”
If it would have been Mormon, they might have said, “I’m not gonna kill you. In fact, here’s some iced tea. But know that you are forever outside of eternal paradise.”
If it would have been a Buddhist monk, they might have said, “These urges can be defeated, if your soul is strong enough. So…I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
If it would have been a “Christian” priest, they might have said, “You’re going to have to try really hard to make it up to God,” leaving her with a constant stress of trying to do enough her whole life.
Even if the person would have been some nice person who listened, took her out for lunch, and nodded as she told her story.
That’d be nice.
But it doesn’t effect eternal change.
But the person that met the woman wasn’t some nice guy.
It was Jesus.
He looked at her with God’s own eyes.
And said to her, “You are forgiven.”
Jesus is the Light.
He shines through the darkness of gloom.
He penetrates the darkness of sin.
He illuminates the darkness of guilt.
He is God, who is light, speaking light to your soul.
And in case you did not think Jesus was serious, he also said, “Kill me and three days later, I’ll come back to life.”
They did kill him.
And he did rise from the dead.
Jesus speaks the truth.
He alone is God.
He alone is the Light that shows us the reality of sin and the reality of our Savior.
No other being in history does.
And if you, dear believer, know that truth, then you, dear believer, are the light of the world.
Because you know the Eternal Light…
Jesus calls us the LIGHT because we have HIS Light.
This is what makes believers different.
It’s not about who we are or what you do.
But the reason you are different is because of who Jesus is.
Jesus is the ONLY Savior.
He is the ONLY one who will make an eternal difference this Christmas.
If you, dear friend, know that.
Then, it is imperative of you to share it.
That’s the whole point.
II. The Bright Solution
Jesus continued his illustration. He said this:
A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
There’s simplicity in these illustrations.
If you set up one of those porcelain Christmas villages, putting out some matching Hallmark figurines like the tiny Christmas trees, the tiny baker’s shop, the tiny school, the kid that fell of his sled, all matching parts to the town (except for the off-brand Skate Shop that Uncle Joe bought you…it’s a different size), would you set up that brilliant village underneath your bed?
No one would see it.
Except maybe the cat.
Or if you get a new lamp set up in your house because you’re having trouble reading the fine handwriting of Aunt Sally’s Christmas letter, once you have the lamp plugged in and the light bulb screwed in place, you don’t cover it with a blanket.
That’d be silly.
Why buy the lamp in the first place?
Why not just ask Aunt Sally to write more legibly?
Friends, God did the same thing.
God has placed you into his light with a purpose.
He wants you to shine.
He wants you to tell your unbelieving friends about the hope you have this Christmas.
He wants you to help your unchurched family understand what it means that “The Savior is born.”
He wants you to tell your kids that Jesus loves them dearly and that’s why he was born in a manger.
He wants you to bring light to the darkness.
Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (v.18)
Because if you know that Jesus is the light.
And you tell someone else that Jesus is the Light.
God may just work through that message…
…to bring them into the light.
In fact, you might be more uniquely positioned to share Jesus with them.
Back to Christmas lights.
You know how they come on a strand.
What happens if you remove one of the lights?
But sometimes, when you remove one light, you are removing a light that is instrumental in relaying electricity to the other lights in the strand.
Meaning that without that one light.
There is no light.
Here’s what God is calling you to think about.
Who are you connected to?
Who is next on the strand?
Who do you know that by sharing the Light of Jesus God works to make them shine too?
A coworker having a rough time.
A girlfriend searching for comfort.
A family member who is downright scared of COVID.
Be sure to shine in front of them.
Because God put his light into you.
God might use you to shine Jesus’ light on them.
God might work through you to bring them into the light.
God might then work through them to bring his light to someone that you don’t even know!
That’s a big deal.
That’s a huge deal.
That’s an eternal deal.
And so, friends.
The answer is yes.
The kind works.
The small conversations.
That 1-minute social media post.
Shine the light.
Have you ever seen the Garfield Christmas special?
It starts out with the lazy, lasagna-loving feline dreaming about a special Christmas gift. The mind-reading device uses a mechanical Christmas hat that reads your thoughts and instantly delivers whatever gifts you can think of.
Immediately Garfield begins thinking of gift after gift after gift until he is literally swimming in presents.
But then he wakes up…
Over the course of the 20-minute special, Garfield’s opinion on Christmas changes. He meets his owner’s grandma and befriends her. Even going so far as to find old love letters from her deceased husband that Garfield gives to her as a gift. It’s a heartwarming moment and Garfield learns that Christmas is wonderful…even if you don’t get a magic, mind-reading, gift-giving device.
Christmas is a time for giving.
Believers know that.
Unbelievers know that.
Even Garfield the cat knows that.
But God calls believers to be the light of the world.
That implies that they live differently.
How do believers give in such a way that is different at Christmas?
In a way that’s unique?
Today we’re going to talk the concept of STRANGE Giving. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. STRANGE Generosity
The lesson is found in 2 Corinthians 8. A bit of background on this section:
In Acts 11:29, it is revealed that a severe famine had ravaged Jerusalem. The effects of the famine were intensified in part by the harsh taxation of the Roman government and the severe persecution of early believers.
This means that if you were a believer in Jerusalem, you might head to your backyard garden looking for some kind of veggies to roast for dinner. But as you look out back, you see the vines are dry because of the famine. There hasn’t been rain in days.
You head to the grocery store with a few coins you scraped together from work and under the sofa cushions. Along the way you get stopped along the way by a Roman centurion, who tells you that he has just instituted a walking tax. You owe him ½ of your coins to avoid getting stabbed in the stomach. You decide you like your stomach and hand him the money.
When you get to the local grocery store you try to buy some potatoes with the coins you have available, but the merchants see the cross necklace you are wearing. He says, “I’m sorry, but we that’s not enough money. You’ll have to put that food back,” even as his hand reaches out to accept the exact same amount of money for the exact same amount of potatoes from the very next person in line -- who happened to not be wearing a cross necklace.
Poverty was a part of life for believers in Jerusalem.
Neighboring churches wanted to help. They organized a special offering for the church in Jerusalem.
One of those church was located in Corinth. This group had pledged a significant amount of money to the church in Jerusalem. Something that lifted people’s spirits. “If only we get the money from Corinth, we’ll be in much better shape. We can stop eating Ramen noodles. We can introduce veggies back into our diets. We can hold potlucks again!”
But after their incredible pledge, word had gotten around to their former Pastor, a guy named Paul, that the people were talking about not fulfilling their financial commitments to the offering. 2nd Corinthians is a letter he writes to them, in part, to encourage them to complete the offering.
In chapter 8, he begins the section on fulfilling their offering by writing about the incredible generosity he had already seen from the church in Macedonia.
A generosity that was a bit strange…
We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. During a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Cor. 8:1-2)
Did you catch that part?
The Macedonian believers were also undergoing severe trial.
They were also dealing with persecution.
They were also struggling with poverty.
You might expect them to say, “I’d like to help. But I have to put food on my own table first.”
Their poverty welled up in rich generosity. This leads to the first principle of Strange Generosity.
1) Strange Generosity Gives when in Need
If ever there was a year to NOT give, 2020 might be it.
You might have lost your job.
You might have lost your childcare preventing you getting a new one.
Everyone else losing their job might have affected your sales.
Isolation might have emotionally affected your ability to apply for jobs.
Your 401k might have gone down.
Your grandma’s 401k might have gone down meaning you didn’t get that early Christmas monetary gift you are used to.
Many will forego giving this year because they don’t have what they normally do!
God calls you NOT to give up giving.
Even if you’re hurting.
Even if it’s difficult.
Even if it’s hard.
Don’t give up giving.
Because God has still given to you.
Because God will still give to you.
Because God will give through you.
Maybe you’re saying:
I can budget a dollar or two out of my couple thousand-dollar paycheck for a trip to the Dollar Tree.
But not much more.
Before you finalize that number into your Excel spreadsheet. Read Paul’s next description of the Macedonians:
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (v.3)
Did you see that?
I’m not even entirely sure what that means.
It’s as if they looked at their budget.
Saw that they could give $5 to the offering without holding a negative balance.
And said, “Let’s put down $20. I’m sure God will take care of us.”
Then, went home, sold their last jar of olive oil, and gave the money to Paul.
2) Strange Generosity Gives ABUNDANTLY
It’s like the time that Jesus and his disciples were hanging out near the temple treasury. One by one they watched people enter into the temple courtyard to drop off their offerings. Rich person after rich person came one by one and dropped off a big old bag of money.
But finally, it was a widow’s turn.
She didn’t have a big old bag of money.
She just had a handkerchief with two small coins in it.
She dropped them into the jar.
And Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “I tell you the truth. She gave more than all of them. Because they gave a small portion.
They still have plenty in their accounts.
She gave it all.
Because she trusts God with it all.
This concept is all about trust.
That woman trusted that the God of the Universe who created such fine gems as diamond, rubies, gold and silver…
…would be able to replenish her copper coins.
Unbelievers have to chalk it up to luck or hard work.
But you know you have a God who loves you abundantly dearly taking care of you.
The strange generosity continues. Read verse 4:
Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.
Pay attention to that.
This group of believers were begging to be a part of giving.
That’s not usually how our world works.
Usually, it’s the reverse.
Christmas fliers stuffed in mailboxes asking to be GIVEN some money.
Christmas emails stuffed in your Junk folder asking to be GIVEN some money.
Text messages from people on Facebook, that seems fishy because you already were friends with that person, asking to be GIVEN some money.
In a world where people BEG to be given….
3) Strange Generosity BEGS to Give
It begs to give to family.
It begs to give friends.
It begs to give coworkers.
It begs to give church family.
It begs to give to the guy down the block that you talked to that one time.
It begs to give to that guy on the corner asking for money.
It begs to give to anyone.
It begs to give for any reason.
It begs to give.
Can you imagine this in action?
Urgently texting your friends…How can I give to you?
Running from your car to the guy on the corner? How can I help you?
Standing on the corner with signs as cars drive by – Have Help & Ready to Give!
This is godly.
God loves giving.
He was thrilled in giving us a Savior.
He is thrilled in giving us blessings.
As part of his family, God wants to delight in giving to others
As he delights in giving to us.
This applies to more than money. Read verse 5:
And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves…. (v.5)
They said to Paul:
Here’s my time. I’ll donate it to the project.
Here’s my feet. I’ll use them to go door to door to collect.
Here’s my mouth. I’ll use it to encourage others to give.
Here’s my mind. I’ll use it to count the money.
Here’s my right bicep. I’ll use it to carry the collection in a big old money bag.
The strangely generous know that giving means more than giving money.
It means giving yourself.
4) Strange Generosity Gives SELF
This is important.
Because you might not have a lot of money this year.
You might be listening to this sermon and feeling disappointed.
You might feel if you’re unable to participate in giving.
Giving involves your time.
Giving involves your talents.
Giving involves your treasures.
Giving involves some time to listen to a friend’s relationship struggles.
Giving involves your graphic art skills to design a Christmas greeting for a coworker.
Giving involves your extra Tupperware to your neighbor because they were baking Christmas cookies and ran out of storage containers.
Giving can involve all kinds of things.
But one thing giving always involves?
Check out verse 6. Paul stops complimenting the example of the Macedonian’s giving and turns to the matter of the Corinthians. He writes,
So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. (v.6-8)
Because the Corinthians had made big plans.
They had promised big amounts of money.
They had created big expectations.
And were about to bring a BIG disappointment.
Paul reminds them that…
5) Strange Generosity Takes ACTION
It doesn’t just talk a big game.
It doesn’t just say it’s going to be generous.
It doesn’t just nod in agreement at pastor’s sermon on strange generosity.
It does the strange thing.
And actually takes action.
There was a study done recently about people on Social Media. It found that when people get angry at the poverty and injustice in the world and they say mean things about society and are outraged that people are struggling. People who post about those problems on a day to day basis?
They aren’t the people that actually give in such a way to change it.
Who gives then?
People who don’t use time complaining.
Probably because they are too busy giving.
Be that kind of giving.
The kind that sees a need.
The kind that doesn’t lament the need.
The kind that takes action.
II. The STRANGEST Generosity
There’s one more aspect of strange giving that motivates all these principles of strange giving. It’s found in verse 9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
There’s no one richer than God!
He owns storehouses of lightning.
He built the golden streets of heaven.
He owns everything.
But he gave it all up.
About 2000 some years ago, God gave it all up.
He was born in a barn.
He was placed in a feeding trough.
He was clothed with a few pieces of old cloth.
He grew up the son of a blue-collar worker.
He took to the streets at age 30.
He was homeless as he taught others about the riches of God’s kingdom in the sandals on his feet and the clothes on his back.
He lost that.
The only thing he had at the end of his life?
A crown of thorns jammed into his head.
And your sin.
All of it.
But he did all of this, so that you might become rich!
Because Jesus became poor.
You have the riches of heaven.
Because Jesus became poor.
You have the riches of eternal life.
Because Jesus became poor.
You own the rich news that you are forgiven.
6) Strange Generosity Gives FOR JESUS’ SAKE
We give because we have all we need.
We give because we have a savior.
We give because we have a place in heaven.
And we give that others might learn about the Savior too. Amen.
The other day I was working on plans to get this church ready for Christmas. I had sent out an email on how we were going to decorate: A big tree, ornaments, wreaths, etc.
Someone, very thoughtfully and wisely pointed out:
Those candles that we usually pass out for the candlelight service…
Should we do those?
You’d have to wipe them between every use.
Wear gloves as you pass them out.
And when people lowered their masks to blow them out, well…that kinda defeats the purpose of the masks.
And I said:
No candle preparation necessary.
Christmas preparations are strangely different this year.
But maybe that’s by design.
This year, more than ever, God has blessed us with a much shorter To-Do List.
Rather than fill it up with virtual versions of holiday busy-ness.
Perhaps we fill it up with something of eternal benefit.
Something to bring us closer to God.
Today we are going to look some STRANGE preparations. Before we learn about them, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A STRANGE Messenger
The lesson we are looking at comes from Matthew 3. Time-wise, it occurs years after the birth of Jesus, but before Jesus begins his earthly ministry. It is a section of Scripture filled with a certain type of strange preparation promoted by a rather strange individual.
In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea… (Mt. 3:1)
The word for wilderness indicates a place in the desert.
A place far apart from civilization.
A place surrounded by bugs and wild animals.
A place…that would be a very strange choice as a preaching station.
Most preachers preached in the synagogues.
Most preachers preached in the towns.
Most preachers preached where people were.
John’s location was a strange place to start preaching.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. (v.4a)
Again – a bit of a strange choice.
Most of the people who served in the local synagogues did so while wearing fine robes.
The high priest was especially well dressed.
He wore a golden crown around his head.
He wore priestly breastplate.
He wore an expensively fashioned breastplate.
He had fines gemstones like rubies, emerald and diamonds fastened to it.
He wore a delicately woven ephod.
He wore a fine linen underneath the ephod.
But John didn’t wear any of that.
He wore camel skins.
Something that even your average, everyday citizen wouldn’t be caught going to church in.
His food was locusts and wild honey. (v.4b)
Well, look at one of them.
Aren’t they cute?
The beady eyes.
The sinewy legs.
The creepy antenna.
Who wouldn’t want to eat a locust?
Everybody that wasn’t John the Baptist.
But perhaps one of the strangest things about John the Baptist wasn’t his look, his location, or his food choice.
It was how well his “wilderness church” was growing.
Then Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him. (V.5)
Essentially this would be like large groups of people abandoning their Sunday church homes.
Heading out to the shores of the Neuse River.
Maybe under a dirty bridge.
And listening to a guy that looked kinda like a hobo!
John was a STRANGE messenger.
II. STRANGE Fulfillment
Why were so many people abandoning their traditional religious spaces and headed out to the wilderness to hear what this wild looking man had to say?
Because of his message.
It wasn’t your typical message.
It was a bit…STRANGE.
“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” (v.3)
The word “repent” in its simplest form means to change direction.
If you are driving down the street and you miss your exit, the nice lady on the phone will tell you to, “Take a u-turn ahead.”
Because you are going the wrong direction.
You need to turn around.
Outwardly, “repent” means that if you’re doing a sinful action, you change direction and not do it anymore.
In a deeper sense, full repentance means that if you’re doing a sinful action, you change the direction of your heart.
That you turn around to follow the course that God wants.
Rather than the sinful course that you want.
Why was this such a strange message?
Those people that gathered in the synagogue with the fancy clothing.
They didn’t tell each other to change their hearts.
Because they thought their hearts were just fine.
It was everyone else who needed to change.
This message bread a very different version of repentance.
Other’s hearts need to CHANGE; my heart is FINE.
The funny thing about this.
As you read that on the screen right now.
You are probably thinking:
Man, that is awful.
Man, they really needed to change.
I’m glad I don’t a heart like that.
Responding to the pharisaical repentance of the Pharisees.
With some pharisaical repentance of your own.
Pharisaical repentance is a huge temptation in 2020.
You know who needs to change: it’s the rest of the world.
All those people who don’t wear their mask enough.
All those people who wear those masks too often.
All those Democrats.
All those Republicans.
The problem is with my spouse.
The problem is with my friend.
The problem is with Great Uncle Joe.
The problem is with my kids.
The problem is with mom and dad.
The problem is not my problem, because I don’t have a problem.
Another way to say Pharisaical repentance is…
John’s message was different from that of the Pharisees.
John’s message challenged each hearer to stop looking outside themselves for change.
Instead, to look inside.
John’s message led to godly repentance.
I need to change; MY heart is a MESS.
It’s not like the Pharisees were entirely wrong.
The world was filled with sinners.
The world was certainly a mess.
But they had forgotten that they were a part of that world.
Don’t you forget.
Don’t hear this message and think – I should send it to someone else.
Don’t hear this message and think – I hope so-and-so is listening.
Don’t heart this message and think – This really applies to my spouse.
Apply it to yourself.
Repent of your sin.
Repent of your lust.
Repent of your greed.
Repent of your hatred.
Repent of your racism.
Repent of your selfishness.
Repent of your pride.
Repent of your hatefulness.
Repent of your sins.
Repent of your sinful heart.
III. STRANGE Urgency
One of the most powerful things about John’s message is the timeline that he gives.
He doesn’t say repent sometime before the end of 2020.
He doesn’t say repent in the next couple of days.
He doesn’t even say repent after you think it over for a while, like the next couple of hours or something…before the Panther game starts.
“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!” (v.3)
We have all been eagerly anticipating the vaccine for COVID-19.
It appears to be very near.
Scholars are releasing timelines that suggest a select few will be able to get it before the end of 2020.
That high priority groups might get the vaccine by early 2021.
That the general population will be able to be vaccinated into spring and summer.
That’s good news.
What if you don’t make it until then?
What if you get COVID and it’s fatal?
If there’s anything we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that life could end very quickly.
You know – a big question that people are asking themselves before they leave the house today is: “Am I ready for COVID?”
Do I have my mask?
Do I have my sanitizer?
Am I ready to get in and out of the store without lingering?
But there’s a better question to ask.
There’s a much better question to ask than simply “am I ready to face COVID?”
Are you ready to face God?
If you’re deeply engrossed in sin, you aren’t.
God’s kingdom is near.
Of course, there’s another way to look at John’s message.
Go a little farther in Matthew 3: The one who comes after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. (Mt. 3:11)
It turns out that John is just a hype man.
He’s just the opening act.
He’s not the headliner.
But the headliner was near.
Then Jesus came… (Mt. 3:13)
And suddenly the kingdom of God…
The King of the kingdom of God…
…was no more than a few feet away.
He was just standing over there.
You could talk to him without having to shout.
You could look at the God of the universe eye to eye.
And in those eyes.
You would see…
God’s deep love for you.
Love that brought the kingdom of heaven onto the kingdom of earth.
Love that is bringing the kingdom of heaven to your heart right now.
And Mightier than John?
John warned against sin.
Jesus took sin by the neck and crushed it.
John baptized with water.
Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit himself.
Jesus died…and then came back to life.
Because of Jesus’ work…
The kingdom of heaven that only brought judgment for our sin, now brings peace.
The kingdom of heaven that was impossible for us to enter has a door, wide open.
The kingdom of heaven that seemed so far off is near.
IV. STRANGE Preparations
(1) Prepare the Way
This doesn’t happen as much down here. But when I was growing up winter meant snow.
(Since I lived in Wisconsin, it might be more accurate to say autumn meant snow – and sometimes late summer).
But when it snowed a significant amount, dad would wake me up.
Get out there and start shoveling.
We had a driveway about as long as this church. We had to shovel a path because our garage was at the back of it and a foot of snow was blocking the exit, making it impossible to leave.
“Prepare the way of the Lord.” (v.3)
What things are in the way of your relationship with Jesus?
A TV show?
Unfiltered internet access?
Prepare the way.
Take a big old metaphorical shovel this December and…
Prepare the way for Jesus.
Even if it’s the world thinks it’s strange.
I know a guy who struggled with pornography.
He was convicted by God’s Word.
He was called to repentance.
He deeply desired to please God, but he knew that it had become a type of addiction to him.
He installed filters on his internet.
He got an accountability partner.
He made his home a safe place.
But he also traveled for business.
He had to stay in hotels.
Some of those hotels have HBO.
And HBO has some late-night objectionable material.
So, you know what he did?
Whenever he got to the hotel, he would immediately enter in the room.
Unplug the TV.
Carry to the front desk.
And tell them….
I won’t be needing this tonight.
But the kingdom of heaven is near.
Prepare the way for the Lord.
(2) Make the Paths Straight
Because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Yet sometimes I think the way we connect with Jesus is more like a roundabout.
You know what I’m talking about?
Those big circular things that you enter without having to stop and then you have a second to determine if you should take the exit or continue. Otherwise, you have to keep going around the circle until you have the chance for the exit again.
Sometimes we do roundabouts to Jesus.
I’ll get around to morning devotion, after I do a couple of laps on Facebook.
I’ll get around to saying my prayer after I beat the next level on Candy Crush! (There’s special bonus points right now.)
I’ll get around to worship again, just after I buy all the gifts, wrap all the gifts, label all the gifts, and pass out the gifts and – ooops I forgot someone. Sorry Jesus.
Make straight the paths. (v.3)
Get Jesus on your schedule.
Don’t remove Jesus from your schedule.
Set a time in the morning that you will spend with Jesus each day.
Don’t think this is too hard.
There is time in your schedule for Jesus.
It’s the only thing on your To-Do List with eternal important.
Make a straight path to him.
(3) Celebrate baptism
This was a big part of John’s ministry. He called people to repentance and then he would wash them with water. Physically and tangibly speaking to the people’s hearts and saying, “Your sin has been washed away. Now, go live apart from it.”
Have you been baptized?
Take a moment.
Marvel in it.
Your sin has been washed away.
Whatever the sin is
Whatever has been convicting your heart.
Whatever you feeling kinda icky.
In your baptism, Jesus washes it away.
You are clean.
You are pure.
And if you haven’t been baptized?
In baptism, you are washed.
Not just with some lukewarm church water.
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19)
You are washed in the name of God the Father who floods the world with his love.
You are washed in the name of Jesus Christ whose blood covers all your sin.
You are washed in the name of the Holy Spirit who washes away unbelief.
Repent and be baptized.
The kingdom of God is near.
Today we’re going to look at an Old Testament prophecy that is filled with some STRANGE predictions for Christmas 2020. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. STRANGE Predictions
The lesson we are looking at is from Isaiah chapter 9. It is a prophecy written to the people of a country called Judah around 750 B.C.
Now, not long before this prophecy, Judah had been a very positive place to live. It had been experiencing economic growth. There was individual financial stability. It was a cozy, healthy nation in which you could raise your family in a cushy, plush life.
You could take your family downtown for the big festival.
You could take your wife on a date to a crowded restaurant.
You could brave the local mall (they called them marketplaces) and buy up all kinds of gadgets without having to worry about who touched them last.
You could even – get this - sit down 5 feet away from a stranger.
Things were good in Israel.
Recently, that had changed.
Neighboring countries had attacked and slaughtered 120,000 of their countrymen…
In one day.
And we think COVID numbers are bad…
Now there wasn’t time for festivals and recreation.
People were at home.
People were scared.
People were just concerned about whether they would survive!
It is to this sobering reality that Isaiah brought comforting predictions from God.
Predictions that were recorded.
Predictions that pointed to a time well beyond 750 B.C.
Predictions that find fulfillment in Christmas 2020.
Look for yourself.
Prediction 1: God’s Light Will Drive out Darkness
Maybe you’re thinking:
That’s not all that impressive of a prediction.
Cause there are Christmas lights every Christmas.
Light on the tree in your living room.
Lights on the inflatable reindeer on your lawn.
Lights – lots of lights – blindingly obnoxious lights – on that one house on the block.
In Hebrew, the word for darkness has another meaning.
Here’s what God says will happen to those in gloom.
“The people walking in darkness/gloom have seen a great light.
For those living in the land of the shadow/gloom of death, the light has dawned. (v.2)
Do you follow that prediction?
God’s light will drive out gloom this Christmas.
Which is strange.
Because not a lot of things can seem to be able to drive out COVID depression.
Even the most grandiose light display flashing in sync to the music of Manheim Steamroller only helps for a moment.
Then, when the display is over you think:
COVID is still going on.
I still lost my job.
I still haven’t had real personal interaction in months.
I’m still in deep depression.
But this prediction from God’s Word says the light has dawned.
It’s started shining.
And it continues to shine.
God’s Light will brighten the gloom this Christmas.
Prediction 2: God Will Multiply our Joy
Again, that seems strange.
We live in a world that’s filled with news mostly void of joy.
Bad COVID reports.
Bad news on Aunt Matilda.
Bad news from that you’ll have to quarantine even longer.
Maybe you might expect Christmas to add a bit of joy.
But not enough to make a difference.
God doesn’t promise to add to your joy.
But to multiply it.
Verse 3 says, “God, you have multiplied the nation and increased its joy.”
Has this ever happened to you?
You head to the store.
You’re only planning on making only one batch of cookies.
You decided on gingerbread men, because they have ginger in them – which decreases your risk for heart attack – or something.
But then, you see a display for macaroons. They are premade so you aren’t technically breaking your “only bake one vow.”
You see a kid in the aisle and are reminded of the cutouts mom made… You pick up the ingredients necessary for those too.
You head to the checkout and notice a low price on sprinkled sugar cookies. You get two boxes because “if you get the green ones, you’d need to get the red to balance out the color scheme.”
Then, you get home find a big package from Grandma filled with about 50 of her famous Snickerdoodles, 25 chocolate bonbons and a tin of those cookies with the Hershey’s kiss smushed onto the middle of it.
Your Christmas cookies have multiplied.
That’s what God promises to do with joy.
Even if your “joy” is at a level one.
Multiplied by ten.
That’s a lot more joy.
God will multiply joy this Christmas.
Prediction 3: God Will Defeat Oppressors
Oppression has been a key phrase in 2020.
And some of the worst kinds of oppressions happen within our own thoughts.
Oppressed by the racism you’ve felt ion your Facebook feed.
Oppressed by the hatred of that one coworker whose anger is not lost even though it’s on a ZOOM call.
Oppressed by the late notice after late notice of payments overdue.
Oppressed by guilt of not giving your kids a better education.
Oppressed by shame of not having enough money for your idea of a perfect Christmas.
Oppressed by a nagging little voice that keeps saying, “You didn’t do good enough.”
None of these things seem to be going away anytime soon.
It’s not like putting up a few decorative snowmen will stop their rule.
But look at what Scripture says:
God has broken the rod of the oppressors as…in the day of Midian.” (v.4)
That’s a reference to a Sunday school story involving a guy named Gideon. Do you now that one? It’s a story that happened long before the Jewish situation from 750 B.C. Israel was under the oppression of the Midianites. There wasn’t much Israel could do because the Midianites had an army “like a swarm of locusts.” (Judges 7:12) That means it was tens of thousands strong.
God tells Gideon to lead an army to fight them.
But Gideon says, “You only gave me 30,000 guys. That’s not big enough to fight back.”
And God says, “Hmmm…I did miscalculate the number. Let’s send 29,700 of them. I’ll give you the victory with a measly 300.”
And God does.
Like Gideon, you might be facing so many oppressors it seems like a swarm of locusts.
Like Gideon, you also have one powerful God on your side.
God will defeat oppressors this Christmas.
Prediction 4: Victory Will Be Yours
We have really lowered the definition of victory during COVID.
The other day I counted it a victory ‘cause I ordered pizza online.
Drove to the delivery place
Turned on my hazards.
Watched as they put the pizza on top of my car.
Rolled down my window.
Grabbed the pizza box.
And brought the pizza home.
And during COVID!
There aren’t a lot of victories right now.
It’s easy to not expect any this Christmas either.
But check out verse 5:
Every boot that marched in battle
and the garments rolled in blood will be burned.
They will be fuel for the fire. (v.5)
Did you hear that?
Burn your soldier uniforms.
Stop struggling for a victory.
You already have one.
Because the battle is done.
And the battle is won.
Victory will be yours this Christmas.
Because of God.
II. STRANGE Fulfillment
This is starting to sound good isn’t it?
I’m getting excited for Christmas again.
What do I need to do to make this happen?
Do I need to buy the right Christmas gift?
Do I need to fork over enough money?
Do I need to call up Rudolph or Frosty?
Do I need to do everything in my mommy power to create some type of Winter Wonderland paradise within my own apartment walls with decorations, goodies, Pinterest projects, and acoustic Christmas music in order to give my kids joy, light, and victory?
It has nothing to do with you.
And everything to do with a baby.
For to us a child is born.
To us a son is given. (v.6a)
Like a little tiny human?
Little tiny booties the size of my thumb?
Cause that child is no ordinary child.
That child will grow up.
That child will live perfectly.
That child will die innocently.
That child will rise triumphantly.
That child will save you.
That child is Jesus.
Look again at what makes him extraordinary.
He will be named: Wonderful Counselor. (v.6c)
Remember the depression we mentioned above?
One of the ways God drives out the darkness of gloom is with counseling.
Which makes sense.
There’s been a significant increase in needs for counseling throughout the pandemic.
Most of it via Zoom.
But Jesus is really good at counseling.
He offers counsel that no other counselor can.
Note that Jesus is called the “Wonderful” counselor.
That word “wonderful” is related to the word “miraculous.”
Jesus is the miraculous Counselor that offers miraculous Counsel.
He can say things that no other counselor can
I died for your sins. So, you’re totally forgiven for that.
You are loved by your Heavenly Father. I just talked to him about this last week.
That thing you are afraid of? I’ve seen what happen. It all turns out good.
He will be named: Mighty God, (v.6d)
And this explains the miracle!
It isn’t some elf bringing you these Christmas predictions.
It isn’t some magical reindeer bringing you good tidings.
It isn’t even the Amazon guy.
God who came in Jesus.
God who comes in Jesus.
God who is Jesus.
God who is your light.
God who is your joy.
God who has no problem defeating any of your oppressors.
God who has already given you eternal victory in Jesus!
He will be named: Everlasting Father (v.6d)
Because there have been quite a few deaths this year.
1.44 million worldwide.
Even of people we thought would last forever.
Like Alex Trebeck.
I was born in 1984.
Alex was hosting jeopardy since 1984.
He has literally been the host all my life.
But now he’s gone.
But Jesus isn’t.
And Jesus won’t ever be.
Jesus is everlasting.
He will be with you now and throughout the 2020 holiday season.
He will be named: Prince of Peace.
This is a big one.
Peace has been hard to come by in 2020.
Besides all the COVID.
All the isolation.
All the alone.
There has been
And just plain nastiness on Social Media.
Some posit we are on the brink of Civil War.
A made-for-TV Hallmark Christmas special won’t solve the world’s problems.
It won’t even give you lasting peace.
But do you know who will?
The prince of Peace.
Jesus brought us peace with God.
Jesus speaks peace to our hearts.
Jesus empowers us to be at peace with others because we are at peace with God.
III. One More STRANGE Prediction
This leads to one more prediction for 2020 Christmas.
Prediction 5: God’s Kingdom Will Flourish
This seems the most farfetched to this pastor.
Over the past months, I have seen church attendance drop.
Over these past months, I have seen a once full church look so empty.
Over these past months, I have seen more and more of our own family go from worshipers, to online worshipers, to occasional worshipers, to I think you should just leave me alone, pastor.
We’re unveiling our Christmas Eve plan – we’re doing four services to try and encourage people to join us, but even then, it won’t be the same.
The church family won’t be together.
We won’t be able to blast joy to the world at full strength.
In spite of what we’ve seen.
In spite of what we might see.
God promises this:
Jesus will rule on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
from now on, into eternity. (v.9)
You see it?
God’s kingdom will flourish this Christmas.
Whether we see it or not.
Because he will be on the throne.
Because he will be working through his people.
And, since you are one of his people, because he will work through you
God help us to see the good in this Christmas.
And help us to be the good in this Christmas.
We are finishing up our sermon series called STAND.
We learned that the only way to stand at peace with God is to stand IN GRACE.
We learned that that only way to stand in that invisible grace is to stand BY FAITH.
We learned that the only way to stand strong in faith is to stand ON GOD’S WORD.
Today we want to change prepositions one more time and learn what is means to stand WITH Jesus.
Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Challenge of Standing with Jesus
The lesson for today is taken from Matthew 10. It’s a speech given by Jesus to twelve men that Jesus hand-selected to stand with him as disciples.
This speech takes place before Jesus sends them out to walk the roads, find people, and tell others that Jesus was the Savior.
I imagine these guys were excited.
They had seen Jesus do some amazing things.
They had heard Jesus preach some incredible sermons.
They had watched as tremendous crowds of people followed Jesus.
Perhaps they were excited for the same thing to happen to them.
I’m sure Peter could envision all the smart things he’d say to his soon-to-be thousands of followers on Twitter.
But Jesus tells them to expect something different.
Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves…So be on guard against people. (Matthew 10:16-17)
Jesus immediately insinuates that there will danger if they stand with him.
The word he uses is translated, “Be on your guard,” or “beware.”
It’s the same word we use to tell people about the vicious Golden Retriever residing behind the futon.
If you get close, you may get slobbered to death.
Or at least some hair on your pant leg.
I’ve warned you.
Here Jesus says, “Beware…of people.”
Like religious people. “They will hand you over to councils, and they will whip you in their synagogues.” (v.17)
Like political people. “You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings for my sake.” (v.18)
Like people in their own family. “Brother will hand over his brother to death, and a father will do the same with his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.” (v.21)
It doesn’t stop there:
You will be hated by all people because of my name… (v.20)
Like people you work with.
Like people who live next door to you.
Like people you are considering dating.
Like people you are dating.
Like people you have dated.
Like people who teach you 11th grade science.
Like people on social media.
Like people who are behind you at the Starbucks drive thru and do not appreciate the Bible reminder you put on your bumper sticker.
Friends, here’s a TRUTH:
When you stand WITH JESUS, many will stand AGAINST YOU.
That’s important for us to remember.
Because sometimes as followers of Jesus, we expect things to get easier.
On the one hand, that’s true. We have absolute forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. There’s not any guilt left for us to conquer. We will be in heaven.
On the other hand…
Maybe something like this has happened to you.
You head to Starbucks, grab a coffee and sit down to do some work in their outdoor patio area.
You strike up a conversation with the guy sitting near you.
You both agree that COVID stinks and you can’t wait for it to be over.
You ask if it has affected their job.
They explain that it hasn’t changed much because they work for a software company and it’s easy to work from home.
You explain that you also have been working from home, but came to Starbucks for a brief change of scenery.
He says he understand and is glad he can still get a frappucino, even if it means social distancing.
You say, “Speaking social distancing: Why did the chicken cross the road?
He says, “He doesn’t know.”
You say, “Because the chicken behind it didn’t know how to social distance properly.”
You set your bag down and get out your Bible. You’re going to read while you’re at Starbucks.
He says, “You’re a Christian?”
You say, “Yes.”
He says, “How can you believe any of that junk?”
And he puts his mask back up.
He turns his head into another direction.
And goes onto his phone.
Maybe you’ve had something similar happen to you.
Jesus explains this phenomena:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor is a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master. If the master of the house was called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! (v.24-25)
It’s logical really.
If someone hates Jesus’ teachings, how will they feel when you tell them, “I follow Jesus’ teachings.”
If someone hates Jesus’ work, how will they feel when you tell them, “I work for Jesus.”
If someone hates God, how will they feel when you tell them, “I belong to God’s family.”
People who stand against JESUS will stand against JESUS’ FOLLOWERS.
Do take note this isn’t a possibility.
This isn’t a plausibility.
This isn’t just something that might happen if you aren’t careful to be polite.
This is a reality.
Jesus uses future active language these events.
They will hand you over. (v.17)
You will be brought to governors. (v.18)
Brother will betray brother. (v.21)
You will be hated. (v.22)
According to Jesus, it is a fact that if you stand with him,
Others will stand against you.
Here’s an important question:
Are people standing against you?
Are you catching flack because you love Jesus?
I don’t mean that you’re being threatened with death. Praise the Lord we live in a nation that says, “You can’t kill anyone for their faith” – which includes our faith in Jesus. I’m not advocating that this be the case. (Although in some parts of the world, this is the case.)
The question for you, first-world American believer is this:
Is there any friction in your life because of your faith in Jesus?
One of the things you can do on Social media is you can LIKE “pages.” This is your way of saying you support that pages. It is a way for Facebook’s algorithm to send you content that you enjoy and increase the audience for that page’s message.
Some of you like Gethsemane for example.
That increases the likelihood that you will see our posts and events.
It also increases our exposure as we plant Jesus in North Raleigh.
The other day I decided to look back on my profile and see all the things that I like.
Some of them were expected:
But some of the things I found…
I had forgotten that I had LIKED them.
Like the book, “The Catcher in the Rye’. Honestly, I don’t think I ever finished it way back in American Literature class. And I can’t remember what it’s about. But I think I put it on there because I set up this profile when I was single, and I imagine that this was my way of seeming intelligent to my future wife.
I liked “Aladdin.” Which is cool. I do like it. But I’m not sure why I liked it enough to make it my “must know information” about me to all who view my profile.
I liked “Joshua Radin.” Who is a guy who sang that one song that was popular that one time.
Finally, I also liked “jogging.”
Not a book.
Not a movie.
Which is proof that this whole “LIKE” concept is a lie.
Is that how you follow Jesus?
Is it just something you did once because it seemed cool at the time?
Is it something people would have to search deep in your life, somewhere on tab number five, in order to know it was a part of you?
Is it hidden under all the popular, cool, and straight fire things that society likes so you blend in and life is comfortable?
Remember – Jesus said that when you follow him there will friction between you and the world.
Because there’s always friction between Jesus and the sinful world.
For your consideration…
If you say that you are following Jesus.
But you aren’t experiencing any kind of friction.
Not a disgusted look.
Not a disappointed, “You won’t join us in our sin.”
Not a shocked: “Why would you live your life that way?”
Not even an angry emoji.
Then either Jesus is a liar…
Maybe you are.
II. Blessings of Standing with Jesus
Do you know what the most quoted command in the Bible is?
It isn’t “love God.”
It isn’t “love others.”
It’s “Do not be afraid.”
Or another version of it like:
“Do not fear.”
“Do not be terrified.”
This section of Scripture is no exception.
Do not be afraid. (v.26)
Do not fear. (v.28)
So do not be afraid. (v.31)
One of the main reasons that we might be afraid to stand publicly with Jesus is fear.
Fear of acceptance.
Fear of what others will say.
Fear of what others will do.
To that fear, Jesus, “Do not be afraid to stand with me.”
And with good reason:
(1) Jesus Saves
If you’d like to live forever, stand with Jesus.
Because standing with your political party won’t do it.
Nor will standing with that political party.
Nor will standing with society.
Nor will standing with your friends.
Nor will standing with your family.
If you want to live forever, you need to stand with Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He brought forgiveness for all your sins.
Whoever endures to the end will be saved. (v.22)
Notice there is zero doubt in Jesus’ voice here.
Just like when he said, “Kill me and three days later, I will come back to life.”
They killed him.
And he came back to life.
Jesus speaks with certainty here.
If you stand with him here, you will stand with him there.
If you stand with him on earth, you will stand with him in heaven.
If you stand with him now, he promises to stand with you forever.
(2) Jesus Reveals the Truth
Jesus is holy.
The world is sinful.
The natural friction between holy Jesus and this sinful world leads the sinful world to conclude that Jesus was the bad guy.
The same thing happens today.
A consequence of following Jesus is the sinful world will conclude that Jesus followers are often considered to be the bad guy.
And nobody likes to be the bad guy.
Jesus says this, “Do not be afraid of them, because there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. (v.26-27)
Did you hear that?
The truth is revealed.
The truth is that Jesus is the Savior.
One day everyone will realize that.
Whether they are standing on his side or not.
And if you’re standing on his side, listen to this --
It will be revealed that you are stand on the winning side.
You stand in truth.
You aren’t the bad guy.
You’re the good guy.
Because you are the forgiven guy.
Because Jesus is THE Good Guy.
(3) Jesus Controls Eternity
Because, honestly, what is the worst people could do to you?
For these disciples, it was death.
They would face death for the sake of Jesus.
And if history is to be believed, they faced death in some terrible ways.
Thomas had a spear thrown through his body.
James the Less was sawn in half.
Bartholomew was skinned.
Peter was crucified upside down.
All of which sounds awful.
But then again…
Each gruesome event only lasted for about 1 minute, tops.
Then, eternal bliss.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (v.28)
They heard Jesus say that.
Then, they saw Jesus die.
And come back to life.
Now they stand eternally in heaven with him.
The same is true for you.
Don’t fear losing a Facebook friend.
Don’t fear losing popularity.
Don’t fear losing a job.
Stand with Jesus.
You will stand eternally.
(4) Jesus Cares Deeply for You
Daniela loves pajaros.
The very first day that we had her with us, we spent the afternoon at the park across the street.
The park was filled with pajaros.
That’s the Spanish word for birds.
She’d see one over here, point and say, “Ah!”
Then, quickly she’s seed another out of the corner of her eye and say, “Ah!”
She’d see one across the playground area and then embark on what must have seemed like an epic journey for her little legs, all the way across the park just to be near the pajaro.
Jesus says this: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without the knowledge and consent of your Father. So do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. (v.29-31)
He is so very interested in your life.
He is so very invested.
When you face some kind of friction for your faith,
He is there.
Right beside you.
Cheering you on.
Do not be afraid to stand with Jesus.
Because he stands with you. Amen.
We are in the middle of a series called STAND.
In the first two messages, we learned that the only way to stand at peace with God is to STAND by FAITH in God’s GRACE.
It is difficult to put faith in this unseen grace.
I collect PEZ dispensers. Even though it’s nothing more than some cheap molded plastic with insertable little cubes of stale sugar, some PEZ dispensers can be quite expensive.
Like the Moustachio’d Alphine man.
PEZ released two versions of him. The clean-faced version of him is worth very little, but the version with a mustache is worth over $1000 dollars to hardcore collectors. He is rare and not easy to find.
If you found one online that was selling for $500, a good deal for that rare piece, I might not believe you till I saw the deal myself.
Even if I did see it, I’d probably look into whoever was running the ad. If the seller didn’t have any reviews on Google, I might not believe the seller.
But if the seller had their own shop and a link to hundreds of outstanding reviews calling him the Prince of PEZ…
I’m all in.
Faith in something you can’t see is validated by a voice of authority telling you about that something you cannot see.
How powerful is the voice behind the invisible truth of GRACE?
Today we’ll l0ok into the authority of God’s voice and learn to STAND on God’s Word. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Story about Standing on God’s Word
In Daniel 3, a man named Nebuchadnezzar is King of Babylon. Recently, he had conquered many nations, established an incredible empire, and set up a powerful government.
But taking over the world had gotten a bit boring, so…
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue. It was ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. (Daniel 3:1)
It’s about 8 stories high.
It’d be like three of our church building stacked on top of each other.
That’s a lot of gold material.
King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to assemble…all of the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (v.2)
Since Nebuchadnezzar was a fancy king.
I’m sure it was a fancy party.
Fancy ballroom gowns.
Fancy red carpet to walk in upon.
Fancy music played by the fancy royal orchestra.
Fancy little hot dogs on the multicolored toothpicks.
(Sorry, that’s about as fancy as my imagination gets…)
In the middle of this grand party with all kinds of important people present, King Nebuchadnezzar unveils the purpose of the statue:
“To you peoples, nations, and languages, this command is given: When you hear the sound of …. all kinds of musical instruments, you will fall down and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar set up. (v.4-5)
Not only has Nebuchadnezzar created a violent army.
Not only has your King created an empire.
Not only has he created an impressive government.
Not only has he created this fancy party.
But King Nebuchadnezzar…
Has created a god.
Making Nebuchadnezzar a Creator of gods…
If you will.
When you hear the music...
Bow down and worship the god Nebuchadnezzar created for you.
Revel in it.
Find peace from it.
And one more thing.
If for whatever reason you choose not to fall down and worship the statue…>
You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace.” (v.6)
Your flesh will melt.
You’ll die a painful death.
Let’s test the system.
Immediately, the orchestra played, music filled the air, sweat poured own people’s faces…
Less because they believed that Nebuchadnezzar’s art project was an actual god.
More because they didn’t wanna die….
Everyone fell down…
As part of building his empire, Nebuchadnezzar had taken many individuals captive from the countries that he conquered. This included the nation of Israel. In Babylon, most of them served in lower class, peasant-level jobs to improve the lives of upper-class Babylonians.
But the more capable-looking young men were taken under Nebuchadnezzar’s wing. They were fed, taught, and trained to be high-level advisors in the Babylonian kingdom.
This included three young men named Shadrak, Meshak, and Abenego.
These young teenagers had been trained to fight like Babylonians.
They had been trained to speak like Babylonians.
They had been trained to govern like Babylonians.
And they had done such a good job, they were given high-up positions in the kingdom.
One thing they weren’t trained to do?
Worship Nebuchadnezzar’s art project “god”.
The others took great pleasure telling on them: “Your Majesty, may you live forever!... These men do not pay attention to you, Your Majesty. They do not serve your gods, and they do not worship the gold statue that you set up.” (v.9-12)
Nebuchadnezzar was angry.
This was a slap in his face…
And a slap in the golden face of the statue that he had set up.
He brought the three Israelites into his palace.
Is it true you didn’t bow?
Did you just miss the music?
Were you checking to see if others were bowing?
Maybe you have some arthritis in your knee?
Tell you what.
Don’t let anyone tell you that I’m not merciful.
I forgive you.
As long as you, bow down and worship the golden image…
“You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace. What god will be able to save you from my hands?” (v.15)
The three men looked at one another.
They had heard the king’s words.
They knew he was serious.
They also remembered someone else’s words.
Words they had been taught way back in Hebrew school.
Words written on ancient, treasured scrolls:
The LORD said, “You shall have no other gods beside me. You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them, for I the Lord your God am…God.” (v.3-5)
The men nodded at one another.
Meshach and Abednego put their hands on Shadrach’s shoulders.
Shadrach took a deep breath and spoke:
“We have no need to answer you about this matter. Since our God, whom we serve, does exist, he is able to save us from the blazing fiery furnace. So, he may save us from your hand, Your Majesty. But if he does not, you should know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the golden statue that you set up.” (v.17-18)
As hot as that fiery furnace was…
It was nowhere near as hot as Nebuchadnezzar’s temper.
How dare you!
Get out of my sight!
You think you can defy me!
Guards take them!
Heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual!
Do it quickly. I can’t wait to watch these men burn.
And the crews worked quickly.
The soldiers marched them towards the furnace.
While the furnace workers added fuel to the flame.
As Nebuchadnezzar took his seat to watch ‘the action.’
The soldiers tossed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire.
Because the situation had been so tense, the furnace workers had moved too quickly and missed important safety protocols. This resulted in a large heat blast exiting the furnace and killing the soldiers that threw the three captives into the fire.
The king noticed.
But he didn’t care.
He just wanted everyone to know that anyone who crossed him would fa….
Wait a second.
Didn’t I order three men thrown into the fire?
He said, “Look! I see four men, who are untied and walking around in the middle of the fire, unharmed. What is more, the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (v.26)
In the middle of the fire.
Where not even oxygen could survive.
Stood four men.
And an angel of the LIVING God.
The King rubbed his eyes.
He ordered the men to come out of the furnace.
When they were removed from the heat, the king and the officials examined them.
Their hair wasn’t singed.
Their clothes weren’t burned.
Their bodies didn’t even smell like smoke.
Nebuchadnezzar was humbled.
Nebuchadnezzar hadn’t had the final say.
II. Standing on God’s Word
This is an amazing story of standing on God’s Word.
These men refused to listen to the king’s words.
Even if it cost them their lives.
In a world where we get nervous that standing on God’s Word might cost us a Facebook friend, how do we get fiery furnace level faith?
Remember a few key truths:
(1) HUMAN words come with HUMAN authority
Nebuchadnezzar really had a complex, didn’t he?
The Bible tries to draw that out in the opening verses of this story.
There’s a phrase that the author includes that dominates the initial paragraphs about the golden statue God.
“He set it up.”
It’s in verse 1.
It’s in verse 2.
It’s in verse 3.
It’s in verse 5 and verse 7.
The point is very clear.
This thing had zero authority.
In fact, it wouldn’t have even existed without Nebuchadnezzar.
This gave Nebuchadnezzar a “creator” complex.
Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten that…
He too was created.
He too was born.
He too sat around in little Babylonian diapers.
He too needed to be taught to walk.
He too needed to be taught to talk.
He too needed someone to wipe his chin when he spit out his Babylonian broccoli soup.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a Creator.
He was created
By the Creator.
There was always a BEING way more powerful than him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hadn’t forgotten that.
They knew the worst that the King could do is throw them in fire for about 30 seconds.
He could save his creation from the fire.
Or recreate them forever, perfectly in heaven.
Don’t forget that.
The guy who intimidates you on social media? Just a human.
The coworker who ridicules you for following God? Just a human.
The friend who tempts you to break God’s Word? Just a human too.
The judgmental words of your ex? Just human words too.
Their authority ends on the timeline.
They have no power into eternity.
(2) GOD’S word comes with GOD’S authority
Do you know the science of fire?
Fire is the result of applying enough heat to a fuel source, when you've got a whole lot of oxygen around. As the atoms in the fuel heat up, they begin to vibrate until they break free of the bonds holding them together and are released as volatile gases. These gases react with oxygen in the surrounding atmosphere. (Science.org/au)
At 118 degrees, human skin can sustain first-degree burns.
At 131 degrees, a second-degree burn injury can occur.
At 162 degrees, human skin is destroyed.
Humans have little to no authority over these atoms at the moment of ignition.
Let alone thrown into the middle of seven-times-hotter-than-normal fire.
But not God.
God has authority.
Authority to the burnable atoms of human skin from the combustible atoms of fire.
Of course, he does!
God invented fire on the fourth day of the world when he caused the greatest ball of fire in the universe to explode into existence.
We call it the sun.
Theologically this means that God has the final say.
If he calls something sin.
It is sin.
It doesn’t matter what the king of Babylon says.
It doesn’t matter what the laws of the Babylonians say.
It doesn’t matter what the Babylonian king threatens.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Twitter says.
It doesn’t matter what Facebook says.
It doesn’t matter what MeWe says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Fox News says.
It doesn’t matter what CNN says.
It doesn’t matter what the Home Shopping Network says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what your coworkers say.
It doesn’t matter what your friends say.
It doesn’t matter what your family says.
It doesn’t even matter what your pastor says…
Ultimately, it only matters what God says.
Because only God has ultimate authority.
If you are looking for answer on any issue.
Look at his Word.
He has ultimate authority.
(3) God’s Word SAVES
After the failed furnace execution, Nebuchadnezzar finally gets it right. He says this,
Blessed be the God of Shadrak, Meshak, and Abednego, who sent his angel and saved his servants… (v.28)
God is the one who orchestrated the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the saving miracle.
And he is the only one who orchestrated your saving miracle too.
His Word sent Jesus to earth.
His Word defied the devil.
His Word condemned Jesus.
His Word declared you innocent.
His Word brought himself back to life.
His Word is speaking to you right now:
“Your salvation is in Jesus.”
“You are forgiven.”
“You are my child.”
“You are mine.”
“Come back to me and live.”
God’s Word saves.
No other book.
No other pamphlet.
No other authority has the power of God’s Word.
God’s Word contains the message of Jesus who saved us.
God’s Word strengthens our faith in the message of Jesus.
God’s Word saves.
III. What Now?
Stand on God’s Word
Because human words have only human authority.
God’s Word has God’s authority.
And God’s Word saves.
When we’re standing on God’s Word.
It might save more than just you.
Because do you know what happens in the next chapter of Daniel?
The one who thought he could create a god.
The one who thought he was a god.
The one who learned he was not even remotely a god.
Look at what he says in Daniel 4:2-3
It seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God did for me. How great are his signs! How mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and his dominion extends from generation to generation.
The guy’s a believer.
The guy is most likely in heaven.
The three men who STOOD on God’s Word.
Do the same.
Stand on God’s Word.
Who knows whom God might save through you?