It is Christmastime, correct? It’s the holidays! Everyone is supposed to be holly jolly and everything is supposed to be merry and bright.
And maybe you’ve even felt like that!
You wake up with a smile on your face.
Your pumpkin spice latte is already cooking in your pumpkin spiced latte maker.
You put on some sparkly Christmas socks, turn on Bing Crosby, and sit by the fireplace.
Everything is so merry and bright!
You check your news feed.
11 killed in synagogue massacre.
3 killed in roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
KKK numbers rising.
And on Facebook…
Aunt Hilda still struggling with cancer.
Cousin Johnny is getting a divorce.
Your friend Melanie committed suicide around this time three years ago.
It’s supposed to be a bright time.
But life can be so…dark.
How did it get this way?
Today we will focus on how the Light of the World shines against the darkness. 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; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How’d it Get so Dark?
To find out the answer to that question, we need to go all the way back to the beginning, the very first book of the bible called Genesis. It literally means “beginning.”
And “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1) At the end of it, there is a small little phrase that God utters about creation. He says:
“It was very good.” (1:31)
That’s an important phrase. Because when God says, “Very good,” he means something very different than when I say it.
For instance, when I finish up wrapping a Christmas present, there’s crooked tape here, off-kilter tape there, and a big gap in the back exposing that it’s a box from Target…and I get done and I say, “It’s good.”
Understand. That’s not what God means.
When God says, “It’s good.” God means, “Perfect.”
That means when God created the world, there weren’t any of the “dark” things that we mentioned before.
There was no such thing as terrorism.
There was no such thing as racism.
There was no such thing as adultery.
There was no such thing as addiction.
There was no such thing as cancer, criminal offenses or cattiness in the church fellowship hall.
God made the world good.
There was no darkness.
Before I get into that you need to understand something about perfection.
In God’s mind, the concept of perfection involves love.
And in God’s mind, the perfect concept of love is not coerced, but freely and willingly given.
I think we get that. Case and point: If you have an Alexa robot, one of those Google inspired devices that can be programmed to listen to your voice and do whatever you ask it to do – and it does it. In addition to the Alexa robot, you have an Alex, a human child, who gets his toys stuck in the carpet, forgets to clean up the LEGOs and generally makes messes even when you tell him to clean up.
QUESTION: Between Alexa and Alex, which one would you say loves you?
Alex, of course.
Because Alexa is literally programmed to do whatever you say.
Alex can choose to blow snot bubbles or to come and give you a hug.
And when he chooses to give you a hug – that’s love.
God knew this.
When God created humans, he made them with the ability to love to him or to not love to him.
Specifically, he gave them one specific way to show this unforced, non-coerced love:
God said to them: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (2:16-27)
Did you follow that?
God told them to show love to him by not eating from one specific tree.
No thank you notes necessary.
No finger paint art work that says, “I love you.”
Just don’t eat from the one tree.
It’s like when preschoolers come and give me a hug around the legs so that I can’t move, and they say, “Mr. Pastor, I love you.”
And I say, “Thank you. But do you know what will show you love me even better than this hug? If you line up like I’ve told you to do, about 17 times.”
Adam and Eve had a chance to show active love for God by not eating from the tree.
So how did they do with that?
One day, the two of them are walking through the garden. As they pass by the middle where the one tree that they aren’t supposed to eat from is located, a snake begins to talk to them.
Yes, a snake.
The snake is none other than Satan, the devil, Lucifer. The exact origins of Lucifer are unclear, but a few things to note:
God created him.
God created him in the same way he created humans – with a choice to serve him.
Lucifer chose to NOT serve God, but to oppose him.
And that’s exactly what he does here.
He says, “Did God really say that you must not eat from the fruit of this tree?” The answer is yes.
He says, “...You will not die.” But God said they would.
He says, “You will become like God.” But they already were.
Whom should you believe?
The Holy, perfect God who created you and gave you the whole world?
Or a talking snake?
Adam and Eve look up at that fruit.
They see its faux shine.
They grab it off the branch.
They sink their teeth into it’s delicious nectar.
And, for the very first time, they taste:
Look at what happens:
Then, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (v.7)
For the first time ever, they experience mistrust. “What is she looking at my 3 pack of abs? Stop judging me. There’s not a lot of exercise equipment in this garden.”
For the first time ever, they experience anxiety: “I wonder if I’m enough for him. He’s been looking at one of the other women…in this garden of so many women.”
For the first time ever, they experience judgment: “He does look like he’s had a few too many blueberries lately.”
For the first time ever, they experience marital disunity: “Leave me alone while I go over here and cover myself. You go over there and cover yourself.”
And then: They heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, so they hid from him. (v8)
For the first time ever, they experience fear of God: “What will he do to us?”
For the first time ever, they experience shame: “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
For the first time ever, they experience guilt: “We did the one thing we shouldn’t have done.”
And when they do come out of the bushes to talk to God:
“It was the woman! She did it!” Not my wife. Not my love. That woman.
“It was the snake! He did it!” Not me. Not my fault. I am the victim here! Some animal.
“It was the woman YOU put here God.” Really…the evil is on YOU.
Do you see it?
Darkness is firmly a part of history now.
Sin is here.
Sin is here to stay.
And God responds as only a Holy, Light-filled God who hates sin can respond. By doling out consequences:
Pain. Painful childbirth. Painful toil. Painful slivers and hangnails. Painful arthritis and headaches. Painful diseases and injuries.
Relationship Issues. He’ll be a jerk! Because he’s a sinner now. He’s had a taste of the darkness and it won’t stop him from calling you things that you should never call a woman. And to be fair – you won’t take it sitting down. You’ll tell him that you NEVER loved him and he’s a worth pile of dirt.
Work Issues. Because now it won’t be fun. Now there will be weeds in the ground. Now there will be computer crashes. Now there will be plumbing issues. Now there will be back stabbing, infighting, and gossip that ruins your career.
Death. For “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (v.19) This is the origin of cancer, of car crashes, of terrorism, mass shooting, and terrifying nights in the E.R.
And that’s just the beginning…
It’s only gotten darker.
It’s only gotten crueler.
It’s only gotten harder to deal with.
II. The Light Shines against Darkness
Did you know that God didn’t just give consequences to the humans?
He also gave consequences to the snake.
God says he’ll crawl on his belly (v.14)
God says the snake will eat dust all the days of his life. (v.14b)
Some scholars wonder if maybe the original form of the snake had some little tiny legs. (Which is pretty horrifying thing to think of. Long, slithering, disgusting with legs?)
But then – pay careful attention to the final consequence for Satan:
I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head. (v.15)
Did you hear it?
This is more than just a consequence for the devil.
This is a promise for the people.
One day someone will come who will crush the evil one and destroy all of his power.
One day someone will come to overpower the evil.
One day someone will come to shine against the darkness.
One day…right around the very first Christmas:
In Jesus was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
This is why Christmas matters.
We live in a world of darkness and death.
We needed the Light. We need Life.
And we have both in Jesus.
Because our world is only darkness.
And adding darkness to the darkness to try and get rid of the darkness, doesn’t work.
For instance, no one ever says, “It’s dark in here. Let me get out my sunglasses because I’m sure that will make things brighter.”
Or: “Honey, I know you’re scared of the dark. Let me turn OFF the hallway light. That’ll make it easier to see.”
Adding darkness to darkness only leads to more darkness.
Since we live in a world infected by spiritual darkness, we cannot expect the light to come from that darkness.
We cannot expect the light to come from ourselves.
What I mean is, the solution to the darkness IS NOT and CANNOT EVER be:
“Just try harder.”
“Do your best.”
They are all a version of:
Let’s add more darkness this darkness because I’m sure that will make it brighter.
The light of the world needs to come from outside of the world.
The light of the world needs to come from the place of light.
The light of the world needs to come from heaven itself.
That light of the world is Jesus.
And like a candle coming into dark room…
Jesus shines against the darkness.
And he always overcomes it.
Think about that. No matter what kind of darkness you are dealing with this holiday season, Jesus is the light that will overcome it.
When you’re dealing with the darkness of a relationship that has spoiled, he brings the light and says, “I will never leave you.”
When you’re struggling with the guilt of some kind of sin you committed around this time six years ago, Jesus says, “I forgive you.”
When you’re dealing with the dark effects of racist attitudes to you at work, Jesus shines the light and says, “I love you as you are.”
When there’s nothing but drama and disorder amongst your family, Jesus speaks to you and says, “We are at peace.”
When there’s financial struggles that leave you filled with anxiety, Jesus says, “I’ve got this” and drives the darkness away!
The light overcomes the darkness.
Even in the darkest of times.
There is no greater darkness in this life than death.
There is probably nothing that you will face in life greater than death itself.
Or that of a loved one.
That’s exactly what a man named Jairus was dealing with.
His daughter was sick.
And he had done everything he could think of to fix her.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the physician.
He got medicines and herbs and essential oils.
So, as the darkness of “I might lose her” settled in, he made his way to Jesus.
“Please sir! Help my daughter. Please sir! Do something. Heal her.”
But as Jesus and Jairus made their way to his house, what little life was left in her eyes…went out.
And when Jairus made his way to his daughter’s bedroom, he no longer saw her.
Only a cold, lifeless body.
As Jairus began to sob uncontrollably, clinging to his wife as if she could soak up the dark sadness that had overcome his soul.
Jesus walked past.
He approached the girl’s body.
He took her hand.
He looked her in her cold, dark eyes and said:
As Jairus watched, her eyes – he saw it:
She sat up.
Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus is the life that brings light even in the face of death.
Years later Jesus himself faced death on the cross.
He died, but then came back to life.
He is the light of the world.
He is the LIFE of the world.
And the life always overcomes death.
Again – consider that deeply –
In Jesus, you will conquer death.
You will conquer death in all its form.
That arthritis that reminding you of decaying body, Jesus will overcome that.
That pain in your heart from missing a dearly departed loved one, Jesus will overcome that.
That cancer that leads you to a hospital bed, Jesus will overcome that.
That child that you lost, Jesus will overcome that pain.
In fact, Jesus brings LIFE!
To you. To me. To all who believe.
III. What Now?
The only way to overcome the darkness is with Jesus. Make that your number one this Christmas season.
Make sure you tell your kids about Jesus.
Make sure you meditate on your Savior.
Make sure you’re in worship.
Make sure your singing Jesus songs.
If you don’t get all the lights up…
If you don’t get all the presents wrapped…
If you don’t get all the mistletoe hung…
Those things don’t make Christmas bright.
May He shine as a light against whatever darkness you are facing. Amen.
The petition we are looking at tonight is what we might call the Superhero petition. It’s just like the Bat signal. When someone is in need of help from Batman, the commissioner turns on this giant spotlight to let Batman know that his help is needed to stop evildoers. If you’re more into realism, then think of it as the 911 petition. It’s what we call to get the police to help when evil is happening.
Of course – the One we’re going to for help is more powerful than the Batmobile and has a better response time than the first responders to an emergency scene.
It’s God. God to whom we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
I. What is Evil?
The question we need to answer first is: “What is evil?” Of course, there are certain things that immediately pop into our minds when we hear the word “evil.” Things like terrorism. Things like sex trafficking. Things like kidnapping. Things like mass shootings, serial killers and drunk driving.
Earlier today in the UK a police officer was stabbed near Parliament. Believe it or not – CNN and Fox News are in agreement. It’s bad. It’s evil.
But then there are the things we consider evil that are a little closer to our hearts. The coworker who consistently bad mouths us to the boss. The friend who betrays us. The guy at the coffee shop who is just plain rude to us.
What do these smaller evils have in common with those bigger evils? They are sin. Sin done to us. That’s the first thing that we are asking in this petition. To deliver us from Sin Done to Us.
But right before the seventh request is a request that ties closely to it: Lead us Not Into Temptation.
The reality is that if you are asking for protection from some sin that your coworker might do to you – Don’t you think there are people asking for protection from some sin that you do to them?
The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
That includes you. That means you sin. That means you do evil.
What’s interesting about the sixth petition is that it recognizes this. “Lord, lead us not into temptation,” means, “Lord, deliver me from doing evil. Protect me from my struggle with pornography. Keep me from raising my voice at my spouse. Stop me from gossiping about my friends. Lord, protect me from…me.”
That’s the second things we ask in these petitions: To deliver us from Sin Done by Us.
But this sin – the sin you and the sin done to you – comes from somewhere. There’s a bigger bad guy. A source of evil.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
They aren’t the things of fiction. They aren’t myths. They are very, scarily real.
To put it simply – If we believe the Bible and we believe Jesus is our Savior and we believe angels are protecting us (the comforting things) – We also need to believe the scary things. That the devil is real. That evil angels are real. That long ago – the devil and the fallen angels rebelled against God and have been fighting against God’s plans ever since then.
God’s plan is to have you in heaven.
The devil’s goal is to have you in hell.
Look at how much the devil wants it: The devil is prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
He stalks. He prowls. He pounces. And if you’ve ever seen National Geographic, perhaps you know how brutally violent it is when the lion catches the antelope. That’s nothing compared to what happens when the devil catches ahold of you and me.
So, we pray a third thing – Deliver Us from The Evil One. Deliver us from the devil.
This all sounds scary. You might have gone into this night thinking, “It’s a pretty scary world.” But after recognizing the reality of the devil and his legions of demons – it only gets scarier. It’s like a horror movie come true.
But I’m not scared.
Not of the devil.
Not of his demons.
Not of evil.
Neither should you be.
Galatians 1:4 says this, “Jesus gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.”
Which sounds strange.
You might have expected Jesus to fight him one on one. To go fisticuffs with the devil. To shoot powerful lightning bolts from his hands.
But the Divine knockout punch was much different:
It started on a Thursday evening. Jesus had gotten done eating a special celebration supper with his closest friends. It was a night that was supposed to be filled with joy. A night that was supposed to be a great connection between friends.
But there was something about that night that was off. About halfway through the meal, Jesus looked up to his disciples. His expression was sorrowful. He explained, “One of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21) “One of you will be tempted by evil and fall. One of you will do evil to me.”
Later that night as they were in a beautiful garden praying – the mood shifting again. Torches and clanking of metal preceding a mob of people led by Judas – the betrayal – hell-bent on killing Jesus.
Jesus approaches them.
Jesus sizes them up.
Jesus offers them his hands for arrest.
He says, “This is your night. The night when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22:53)
And it was.
Evil arrested Jesus.
Evil mocked Jesus.
Evil slapped Jesus.
Evil condemned Jesus.
Evil killed Jesus.
But the night when darkness reigned – was only one night.
Three days later, Jesus came back to life.
Three days later, Jesus defeated sin.
Three days later, Jesus defeated death.
Three days later, Jesus defeated the devil.
Three days later, Jesus delivered us from evil.
And he has the same promise for us. One day – at just the right time – he will take us home to heaven – a place apart from this evil world. A place apart from sin. A place apart from the devil.
A place of peace.
A place of love.
A place with the victor of life itself – Jesus.
Lord, deliver us from evil now until you deliver us from evil then. Amen.
Ever notice how children’s books always paint Jesus with a smile?
He holds the kids. He smiles at the kids. He feeds them Gogurts. He’s always happy.
Jesus certainly is kind like that. There are plenty of occasions that is true. But is Jesus always like that? Is he just an ancient Mr. Rogers?
I don't know. You tell me:
No? Not even if Trolley the Train called him a bad name?
These are things that Jesus did. He isn't always so warm and fuzzy. He isn't a pushover.
Jesus is COMBATIVE.
I. Whose Side Does He Fight On?
Take our text for this morning from Mark 1 to see Jesus show his combative side:
Jesus went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-- the Holy One of God!"
Notice what it says in our text. Jesus was in the temple preaching. Things were going well. People were impressed by the authority with which he preached. When along comes a man who was possessed by an evil spirit!
What do we know about evil spirits? To put it simply: Evil spirits are evil. This isn’t just because they have the word “evil” in their name either. A few Scripture sections describe to us how evil spirits came to be:
Now look at the words of the evil spirit when he sees Jesus. He doesn’t give Jesus a high five. He doesn’t say, “Long time no see bud.” He doesn’t offer to buy Jesus a drink.
He’s terrified. He knows what it means to see Jesus – and Jesus is not one of his buds. Look at verse 24. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The evil spirit sees Jesus and assumes – a fight is coming. They are not on the same side.
So what does all of this mean when it comes to determining whose side Jesus is on? Think about it: If evil spirits are evil and Jesus is against evil spirit, then Jesus is good.
That’s exactly what the evil spirit calls him, “the Holy One of God!”
Now don’t misinterpret that phrase. I fear that the definition has been lost and changed in Modern Society. Kinda like how the Word “organic.” It used to mean “absolutely zero chemicals or pesticides of any kind in use.” Now it means “we paid a fee to tell people that we don’t’ use a lot of pesticides.” Holy, in God’s Word” means “zero bad.” It doesn’t mean “relatively good in comparison to others.” It doesn’t mean “a smidgens of evil.” It doesn’t mean “99.9% good.”
Holy means completely, utterly, 100%, certified, grade A good! That’s Jesus. Completely, utterly, 100%, certified, grade A good!
II. Which Side is More Powerful?
Jesus and this demon are on opposite sides then. It sounds kind of scary too. There’s bound to be a fight. Because this demon was powerful. Look at what it says about the man, “the man was possessed by an evil spirit.” Possession means that the spirit had taken over. He took over his body. He took over his intellect. This evil spirit was in complete control of this man.
Think of how scary that is. The man had no control over what he said. The man couldn’t feed himself when he wanted. In extreme Biblical cases, the demon would cause the man to harm himself without any provocation or convincing. If you’ve ever seen a demon possession movie, know this: the real thing is REAL and twice as scary. If you haven’t seen those movies, don’t go watching them. There’s no reason for you to be influenced by such powerfully evil stuff.
Demons are obviously more powerful than humans. Even in today’s society – when possession is thankfully less common – demons work to tempt us into sin after sin.
Jesus is more powerful than your average human. But as this demon possessed man approaches, one might expect a UFC like showdown. Punches. Swords. Divine headlocks!
Not so much.
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” (v.25)
The demon? He doesn’t have a snappy comeback. The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (v.26)
Did you see how amazing that was? Jesus didn’t pull out a sword. He didn’t shoot fireballs at the demon. He didn’t evil call on any of his disciples for help. He simply spoke and the demon was defeated. The crowd is impressed too. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (v.27)
This whole approach of mere words winning a fight probably won’t work later today at the Super Bowl. As impressive as Tom Brady can be, if all he did was step out on the field and say, “Leave you Seahawks,” I’m thinking it doesn’t’ have the same effect. Same thing in boxing. Imagine the great Muhammad Ali, who had a lot to say, stepping into a boxing ring, taking off his gloves, not throwing a punch, and simply saying, “KNOCKOUT!” It probably wouldn’t be long before he was on the floor.
This is the awesome power of Jesus. Jesus is all powerful. He is more powerful than any evil spirit. He defeats them with mere words.
What Does this Mean for you?
You might be thinking. This is nice. It sounds kinda like my son’s Spiderman comic book. Good beats evil. Great. But what does this have to do with my everyday life.
More than you think.
Here are three take home points to remember from this lesson:
1. What Jesus says is GOOD.
It is so very common in our American society to call Jesus out and label him evil because some of Jesus’ ideas don’t fit into today’s society. I was reading an article on the Huffington Post the other day. It was all about how to spot subliminal hate speech. The claim was that saying “homosexuality is sinful” is downright evil. But even using phrases such as “traditional marriage” is hateful. It implies that homosexual marriage isn’t real marriage. The article was purporting that such kind of speech not be tolerated and stopped because it was so evil.
Hmmm. Churches didn’t get this from themselves. Jesus himself was a proponent of marriage. He said, “For this reason a man leaves his father and mothers and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Mt. 19:5-6)
IS that hate speech? IS that evil?
This isn’t the only accusation against Jesus. The world will claim:
Do you see why this lesson is important? There’s no doubt that Jesus and modern society clash. That’s not in question. The big question is who is right? Who is on the side of good and who is on the side of evil?
Let’s talk elementary for a moment:
What sound does a cow make? A cow moos. It makes cow sounds. How about a dog? A dog barks. Simple enough. Dogs say dog things and cows say cow things. A cat cannot not cluck and a chicken cannot meow. That’s not who they are.
Jesus is Good. Holy. 100% all the time good. What he says is good. 100% all the time good.
Therefore, when it comes to the case of Jesus versus modern society who’s right? Who’s good and who’s evil? Scripture says this in 2 Corinthians 11:14 “Satan masquerades as an angel of light,” which means that sometimes things that look good, nice, and not very harmful – are terrible wrong and harmful.
Who do you trust? The ones who follow demons or the one who drives them out?
This leads to an important question. Why is there such a disconnect? Why do Jesus and society not mesh? Why are there passages in the Bible that you read and disagree with? Whose fault is it?
Remember: It can’t be Jesus. He is always good. Therefore, if you disagree…if you think differently…if you do differently,…if you say differently than Jesus, who’s wrong? (CLUE: It’s not Jesus.)
BOTTOM LINE: If You are Doing, Saying or Thinking Something that’s against what Jesus says – You’re Wrong! It can’t be Jesus. It must be you!
Do you realize the plight of our situation? Do you realize the sad state that our sin filled souls are in? Join me in pleading with the apostle Paul: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”
Hear Jesus’ call in these words: “Repent. Turn from evil. Turn back to God.”
3. Jesus is Your Help against Evil.
Evil is the very reason Jesus came to earth in the first place. He came down to earth to eradicate the world of the evil that the devil had brought into it back at the garden of Eden. There wasn’t a day of Jesus’ life that there wasn’t a battle. Demons, temptations, and the devil were surrounding him. But Jesus never fell. He never lost. He was undefeated in every temptation battle he entered. He’s the undisputed champion of eternity.
Even when it looked like he lost as he hung on the cross, things weren’t as they seemed. On that cross, Jesus won the final victory. He defeated the devil. He crushed evil. Three days later, he demolished death.
Then, with the same powerful voice that he used to run the demon out of the temple, Jesus speaks: “You are forgiven. You are my brother. You are a soldier in the army of the LORD! Come and fight with me.”
So…fight! Fight evil. Fight temptation. Fight your demons.
Thankfully demons aren’t manifesting like they did back at Jesus’ time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t demons you have to face. Alcohol. Drug addiction. Pornography. Sexual temptation with your girlfriend. Going too far with your boyfriend. Hatred and anger all over social media. The temptation to be cool and abandon God.
There’s so many temptation demons around it’s scary!
But you aren’t alone. Jesus – the One who hates evil and who is vehemently stronger than it – is with you. Call on him. Pray for his blessing. Use his Word to banish temptation. Call on a Christian friend for support. Head to church to strengthen your spiritual fighting muscles.
And look forward to The Day—the day when all this fighting is over, the day when weary spiritual soldiers rest their feet, the day where you stop fighting, the day when God takes you home to be with Him and celebrate his Gospel victory party. Amen.
Let's talk a bit about Christmas Footwear. There are all kinds of options. There's the green elf shoes that curl at the end with the little jingle bell attached to the tip. There's a pair of fuzzy, candy cane striped socks that goes up to your knees. If you are a kid getting ready for a Christmas program or play, you might get a pair of shiny new black shoes.
Or maybe you just get Frozen shoes. Really. Anything Frozen will do.
The kind of footwear you have for Christmas will leave an impression on all the people you meet.
But it's about more than just what you wear on your feet. It's also about what kind of message your feet bring to people. And th truth is that sometimes, yes, even during Christmas, feet bring bad news.
Lots of bad news.
There’s a lot of bad news in this world.The sad thing is that the places people go for some good news --just give them more bad news:
Science, which is supposed to be so predictable, logical ,and rationally help us wrap our minds around our existence says this, “There is no God! God is a nothing! You are nothing more than a bag of bones that accidentally got created, lives a miserable life making other people miserable with your bad choice, only to one day be buried under the ground – rotting, lonely, and forgotten.”
A counselor says, “You feel bad. That’s part of who you are. You need to try better. You need to feel better. You need to get past this on your own. You need a pill for this and a prescription for that. You’re broken. You’re unfixable."
A church says, “You have sinned, you need to do better. You need to win God back. You need to rededicate yourself this New Year and you will eventually earn yourself God’s favor. And if you don’t, if you sin and fail, you’ll be worse off than you were before.”
That's bad news too.
Even you. You might be negative about Christmas. You might remind people "There's presents to wrap, lights to hang, and cookies to make." You give people the impression that if they don't do these things, they have failed this Christmas.
That's bad news.
We need some good news.
For the Israelites in 500 B.C., there was mostly bad news. Because of their sins, God had handed the Israelites over to the Babylonian army. Their cities were destroyed, their way of life uprooted, some were taken into captivity, others were dispersed throughout the Middle East.
70 years. For 70 years these Israelites were taken into captivity. 70 years without their homeland. 70 years without their government. 70 years without the freedom to worship their God in peace. 70 years separated from family. 70 years spending the holidays away from their homes. 70 years unable to celebrate festivals as they had before. 70 years of bad news.
I imagine they were reminded of this often. The architecture of the local schools screamed Babylonia. The dress of the local people reminded them – you are not the dominate culture anymore. The rules, laws, and culture of the land said your way of living is second class to our way of living.
Just imagine the captive Israelite headed to the bar for a drink after work and running into a group of loudmouthed Babylonian soldiers, “You people are so worthless. You were such wimps when we overtook your land. How the mighty have fallen?”
“Speaking of mighty? What about this Almighty God of yours? How Almighty can he really be if he can’t defeat our great king? How powerful can he be if he can’t even provide his people their own country? King of the heavens and the earth? HA! He should be called the king of bread crumbs and a few copper coins. Your God is a NOTHING!”
Maybe. Maybe he was nothing. Or maybe he was still angry. After all they had sinned. The words of the prophets echoed in their minds. They had been warned. “Stop sinning or the Lord himself will abandon you.”
They hadn’t listened. They hadn’t stopped sinning. They hadn’t followed through on their promises to God. But God had followed through on his threats to them.
There was a lot of bad news for these Israelites.
They needed good news.
Perhaps the feet were quiet.
Slowly, quietly walking over to a vase. Reaching inside. Pulling out a scroll. Hurriedly rushing to the front door. Watching out for Babylonians. Stopping quietly at the front door. Waiting for it to open.
Hopping inside. Scurrying to the table. Sitting. Opening the scroll. Reading out loud.
These feet brought “Good news.”
Take a look at an example of that good news that an Israelite father might have read his family in verse 6-9 of chapter 52. "Now therefore what am I doing here," says the Lord, "seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl," says the Lord, "and continually, all day long, my name is despised.” Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Ah! Good news. Did you hear it? It was for the Israelites to be sure, but it is also for you. It’s for your neighbors. It’s for your friends. It’s for your family. It’s for your boss, your coworkers, and even that guy who give your morning coffee with a smile at Starbucks. This is the very good news that your feet have to share with the world this Christmas. It’s the good news you and I have to share with the people of North Raleigh.
Listen and reflect on this good news:
1. Peace with God.
As Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces peace!” For the Israelite it meant that God was waiting for them to return. As they repented, he awaited with an announcement of peace and the good news of sins forgiven. They may have been captives, but they were no longer abandoned. God was at peace with them.
This is the same news that is written in Christmas light displays throughout the triangle. It’s the news that the words of Silent Night speak of. It’s the peace that the you read of as you tell your children what the angels sang on that first Christmas night.
To be fair – this is not just "sitting by the fire, smelling Christmas potpourri, and listening to the Easy Listening Christmas Piano Music station on Pandora" – type of peace.
It’s greater than that.
This is a peace the angels sang on the first Christmas. It’s the peace angels – who are messengers of God – announced to the world. It’s the peace that God has sent a Savior and because of Him – God’s anger against us is gone! Through faith in Him, we are at divine peace with our Savior!
Think of this good news you get to tell your friends. Because of Jesus, their sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus, they are at peace with God. Because of Jesus, they can release themselves from guilt. Because of Jesus, they can have real, everlasting, peace this Christmas.
2. Good Tidings of Joy.
Literally this means good news. The good news of Christmas is that God came to save us.
It isn’t that you might get some cool presents. It isn’t that there’s 50% off sale at Macy’s. It isn’t that you get a holiday bonus. It isn’t that family is coming to visit. It isn’t that there’s one more bon bon left in the fridge.
The good news of Christmas is that your Savior came! He became a human being. He was born of a virgin. He grew up a human being. He was tempted as a human being, but unlike any other human being he was without sin. He died like a human being—a criminal human being though he had done nothing criminal.
But then unlike any other human being ever, Jesus brought himself back from the dead. He returned to life on the third day as he had promised! He promises that through faith in him you will do the same!
This is the good news of Christmas. It’s the good news that you know well. It’s the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, and death that you get to share with your children, your spouse, your parents, even a friend who has never heard the story of Jesus ever before.
3. Salvation from Sin, Death, and the Devil.
The good news grows from there. Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces salvation!” Salvation means “the good news of being saved.”
But what kind of salvation? For the Israelite captives, the good news was that they would be saved from their captivity. They would return to Jerusalem. They would return to their lives.
For those in your world? You too can share salvation with them. Salvation from their captors.
Salvation from sin. It’s consequences no longer hold us down and its power no longer rules over us. In Jesus’ name, the addict defeats his addiction, the alcoholic defeats her alcoholism, the begrudged husband restores his marriage, the depressed breaks free and feels joy.
Salvation from evil. God defeated the devil on the cross. How then can Christmas scrooges ruin Christmas? Tell that to your friend. How can any evil ruin Christmas? God has ruins evil already!
There is salvation over death! Tell your friends and family that. Jesus’ birth means that we too will be born into a new life. An eternal life. Tell them it means more than just sadness, tears, a funeral, and a bag of dirt. Tell them Jesus’ birth means his life and his resurrection to life – and eternal life to all who believe!
4. God Reigns.
What an incredible message this was for the Israelites in captivity to hear. Their captors continued to chant at them, “We reign. Not you and not your God. We are in control of you and all your do.” But the good news is that God still reigned. He had not forgotten them. He was still in control. He would watch over them in captivity and restore them to Jerusalem at the proper time.
This is the same message of good news that you get to share this Christmas. To remind others that God reigns. Not addiction. Not sin. Not the devil. Not hatred. Not evil. Not science. Not racism. Not hatred. Not atheists. Not doubts. Not fears. Not sadness. Not loneliness.
God reigns. The same loving God who restored peace with you, the same loving God who came to earth for you, the same loving God who won salvation for you, is the God who is in control on high. He reigns!
This is good news. This is great news. This is incredible news!
Think of how important that is for the addict who thinks his addiction rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the financial unstable who thinks money rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the sick who thinks the disease rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the guilty who thinks that the one terrible sin they did one time rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the atheist who think that chance and an unloving nothingness rules to hear.
Good news is super important to tell. Clothe yourself with it this Christmas!
Traditionally at my house Christmas morning gifts can be kind of funny. Gag gifts, if you will. One year I opened my stocking to find that my mother had stuffed it with a pink plastic egg looking thing. I didn’t have any idea what it was. My mom informed me it was a foot scrubber. It helped to keep your feet good looking and manicured as I was getting closer to being married to Julianna.
I thought, "Maybe I’ll just keep my socks on."
You too need to make sure your feet are beautiful this Christmas. But you don’t need to see a pedicurist or buy some fancy shoes. You simply need to TELL the Good News about Jesus.
· As you wear a pair of tennis shoes handing out Christmas service invitations to all of your neighborhood houses.
· As you wear your business shoes, explaining to your coworkers the true meaning of Christmas.
· As you lounge around the house in Crocs, telling your family the good news of Jesus that they won’t want to miss out on at church.
· As you wear your funny Looney Tunes slippers and quietly sing Christmas Carols of Jesus’ birth with your children.
This Christmas. Make your feet beautiful. Make sure your feet travel with the good news of the Savior wherever you go.
The other day my wife's grandfather became very ill. He was in hospice and on his last bed. As my wife called him, she heard rasping and heavy breathing coming from the other end of the phone.
What do you say? I'm sorry I wasn't there? I'm sorry you are sick? I hope it isn't painful. Glad you had a good life!
Not to embarrass her, but my wife's words were simple:
"Grandpa, I love you. Jesus loves you."
After he had passed, grandma spoke to us and said that he had been having such a hard time during his lasts moments on this earth, but when he spoke to Julianna--when he heard what she had to say-- he smiled.
You too. Tell the good news of Jesus this Christmas. Amen.
Have you heard of the new fad that's sweeping teens across the nation? It's called: Knockout. No it doesn't have anything to do with bowling pins nor does it have anything to do with dressing like you're going to the Prom.
Knockout works like this. You get a camera phone. You started recording. You focus on an innocent bystander walking on the side walk. Then, you hold the camera steady as your friend bursts on screen. You record as he swings his fist with all the momentum he can. You cringe as it connects with that pedestrian's face. Then, you reconvene. Laughing hysterically and awarding points for how 'knocked out' the person is who got hit. Hilarious, right?
These are the times we live in. Times when we have to watch our surroundings at the mall. Times where we are on alert at the movie theater. Times when preschools issues codes for parents to enter and pick up the children.
There has never been a more appropriate time to pray the final petition of the Lord's Prayer over and over again: Deliver Us From Evil!
In our lesson for today, I'm thrilled to tell you that God our Lord will do just that!!! Open up to Romans 3:19.
I. God Reacts to Evil.
“Now we know that whatever he law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”
Now we might not always believe that God is going to do anything about evil. We might think he's too busy playing a game of Divine Go Fish with the angels in heaven in order to remember to exact vengeance against evil down on earth.
Think about what we see on earth: Groups continually plant bombs and then shoot television interviews in which they ridicule the men and women who are trying to stop them. Sadistic men kidnap and tie women up for years – becoming nonchalant and cocky – “No one will ever catch me!” Blog post after blog post mocking God and scoffing at the very thought that he could ever hold them accountable.
These people think they are getting away with it and we might feel like they are getting away with it.
But listen to the words from Romans 3 again—The whole world will be held accountable to God. Will be. This is future fact. It's a most definite truth. It doesn't say, “Might be,” or “could possibly be,” but “will be.'
When that happens, it won't be like what you see on the People's Court. There won't be any backtalk. There won't be any preconceived perceptions clouding God's judgment. There won't be sappy argument from picketers or internet bloggers that would cause God to sway his decision.
Because God is God. God has the final say. God doesn't forget. God doesn't miss a wrong. God always sees. God always knows. God always exacts justice! And justice is that he declare all evildoers to be unrighteous. Not good. Evil.
Then, He will give them their their punishment. It won't be community service. Not time served. A hefty fine won't be acceptable nor will 40 years at Guatanamo Bay or life in Alcatraz.
Those punishments are way more humane than what God has in mind for evil.
I'll allow Jesus himself to tell us about it. In Matthew 13:41 “God's angels will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
II. The Worst Kind of Evil
There are a lot of different evildoers in this world. Sometimes, we think we can spot them: tattoos, gruff looking facial hair, a turban. In fact, when you see someone who matches that description you might walk down on the other side of the road or quickly lock your car doors.
But what about those people who don't look evil and do evil anyway? The next door neighbor for 20 years? The grade school principal? The artistic teenager?
The worst kind of evil is the evil that you don't expect.
Look back at Paul's words again. You'll see an evil that you might not be expected. “Now we know that whatever he law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Who is held accountable in that passage? Could you read it again?
The whole world.
Do you ever find yourselves divorcing yourself from that phrase? As if, it is talking about terrorists, murderers, and the neighbor who listens a little too heavy to his heavy metal, but...not you.
Well, let's do a quick experiment. Lift up your feet. Then, slam your foot to the ground. Did you feel anything? Did you hear a noise? Do you want to know what that was that your feet slammed into?
You are in this world and you too will be held accountable to God . Look at his judgment in verse 20, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. Rather through the law we become conscious of sin--”
Sin refers to bad things. The opposite of Good. The opposite of God.
Now, maybe you're screaming: “Yeah, right! I'm not that bad. I'm not evil! How can God call me that? There must be some kind of mistake.”
Remember: the worst kind of evil is the evil that you can't identify as evil. Consequently, if you were evil, do you think you'd identify yourself as evil? Or would you blatantly refuse to listen to God? Ignore God? Refuse to accept the truth.
Kinda like the defendants on The People's Court.
The truth is God will declare no one righteous because no one is righteous! That means you. That means me. We all deserve divine punishment for our evil. Eternal death in hell.
III. How God Saves Us from Evil
It's very similar to being on death row.
Haunted by what you had done you sit, dehydrated from tears, in a quiet, dull jail cell. Without any tears left to shed, you numbingly, sullenly sit on the edge of your prison bed.
You know what you did.
You know what you deserve.
You close your eyes to hide the fear.
Then, you hear a commotion. You look up. The cell gate rolls open. Your attorney walks in. He's gleaming.
“There's a way,” he says, “There's a way out! They're willing to drop the charge on you. You won't die! You can live and you're free.”
I got news for you. That's exactly what happened. Your attorney, Jesus Christ, has great news for you.
Listen to God's awesome plan for saving you from evil. All evil. Even the evil within yourself!
Romans 3:20 – Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Righteousness is what we need to get past the eternal sentence of punishment. Righteousness means that there is no evil--only "right"--ness.
How can evil people like us become righteous?
Think of Winnie the Pooh. He loves loves honey. However, Winnie the Pooh was also a bear. Bears can't make honey. Honey bees can. So, no matter, how hard Pooh Bear tried, he couldn't make honey! He had to get it from the bees.
That's like us. We can't produce any righteousness on our own. So, where do we find the righteousness to be saved from the evil within ourselves? From the only one who can produce righteousness: God himself!
Immediately, you might be thinking: "Let's talk cost. What will God demand of us in order to get his righteousness?"
Remember what we just learned! We are humans. We are sinners. We have evil within us. Therefore, we can't give God anything good in order to earn salvation. Paul says “There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!
So God gives it to us. Free.
He gives it to you. Free.
All are justified freely by his grace. That's exactly what grace means. Free gift.
Of couse, we shouldn't get the impression that no one paid for this righteousness from God. Take a look at the next part.“All are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
What's redemption? It's the buy back price.
In a kidnapping, there might be a ransom note. A demand that the parents pay a couple million dollars and then, they get their child back.
Evil took hold of us. It threatens to take us to hell. It demands a ransom of God. The ransom? Give up your perfect child in exchange for your evil children.
God didn't even blink.
Verse 24, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
What's atonement? Break the phrase apart to remember it easily. “At One Ment.” Meaning, we are no longer God's enemies because of our evil deeds, but we are at one with God. We are at peace. Jesus saved us from our own evil!
Now, you might think: “That doesn't seem very just! Is God just deciding to let me – and countless other believers get away with sin?”
Not at all. Look at verse 25 again: God did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just...
How did God demonstrate his justice by sacrificing Jesus on the cross? Because on the cross, evil got what it deserved! The hellfire, angry wrath of a God who hates sin raged against sin—our sin! On the cross, our evil deeds were punished in the person of the innocent, completely righteouss Son of God.
But God's whole plan was not simply about punishing evil. It's not just about vengeance. It's about you.
God is both just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Justifies means: “Declares not guilty.” “Declares not evil.” That's exactly what God has declared you because of Jesus!
Here's our conclusion then: God will deliver from evil.
He does it in this life. He is the one who protects us in the hood. He is the one who keeps us safe from terrorists. He is the one who commands his angels to guard and protect you from all evil.
And one day, he will bring you to heaven. A place where there is no evil! There aren't any bombs. No nuclear holocaust. No shootings. No walking down on one side of the street while watching your back because you don't know who's gonna get you. There is no evil in heaven.
My grandpa Kiecker was a small town farmer. There's some scary stuff on a small country farm. Fights amongst the hired help -- machinery accidents -- wolves attacking the chickens.
Grandpa no longer has to deal with any of those frightening things. Now he is at home in heaven. Now he is in the loving arms of his God, Jesus Christ -- apart from all evil.
Maybe, you have a Grandpa Kiecker too. Maybe you have a loved one who has gone into heaven. Give thanks to God for that loved one. Give thanks to God for delivering them from evil. Continue to pray that God does the same for you -- even as he already has on the cross.
Deliver us from evil Lord. Deliver us from evil. Amen.