I was in Arizona this past week for a wedding and then we had a chance to do some sight-seeing in Sedona, AZ. Ever been there? There are these beautiful Red Rock mountains that overlook the city. It’s absolutely gorgeous. (I put a picture up on the PowerPoint, just to prove to you that I was actually there…not just playing hooky at home).
But we didn’t just hang out at the mountains. We also had a chance to shop the city. And while we were doing so, I noticed a sign on one of the restaurants: It said: Greatest view in Sedona!
And at first, I was pretty excited! But over time, I noticed the same sign on the next restaurant. And the next bar. And the next pub. In fact, all of the places on that strip had very similar signs. Such that, my reaction went from: “Look at that. It’s got a view. It’s the best place in town,” to “Look at that. It’s got a view. Like every place in town.”
Religious messages can be kind of like that.
They all seem to be about the same.
Do these things to be saved.
Do those things to be saved.
Today we want to look at the message of Jesus and we will see three ways in which it is entirely different than any other religious message that you’ll ever hear. Reasons that the message of Jesus is a new kind of message. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson starts in a small room with the doors locked.
Bolted shut; bar latched; a chair in front of the door…locked.
The disciples are afraid.
They have just seen Jesus…murdered (crucified).
How much longer until the soldiers did the same thing to them?
How much longer until the leaders demanded their own executions?
How much longer until they too were killed?
Suddenly, a knock at the door.
Andrew put his finger to his lips – and motioned for Philip to look out the window.
Simon moved slowly. He lifted up the curtain. He peered out the window and smiled. “We know them.”
They unbolted the bolt.
Unlocked the lock.
Moved the chair out of the way and let in a few of their friends.
“We saw him. We saw him. Jesus is alive! We saw him. He not dead. He’s alive.”
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“We thought that was amazing enough, but then when we started come back…we saw Him. Jesus. He’s alive!”
As the women kept talking, the disciples’ expressions went from frightened to pitying.
These poor delusional women. They were wrong. They were hallucinating. They were thinking they saw something that could never be.
As James had them both sit down with some tea, another knock. It was Peter and John. They too had been to the tomb. And…they could confirm: the women were right. At least partly. The stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there.
That was strange. Something must have happened…but…
Another knock. This time it was Cleopas and his friend. He had said they were going on holiday, but. They had seen him. On their way, they had talked to him. He had comforted them. Then, he showed them! He was alive!
At this point, the quiet little room was a buzz with noise.
Excitement. Mystery. Questions.
What was going on?
What do you think happened?
Could it be true?
In fact, everyone was so distracted that they did not hear the next guest enter the room.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (v.37)
And the disciples…Have anything but peace!?!
Is that a ghost?
Is he here to get us?
Is he going to begin haunting me for abandoning him? I knew this would happen.
But Jesus notices the tension, so he continues. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples look at each other. Touch him? Touch the ghost? But…that’s impossible. They’re spirits.
Finally, Peter volunteers his brother Andrew…and pushes him forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
But just to confirm. “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
Nathanael ran over to the table. He grabbed the piece of bread that fish sandwich that he had been gnawing on nervously and took it to Jesus. He half expected it to fall to the floor.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It didn’t fall to the floor.
It went down his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
Something beyond visual proof.
Something beyond physical proof.
Proof that had been around for centuries:
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
And I did.
And I am.
Just as it was written.
And now…the next part that is written. It involves you. It involves you and this new kind of message.
Preach the message of forgiveness of sins to all nations. (v.46)
II. A NEW Message
This is the message of Jesus. It comes not via the mailman, not via email, not via text message, but from the lips of a man who had died three days earlier.
But it’s not just the delivery that’s unique. The message itself is also very distinct. It is a message unlike any other religious message in history. Here are a few things about Jesus’ message than are unlike any other.
1. Real Life After Death
The first difference has to do with Jesus’ approach to death. To be fair, other religions had tackled the topic before, but they tended to talk in platitude. They tended to talk about spiritual afterlife or just general life in the sense that “your spirit lives on.”
Have you seen the movie Coco yet? It’s the newest Pixar film and like most Pixar films it’s fun for kids and adults. Although – the topic is a bit grimmer. It takes place on the Dia de Muerta or the Day of the Dead. In the movie, the young hero enters the city of the dead and visits all of his dead relatives (as seen by all the skeleton characters here.) The young man learns that it is important to remember those who die, to keep their memory alive or else, they literally fade away into oblivion. He goes back to the land of the living with renewed focus on remembering his ancestors.
Now the movie certainly underscores the importance of making relationships in this life and remembering the good things about people who have passed away. That’s great.
But the theology of life after death is incorrect.
If life after death simply means that people will remember you, in all honestly, that’s not that encouraging.
Because those are just memories.
The people are still dead.
But with Jesus? Alive means alive.
He stood before the disciples in real flesh.
Real blood cells.
Real hair follicles.
And his promise to all who believe in him in this: Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn. 13)
Meaning there is life after death.
There is real, life after death.
It means we have to pay attention.
It means this stuff is important.
It means we really need to be concerned about where we will be when that happens.
2. The Messiah Has Come (and Won)
The second thing that makes this message different has to do with the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, anointing was very common. The people would anoint the heads of their leaders with oil. They would anoint the heads of kings, priests, and prophet.
But throughout the Old Testament there are references to “THE Anointed One.” The Messiah. This One would be anointed to save us from sin, death and hell.
And for millennia, whenever things looked bleak…
Whenever things looked sad…
Whenever things looked abysmal…
The Old Testament Israelites would calm one another with this promise:
“The Messiah is coming.”
But when things looked bleak to the disciples…
When they looked sad…
When they looked abysmal.
Jesus said something a bit different: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
Do you see it?
Instead of “the Messiah will come,” Jesus said, “The Messiah already came (and Won).”
That’s an important message. Because too often in this life – as 21st centurion Raleighians – we keep thinking that the Messiah will come.
If only I get this job, I’ll be saved.
If only I get more money, I’ll be saved.
If only this health product works…
If only this person gets elected…
If only I keep the commandments better…
If only I find the right person…
If only I try a bit harder…I’ll be saved.
But those things aren’t your Messiah.
Your Messiah already came.
And he won.
3. Repentance for Forgiveness
This leads to the final difference in Jesus’ message: Forgiveness.
At the time of Jesus, that’s exactly what the Pharisees taught that forgiveness came from what you did --- aka what they did.
Wear religious jewelry for forgiveness.
Cut your beards at regulation length for forgiveness.
Give 1/10th of your flour to God.
Only take 1000 steps on any Saturday.
And never, ever, ever cook a vegetable meal in a pot that previously housed a meat meal for forgiveness.
But Jesus doesn’t preach that.
He preached: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.45)
Repentance means to do a 180 degree turn.
It means to turn from sin; to turn to God.
To turn from unbelief; to turn to Jesus.
In short, it means believe.
Believe you are sinner.
Believe that you need a Savior.
Believe that you have a Savior in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus for forgiveness and you will have forgiveness.
This is drastically different from any other religious message back then.
And drastically different from any religious message now.
It’s no longer about what you NEED to do for God.
But what Jesus already has done for you.
III. What Now?
This. Is. Our. Message.
We are to share this message that there is life after death, that Jesus is the Messiah who came and brings forgiveness to all who believe in him.
This is our message.
So, what now? Two things:
1. Don’t Change the Teaching
Ever played Telephone? You come up with a phrase, you whisper it into a friend’s ear. Then, they whisper it to the next person. And so on and so forth. Eventually, the message gets to the end of the semi-circle. The last person reveals the message and almost always it is incorrect. Whether it’s accidently or purposefully, the message has been changed. It started out with “My house is the shape of a square” and changed to “My pastor doesn’t have a lot of hair.”
Sometimes that happens with God’s Message. Sometimes we feel like we need it to better.
Maybe we have a friend who hasn’t lived a very good life or a coworker who has been anti God for years. And finally, they reach out to us.
Their marriage blows up in their face.
They receive a dire diagnosis.
They are feeling guilty.
And they ask you for help.
And your response is: “Well…you’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to try harder. I imagine if you turn your life around, then God might possibly forgive you.”
No. The message has been lost in translation.
Jesus’ message is about grace.
It’s about Him being the Messiah.
It’s about Him accomplishing our salvation.
It’s about forgiveness being totally based on Him.
Teach that message! Not your own.
2. Teach It to ALL Nations
Because that’s where Jesus wanted the message to go. “To all nations.”
Not to the people who look like you.
Not to the people who act like you.
Not to the people who have the same culture as you.
To all nations.
Jesus preached not just to the Pharisees.
He preached not just to the religious leaders.
He preached to the prostitutes.
He preached to the drunkards.
He preached to the homeless.
He preached to the terminally ill.
He preached to the people that no one else thought even deserved a religious message.
Jesus gave them the most incredible message of all time – one that changes life.
One that we are to use to change lives.
The other day I was talking with a friend who was doing Bible study with me. At once point of the Bible study, she revealed her background. She said that she grew up in a “Christian” church. One that taught about Jesus. One that taught about Christianity. One that taught the Bible. One that had crosses all over the church.
But…she didn’t know of forgiveness.
She didn’t know this NEW Message of complete forgiveness.
She knew of how she failed.
She knew of how she had to do better.
She knew of how God threatened wrath if she didn’t do better.
But then…then she heard something different.
She heard of God’s grace.
She heard of her Savior who already came.
She heard of the very real eternal life won by Jesus.
And it transformed her.
Now? No other message will do.
No other message but the incredible NEW message of Jesus. Amen.
Today we are beginning a 3-part sermon series on Isaiah’s Christmas prophecies. The goal is to take a break from the gift wrapping, the shopping, the wreath making, the tree decorating, cookie baking, cookie eating, and Netflix Christmas Special watching…to meditate on the peace-giving truth that God’s original Christmas gift for us – Jesus – was a gift he had planned for centuries before it ever happened.
Before we dig in with our first prophecy, join me in 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. The Reason for Messiah
All of these prophecies that we will looking at are a special breed of prophecy. Something called Messianic Prophecies. That means that these prophecies aren’t prophecies about what you’ll get for Christmas, who the Bowl Selection committee will put in which bowl game, or how Stranger Things will end, but they are prophecies about who the Messiah will be.
Which leads to the question: Who or what is the Messiah? And why do I care?
In the very first book of the Bible, the origins of the universe are explained by God’s himself. In it, a wonderful earth is described.
An earth without pain, an earth without sadness, an earth without hangnails, car exhaust or holes in the Ozone layer.
An earth without broken toys the day after you give kids gifts at Christmas, Starbucks cards that run a zero balance.
An earth without spoiled eggnog in the back of the fridge.
An earth without cancer, racism or mass shootings at a Jason Aldean concert.
An earth without error.
An earth without sin.
An earth of perfection.
And part of that perfection involves two human beings – Adam and Eve.
And part of that perfection involves granting these human beings the ability to show love to their Creator by not eating from the tree in the middle of the garden.
And Adam and Eve listen…
They have fun peeling and eating bananas.
They enjoy seeing how can get to the end of a carrot first.
They play the game where they toss soybeans into each other’s mouths.
Until one day.
A talking snake come by.
And he says, Did God really say you can’t eat from the tree? He’s lying. You won’t die. You’ll just become like him. He’s just jealous of you. Trust me. The fruit will be good.
And Eve looks at the snake.
And Eve looks at Adam.
And Adam says:
I don’t know Eve. On the one hand, we could listen to God, the one who created us and gave us this wonderful, painless, sinless, deathless world to exist in.
On the other hand…it’s a talking snake.
And they make their choice.
And it isn’t God.
And in making that choice, everything God warned them about happens.
The world changes from a place without…to a place with.
A place with pain.
A place with sadness.
A place with sin and discord and racism and terrorism and evil and death.
But when God goes to find Adam and Eve – he doesn’t yell at them. He doesn’t punish them. Not at first.
First, he offers words of hope: Devil, I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your offspring and hers. One of them, will cross your head and you will strike his heel.
This is the Messiah.
This is the Anointed One.
This is the one who will beat Satan. In fact, that’s our definition of Messiah. Write it down: Messiah is one who would crush Satan’s head and his evil work.
The Messiah is the Savior.
II. The Importance of Getting It Right
Therefore, the Messiah is really, really important. It would be a shame to identify him incorrectly.
I come from a family of four kids and we were blessed to have a good number of presents under the tree. But sometimes – be it because it’s easier or be it because it’s cute – each one of the kids would have a gift that was exactly the same size. In other words, my mom got the kids each a very similar present.
Unfortunately, because my mom had to wrap so many gifts she didn’t always identify them correctly.
For instance: One year my younger sister opened her “set of four” present to reveal a Lion from the Wizard of Oz ornament. I immediately got pretty excited. The Lion was her favorite character and mine was the Scarecrow. I loved him a lot. We watched a lot of Wizard of Oz and I had learned all of his movements during the “If I only had a brain” song. Hopefully that wasn’t because we had a lot in common.
So, I was expecting the Scarecrow. Only to get to my same shaped box, rip the wrappings to shreds to reveal: Glinda the Good Witch? Wrong present.
That’s why mom immediately began using differently wrapping paper for different kids with name tags written in bold ink on them. Never again would a present get a mistaken identity.
God thought similarly. With much grander and more eternal consequences.
Because if anyone gets the Messiah wrong…
If they put their trust in someone who doesn’t have the ability to crush Satan, sin and death…
If we get got the Messiah wrong, then there is no salvation.
There is only a yielding to evil and death…The Bible calls that hell.
Because the stakes were so eternally high God provided us with something called the Messianic Prophecy. A prophecy is a word from God about the future. Messianic prophecy is the word from God about the future messiah. There are no shortage of these prophecies. Scholars agree that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament.
Since we are preparing for Christmas, let’s look at a few that deal specifically with his birth.
(1) Prophecy of Lineage
The first prophecy was spoken by God to a guy named King David around 1000 B.C. God said this to David “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons…and I will establish his throne forever.” (1 Chr. 17:11-12) Granted. David had a son named Solomon. Solomon became king. But Solomon did not reign…forever. That’s a reign tenure that’s reserved only from the Messiah.
And Solomon died, so it wasn’t him.
This teaches our first important truth about the Messiah. He would be a descendant of David. Somewhere on David’s family tree…somewhere below him…eventually the Messiah would come.
Which is helpful, because it means that if someone claims to be the Messiah but isn’t of David’s bloodline, he isn’t the Messiah.
This effectively rules me out.
Actually, anyone not Jewish.
(2) Prophecy of Birthplace
But it’s only so helpful. Because David had 19 sons. Meaning there were 19 possible routes for the Messiah to come from in just that one generation. Fast forward three generations and it would have quadrupled! A couple hundred years and the possibilities of hundreds of thousands!
So…another prophecy to help trim it down. But you Bethlehem…though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)
Again – ruler of Israel “origins of old from ancient times…” This is talking about the Messiah.
Micah is a prophet a decent amount of time after David. So, his new prophecy tells us – it isn’t anyone who lived before Micah. In addition, it trims it down even farther for us. The Messiah will not only be of David’s line, but he will live in Bethlehem. If a person is of David, but moved far away from Bethlehem – maybe a summer abroad in Ancient Rome, it won’t be him. Or if a woman moved away to college: “Israel State in Jerusalem,” got married and had a child there, her son would NOT be the Messiah.
Again, this is helpful. Bethlehem isn’t a huge town.
But still, over the generations, there’s thousands of options.
(3) Prophecy of the Virgin Birth
Enter the prophet Isaiah. God uses him to reveal a prophecy that really narrows down our search for the Messiah: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Nowadays science is pretty amazing. If a family is unable to have a child, there are some science ways to make it happen. They just take the two parts that are necessary, combine them in a test tube and…a baby! It’s not fool proof, but it works. Ethics aside – the reality is that a baby can happen for a single mom from using a donor in this way.
But that technology wasn’t around at the time of Isaiah.
It wasn’t around until the last 50 years.
And even so - you still need the two parts – the word virgin implies only egg.
This means three very important things about Isaiah’s prophecies:
Every king of Israel had a mom and dad.
Every President had a biological mom and dad.
Every Olympian has had a biological mom and dad.
Even Coach K has a biological mom and dad.
Everyone in human history has a biological mom and dad.
III. The Unmistakable Fulfillment
About 600 years after the prophet Isaiah makes his prophecy, there is this one girl. She’s from the line of David. She’s about 16-17 years old. She’s engaged to be married.
And she can’t wait for the wedding. She’s been planning with her mom and dad to make sure there are the right kind of flowers, to make sure they order the right kind of wine, to make sure that they have the chicken cordon bleu or roast duck option. She’s excited to be a princess. She’s excited to start a family.
As she’s hanging her father’s laundry out to dry, she grabs one of his white sheets and spins.
She places it behind her head and imagines her train as she walks in to her wedding day.
She imagines her wedding night as she walks in to her husband’s room to be intimate with for the very first time.
And she’s imagining.
And suddenly…a voice.
She’s startled. Did someone see her dancing?
It repeats: Mary!
And as it repeats, a light starts to grow before her eyes. It’s not the sun – the sun doesn’t do that – not so quickly. She falls to the grounds and recognizes the figure of a man within the light. She had heard about these – messengers of God.
She falls to the grounds.
Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. (Luke 1:30-33)
And Mary is humbled.
And Mary is amazed.
And Mary is…confused.
How will this be? I am a virgin. I…haven’t done what’s necessary to have a baby.
The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (v. 35)
Aka. It will be a miracle.
Then, the angel leaves.
Mary is a bit nervous.
For a while, she wonders if it’s a dream. She hopes it’s a dream – she doesn’t want to lose Joseph and she doesn’t want the shame that her family will give her.
But then, she’s putting on weight.
And she’s buying bigger clothes.
And soon its unmistakable.
She is the virgin mother of the Messiah.
IV. For Real?
Now, maybe you are a skeptic. Maybe you think that’s impossible.
Maybe you think that Mary just made it all up because she didn’t want to be embarrassed as the woman pregnant out of wedlock.
You know – because crazy woman who said that God put the baby there – is better.
But keep in mind three important things that help to prove the reality of the virgin birth:
1. What Joseph goes through.
I say Joseph as opposed to Mary because Mary doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
But when Joseph finds out about what happened, he takes a moment.
He goes home. He actually makes a plan to break off the engagement, because he can’t deal with an unfaithful spouse. But he wants to do so quietly because he still loves Mary.
But then he doesn’t.
He doesn’t because an angel told him not to divorce Mary.
Think about that – he could have left her! He could have had the whole of his village on his side: “That no good Mary.” He could have been the one in the ‘break up’ that everyone sided with and surely another woman would be his soon.
Instead, he chooses to stay engaged and be ridiculed right along with her.
Because he believed what the angel told him.
This child was the Messiah.
2. The other prophecies.
Because remember – This isn’t the only prophecy that is fulfilled in Mary’s boy.
Mary is also of the line of David.
But they aren’t from Bethlehem! They live in Nazareth.
Except. About a month before Mary gives birth, Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor, issues a decree that he wants to take a Census of the entire Roman world in order to see how many people he is emperor over. In order to take the census, he demands all people under his ruler to return to their place of origin.
So, Joseph and Mary have to leave Nazareth.
They have to go to their place of origin.
And where is their place of origin?
Bethlehem. Just like the prophecy said.
3. Other miracles surrounding Jesus.
Because the virgin birth isn’t the only one.
Angels appeared to Mary and Joseph.
Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was over 80 years old – well beyond childbearing years – became pregnant with John the Baptist.
An angel caused Elizabeth’s husband to be mute for the 9 months of her pregnancy because of his doubts.
There was the star in the sky for the wise men to follow.
The angels that appeared to sing the shepherds glory.
Oh yeah…and when the baby grew up?
He died on the cross. Publicly.
He rose from the dead. Publicly.
These people wrote these miracles down for us.
They also wrote down the virgin birth for us.
If all those other miracles are true, this one is too.
V. What Now?
1. Pay Attention
God went out of his way to get your attention with this prophecy and fulfillment. Because God used an event unlike any event ever in human history.
He didn’t say, “The Messiah will one-day wear flannel.”
Or, “One day the Messiah will be wearing some skinny jeans and have a man bun.”
He said, “The Messiah will be born of a mom…and that’s it.”
God used an extraordinary event to point to the Savior so that you didn’t miss it!
It’s like one of those Christmas light villages with the really big pop up Santa, reindeer that flash to the beat of Trans-Siberian orchestra and a mortgage invested in the light display. It’s crazy. It’s awesome. It’s screams: NOTICE ME!
The Virgin Birth is the over the top, exuberant, blinking Christmas light display of Messianic prophecies.
It’s God screaming PAY ATTENTION!
Because Jesus is the Messiah.
He is the only one that can save you from this world of sin and death.
Not some other god.
Not some other religion.
It’s Jesus alone.
2. See God!
Because look what’s in that manger. The prophecy from Isaiah ends like this: “The Virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son and will call him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14)
Immanuel is a pretty neat name. Scripture tells us that Immanuel is Hebrew for “God with Us.” Although don’t think of it simply as a name with a meaning. It’s a name that says its meaning.
Ima is the Hebrew word “with.”
Nu is the Hebrew word “us.”
El is the Hebrew word “God.”
In English it’d be like naming your child “GodIsWIthUsLiterallyInTheFleshRightNowInThisChild.” All one word. Besides meaning that the kid will need a very long driver’s license, it also means this child, isn’t just a child.
He’s God himself.
Which means your God is not God who dwells far off!
He’s not the Force.
He’s not a Big Bang.
He’s not an impersonal, divine wrathful king.
He saw the pain that was in this world.
He saw the sin.
He saw the death.
And He didn’t run from it.
He ran to it.
He came to earth and experienced the pain, the suffering, the sadness, even death itself --- on a most painful instrument of death!
In order to fulfill prophecy.
In order to fulfill purpose.
In order to save you.
3. Stop Looking Elsewhere for Your Messiah
Because maybe you are nervous this Christmas.
Maybe you are nervous Christmas won’t be that great.
Maybe you are looking for something to give you a bit more confidence…
A bigger paycheck.
A positive health result.
A good visit with family.
If you only have the right toy for your kid…
If you only have the right topper on the tree…
If you only have the right cookies on the table…then!
Christmas will be saved!
And I’ll be saved.
For a moment.
From my painful past.
From my daily struggles.
From this sin filled world.
But what happens when the toy is the wrong toy?
What happens when the cookie is burnt?
What happens when that family gathering is a disaster?
And now…instead of escaping this sin filled world – you just have more awful memories of it!
Stop looking in this world for your Messiah.
Look at something out of this world.
Look at something that has to be from out of this world.
Look at the baby born of the virgin.
Who do you follow?
It’s interesting because thanks to Social Media, it is now very easy to see who you follow on Twitter or Instagram. If you looked at my profile, you’d find out that I follow a bunch of famous pastors, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb (there's a lot of Packers), and like 17 versions of Jesus.
But the most followed people on Social Media? Kim Kardashian – probably because people like to see her fashion and learn what’s hip and in. Lebron James – because people like to get insights into the life of such an incredible baller. Taylor Swift-- millions of followers aiming to see what her latest music is.
And here’s something interesting – you can now advertise to get more people to follow you. For instance, you might be scrolling through Facebook and an ad will pop up of a delicious looking cup of coffee “Follow Sola Coffee and get a free coffee NOW,” or there might be a cute cat video, “To see more cute cat videos, follow cutecatvideos.com.”
Of course, what goes on in Social Media is just a minuscule version of what happens to each of us – spiritually. Lots of voices – each day – calling to us “Follow me. Follow us. Follow our way of thinking.”
And while following the wrong person on Social Media might mean a few months of lame jokes and some of your friends thinking you aren’t as cool as they thought you were, following the wrong one spiritually has much worse consequences:
It determines your relationship with God.
It determines the peace you have in your life.
It determines where you spend eternity.
Today we are going to begin a sermon series called FOLLOW. We’re going to discuss what it means to follow Jesus as a 21st century, millennial, Raleighian. Today, we want to start by sifting through the voices that call us to follow them. We want to (1) become wary of voices (even religious voices) that point us in the wrong direction and (2) hear Jesus’ voices – and the incredible results of following him.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Be Wary of the Voices
Our lesson today takes place in John 1: 29. A bit of background on John 1 – This takes place around 30 AD. At the time, the Roman Empire is in control of large portions of Europe, Asia, Northern Africa – and even Israel. But while the government was controlled by these foreigners, the day-to-day religious life was governed by the reflections and suggestions of the religious leaders – a group of men called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were zealots. They loved God’s law. They loved it so much that they couldn’t help but improve upon it. God’s law said to wear a prayer shawl which were giant, jewel studded aprons. God’s law said to rest on Saturday; they made sure to not take more than 500 steps. God’s law said to give 10% of your income; they gave up 10% of their salt shaker – measuring it, funneling it, and taking it to the temple for all to see: “Here’s my ten percent of salt. Did you remember your 10% of salt? I’m just 10% of salt better than you at connecting with God.”
They sound like wonderful guys, right?
But honestly – they were viewed that way. The people at the time looked up to them. From the outward perspective, these guys seemed to have it all together. They had money. They had religious things to say. They looked like they knew just what it took to get to God and to heaven. So many followed them. They listened to them. They learned from them. They hoped to be them.
John was different.
John ditched the long flowing robes and prayer shawls for camel skin clothing.
He ditched the bread baked for the holy show bread table for locusts and grasshoppers.
He ditched the decadence of the temple for the desert.
He ditched the quiet argumentation of the wise at the synagogue for the loud, hellfire and brimstone of a sports fan who's had too much to drink!
John was different. Compared to the Pharisees he looked like a perennial homeless guy complete with wily hair and a pungent odor. You wouldn’t expect that many people to follow him on spiritual matters.
But people did. In fact, the Gospel of Luke says that there were “crowds of people coming to him.” (3:7) The word, in the singular, gives you a picture of a church full. A crowd. But it’s in the plural – crowds of people. Like a group gathering downtown at the amphitheater to listen to Taylor Swift – that’s the kind of crowds that John was drawing to him.
More importantly – that’s the kind of crowd that the Pharisees were losing to him.
So they went to investigate. Take a look at John 1:19. “The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask John who he was.” Follow that question – Who are you? Who in the world do you think you are? Knowing what we know about the Pharisees in every other part of Scripture, you almost expect an element of "What gives you a right to take all these followers away from us?"
And if you’re John – looking around at all these people – seeing how they hang on your every word -realizing that so many of them had left the flock of Pharisees to come and hear you – wouldn’t you expect a bit of pride to swell in his heart? Maybe a sarcastic answer:
I’m everything you guys aren’t.
I’m a better leader than you.
I’m the guy these people are following. Who are you?
But instead look at how John replies – He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Let’s talk about that. Messiah is a Hebrew word. It means “Anointed One.” The Anointed One was a part of the Jewish faith. Thousands of years earlier God had promised Abraham – the man from whom the entire genealogy of Israel was based – that one day someone would come from his family – one anointed to bless all people. That promise was repeated by God, “The Anointed One is coming! The Anointed One is coming!”
Prophet after prophet came.
Prophet after prophet spoke about the Anointed One.
Prophet after prophet was not the Anointed One.
Now a group of people was convinced that John might be the Messiah. He spoke so powerfully and his message was so intriguing. Maybe he was the Messiah. Maybe he was the one to lead them away from Roman power. Maybe he was the one to save them.
John could have said, “Yes, I am. Give me your money. Get me a hammock. Get me some of those big bunches of dark purple grapes and a few beautiful ladies to feed me – and I’ll tell you what to do next.”
But he doesn’t. He confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (1:20)
Ok. But he still seemed pretty important and they still wanted to follow him. Follow their train of thought, “Then, who are you? Are you Elijah? He’s a really famous prophet from ancient Israel. He’s dead, but…maybe you are him come back from the dead? We’ll follow you!"
Are you the Prophet? A prophecy about Moses – arguably the most famous prophet of ancient Israel and how a prophet would come that was greater than him! Are you that prophet?
Then, who are you? We give up. Tell us who you are and we can start your fan club.
John said this, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v.23)
Do any of you have a GPS? What’s pretty neat about a GPS is it tells you everywhere you want to go. It tells you step by step, turn by turn directions on how to get to Cameron for a Duke game or PNC for a State game or how to get to Asheville to go skiing.
What’s also cool about a GPS is that you can change the voice of the one talking to you. You can have it speak with a pleasant Southern accent, “Ya’ll turn right.” A Northern Wisconsin accent, “You betcha that’s a left turn there.” OR you can even have it speak as Mr. T. “I pity the fool who don’t make a U-turn right now!”
But Mr. T doesn’t really know what all these directions. He’s not sitting in some suite in downtown Raleigh with a headset on, Google maps pulled up and giving you directions where to go. He’s simply a voice – telling you what he’s been told to say.
That’s what John was. He was a voice. A voice that had been prophesied about by another voice – but a voice nonetheless.
A voice who would come before the Messiah.
A voice who would point people to the Messiah.
A voice who was not the Messiah.
A voice who told people – I’m not the Messiah.
Of course, that’s not always how it goes, is it? People don’t always say, “Don’t follow me. I’m not the answer.” Oftentimes people give you the impression that they are the Messiah – or at least that they’ll fix all of your problems.
And I think there are three areas of society where this is especially true:
We just got done with a political season in which people put all their hopes and dreams on various political candidates. He’s my Messiah. No, she’s my Messiah. He’s going to make my life better. No, she’s going to change my world.
People follow them. People put their hopes in him. People think they are the one who are going to fix things for them and are horribly disappointed when they don’t.
Understand this when politicians are running for office they need to do everything possible to explain why they are the best person for the job and why they will be your personal Messiah – even if they know they can’t be.
What I mean is – it wouldn’t be a very good political campaign if I said, “Vote for Kiecker. I’m ok – not terrible, but not great either. I’ll try hard…most of the time. I probably won’t make that much change in your personal life anyways.”
In the end, politicians have voices. Their voices elevate themselves. But be careful. Political candidates are not the Messiah.
This is interesting. Because pastors are supposed to be voices pointing people to the Messiah. But sometimes it becomes all about them.
Sometimes, it might not even be their fault. Listen to that pastor. He has it all together. He’ll turn your life around and if he ever leaves, it’ll be a disaster again!
Sometimes, it is their fault. Here’s what I did in my life. Here’s why it worked. Here’s why you need to follow me and do what I did (and send some money my way in the process.)
But here’s the problem: The pastor is not the Messiah. I’m not the Messiah. Joel Osteen is not the Messiah. Joyce Meyers is not the Messiah.
There is not a pastor right now who is the Messiah.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow the Lord, awesome.
If a pastoral voice tells you to follow himself, be careful. Be very careful.
And if I ever start doing that – somebody slap me.
And then, there’s probably the trickiest voice to deal with. It’s one that you’ve heard before. It’s one that has influenced you throughout your life. It’s one that I guarantee you struggle with.
Your own voice.
We are so cleverly, stupid:
ON. MY. OWN.
Here’s the reality that John the Baptist realized – he was not the Messiah (and he had crowds of people following him!) You don’t have crowds of people following you. You might have hundreds of people following you on Instagram, but guess what – none of them think you can fix their life!
You are not the Messiah.
So stop trusting yourself as the Messiah.
It will have eternal consequences.
II. Follow the Lamb
Who is the Messiah then? Who should we put our trust in?
Read a bit farther with me. In fact, it’s the very next day. The crowds have returned. Some are disappointed. John isn’t the one. They have to keep searching, keep looking, and keep hoping to find the Messiah one day. John sense their frustration. John himself has that same frustration.
But then…he sees him. Walking slowly. Head down. Covered up in a tunic. Unassuming and unimpressive.
But John knows him and John points: John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Look at the Lamb.
See the Lamb.
Follow the Lamb.
That’s a really interesting name for the Savior. Because Lambs are not really that intimidating.
There aren’t any NFL teams calls the Lambs.
There isn’t any professional wrestler called “Lonnie, the Lamb.”
Where you hear that word – it doesn’t strike me with fear. I’m not suddenly concerned that the Lamb is going to suffocate me with his wool.
Why would you follow a lamb? Wouldn’t you just be counting him jumping over the same gate over and over until you fall asleep?
Don’t tune out just yet. John gives three awesome reasons to follow the man referred to as the Lamb.
(1) He Takes Away the Sin of the World.
This one has a lot to do with the culture of Ancient Israel. In the Old Testament, God had people sacrifice animals. Sometimes out of thanks. Sometimes out of trust. And sometimes for the forgiveness of sins.
When it was for the forgiveness of sins, God was making something clear to the Israelites: I hate sin. I hate it because it wrongs your fellow brothers and sisters. I hate it because it wrongs my children. I hate so much that I must punish it with death!
When lambs were sacrificed for sins, it was a constant reminder to the people of the divine, eternal consequence of their sins.
The only problem? If you were an Old Testament Israelite you probably saw lots of lambs killed. A lamb for my morning sin. A lamb for my 2 pm sin. A lamb for my evening sins. Lambs for the sins that I missed last week. Lambs for your sins and my sins and lambs for Uncle John’s sins. Lambs here, there, everywhere, up, down and in between. Lambs everywhere that Dr. Seuss could think of to describe it!
The sad reality?
Animal blood cannot take away sin.
But Jesus wasn’t an animal.
He wasn’t an cute, fluffy lamb.
He wasn’t even a man.
He was God’s Son.
With his death, he would take away the sins of the world.
With his death, he took away the sins of the world.
That means this: When you follow Jesus, your sins are forgiven.
The sin that can’t seem to leave your mind? Forgiven.
That sin your friends won’t let your forget on Facebook? Forgiven.
That sin that cost you your job? Forgiven.
That sin you struggled with for the past twelve years of your life? Forgiven.
Forgiven because the Lamb of God gave his blood for you.
(2) He’s Been Around Awhile.
One of the key talking points in a political race is experience. How many years have they been in government? How much experience do they have serving people? How many years of tenure do they have under their belt?
Look at what John says about Jesus, "The one who comes after me (Jesus) was before me.” Literally, he existed long before me!
This doesn’t mean John was bad at math. Because if you follow the story of Jesus, John’s birth was announced about six months before Jesus’. John was ½ a year older than Jesus.
But Jesus was not just human.
Jesus was also God.
It means he’s been around the block. He’s been around since the beginning. He’s been around since the formation of the earth. He’s been around since an eternity and half before there was an earth.
Talk about experience. He’s seen it all. He’s been through it all.
Making him the perfect one to follow.
Think about what you’re going through. Jesus gets it.
Financial struggles? He’s seen that and helped people through it.
Relationship struggles? He’s seen it before and comforted through it.
Struggles with guilt and shame?
Nervousness about a sickness?
Problems at school?
Doubts about the direction of your life?
Jesus has seen it. Jesus has helped people through it. Jesus will help you through it.
(3) Awesome stuff happens around Him.
In fact, John lets us in on a secret - the reason he was so confident that Jesus was the Lamb of God and the one to follow.
He says this “I saw the heavens open up.” And can you imagine that? We’re not talking about the clouds parting and there being a sunny day. We’re talking about some incredible, divine, never before seen moment – the sky is rendered. There’s a glimpse into heaven. There’s a brilliant light that even sunglasses won’t allow you to look into.
And a silhouette – a divine dove – starts hovering down from the split in the sky. It hovers to the right. It hovers to the left. All eyes are on it. Until it comes to rest right on Jesus’ shoulder.
And then, a voice – not John’s voice – a voice – a booming voice – a voice – not coming from some microphone system because microphone systems didn’t exist yet!
A voice from God himself says this, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
It was a moment that made John go “wow.”
It was a moment that made everyone else who saw it go, “That was incredible.”
It was a moment that made people stop and think – This guy is worth following.
My prayer is that it makes you stop and think the same – This guy, this God, this Lamb is worth following.
Recommit yourself to following Jesus in 2017. Amen.
I. Caiaphas, the Judge
Caiaphas slammed his hands on the podium.“Quiet! Quiet in the courtroom!”
As he looked around the room, he could feel the stress pulsating throughout popular – A late night, illegal trial was the only way they could convict him without drawing the ire of the masses.
But it wasn’t working.
Witness after witness had approached the stand. Each had attempted to pin a crime on Jesus. And each – sounded as stupid and false — as the last one.
“I saw him spit on an old man’s eyes….although I’m pretty sure the blind man was able to see after he did this.”
“I heard he performed a heist and stole thousands of loaves of bread from a local bakery to feed some hungry people.”
“I heard he beat up that demon possessed guy – Legion?” “Really? Cause I heard that he helped him.”
Not even two of the witnesses agreed on what the charges against Jesus should be and their statements were quickly devaluing into arguments.
Caiaphas was losing control. If they didn’t speed things up, it would be daylight. Then, their secret attempt at rescuing the people of Israel from this lunatic would fall apart. They crowds were surround the building. They would demand Jesus to be released. Caiaphas will have missed his moment to save his people from this foolishness.
Then two scoundrels came forward with a story that might work. “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days. (v.61) ”
Caiaphas raised his eyebrows. This could work. A plot against the community of Israel. Nevermind that the temple was made with beautiful stone ornaments making it difficult to perform such a task before the age of ‘explosives.’ Nevermind that Jesus had spent most of his days peacefully preaching and teaching in the temple. Nevermind that a few days earlier Jesus emotionally cleaned out the temple in order to bring it back to its former glory.
Caiaphas had two colluding stories. He had to use this on Jesus. But so far, Jesus hadn’t said anything in response. So Caiaphas growled at him, “Aren’t you going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”
63 But Jesus remained silent.
Caiaphas glared at him. He stared at this sad looking carpenter. He thought of how Jesus had been single handedly ripped away following from their religious leaders for weeks, how he had called him – the high priest – out for hypocrisy, how Jesus had claimed a special connection with God. Caiaphas stopped. He smirked. That was it.
Caiaphas said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: tell us if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God.”
The crowd was silent. They knew what this meant. If Jesus admitted to being the Savior, they had him. He will have committed blasphemy. He will have claimed to be God – when they could plainly see he was not! Better yet -- this was a terrible offense in the Jewish world. An offense punishable by death.
Jesus looked up from his focus on the floor. He breathed deeply. He stared Caiaphas directly in the eyes.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “Yes.”
But before Caiaphas could high five the lawyers at the clever way that he had just tricked Jesus into exposing himself, Jesus continued his speech. “But I say to all of you: You will see the Son of Man, me, sitting at the right hand of the Mighty one, God and coming on the clouds of heaven, to judge you."
Caiaphas chuckled. Time for the show. He tore his clothes. He wailed out loud. “He has spoken blasphemy. Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” The jury’s response was music to Caiaphas’ ears; “He is worthy of death.”
At that pandemonium broke out. Dignified priest after dignified priest took turned slapping Jesus. They conjured up some spit in their throats and sprayed it all over Jesus’ face. They spewed forth every cruse they could think of and directed them at Jesus.
As blood fell from Jesus’ lip, Caiaphas smiled. It was only a matter of time. Soon – he would silence Jesus.
Stop for a moment and evaluate Caiaphas' decision.
Do you think it's wise to put the Son of God on trial?
Is it wise to argue with the One who controls storms?
Is it wise to condemn the one who condemns demons?
Is it wise to drive out the one who drives out disease?
But understand why Caiaphas did what he did. He did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Even though he had heard of the miracles -- and maybe even saw them -- he refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. His jealousy for Old Testament law took over. His desire to impress God with that jealousy motivated him.
He put the Son of God on trial, because he did not believe the Son of God to be the Son of God.
...what does that say about us? What does that say about us when we put the Son of God on trial knowing full well that He is the Son of God?
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor, I don’t own a gavel. I don't have a long judge robe. I don't have my own court and I don't even know where I would find the physical apparition of Jesus to put on trial. How could I put Him on trial?"
That last one was easy to write. It's a thought I have all too often. Maybe you have had a similar thought or one similar to another one. GET THIS: When we do, we are doing exactly what Caiaphas did. Only worse! We had the knowledge that He is the Son of God!
II. Jesus, the Judge
Here’s why judging Jesus is a terrible idea: Remember what Jesus said at the end to Caiaphas? Caiaphas probably laughed it off. You probably just thought it sounded strange. But – look at it one more time: “You will see me sitting at the right hand of the Mighty one and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
This is truth. When Jesus returns with the ethereal clouds of heaven with a gavel of lightning and his courtroom officials that are none other than angels who fly from the front of the courtroom to back, not holding nightsticks, but swords of fire -- What do you think his reaction will be to all those who judged him and condemned him?
What do you think his reaction will be to you if you judge and condemn him?
It’s not good.
So what do you do if you have judged God? What do you do if you’ve put the son of God on trial?
1) Appeal to His Mercy.
If you ever get bored during the day, you can always check out daytime judge shows. The CW has about 8 in a row. Judge Mills Lane. Judge Judy. Judge Joe Brown. The People’s Court. Each judge has specific qualities that make them fun to watch. Some are hard-nosed. Some are intelligent. Some are funny.
What makes Jesus special as a judge? Ephesians 2:4 tells us, “God is rich in mercy.” There’s the key characteristic of Jesus. He is merciful. Even though He has all the evidence in the world to condemn you – every last sin you’ve ever done, every last sinful word you’ve ever said, and every last sinful time you’ve put him on trial – Jesus is a merciful judge.
Scripture says as much. It says, “We have been justified – that means “declared innocent” through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
That means that when you stand before Jesus, your judge, your defense will be really simple.
Don’t say, “But this is really your fault.”
Don’t say, “But I didn’t really mean it.”
Don’t even say, “But this other guy is much worse.”
Simply say, “Because you're merciful.” I did wrong, but you Jesus, are merciful. Pardon me.
Jesus will lift his gavel. He will smile. He will slam it onto his eternal gavel stand. He will look you straight in the eye – and say, “Innocent.”
2) Think Twice about Judging Jesus.
Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s kind of a know-it-all. The thing about know-it-all friends is that after a while, you stop challenging them. Otherwise, you have to sit there patiently and wait as Google searches for and confirms that Alan Alda is indeed the name of the actor who played Hawkeye on M.A.S.H and that Saturn has officially 8 moons, if you count the curved one that falls near the bottom.
It’s not wise to question your know-it-all friend, it’s infinitely less wise to question Jesus. So when you have a dispute with Jesus – “Why don’t I have more money? Is that really a sin? Does God really love me?” Pause for a moment before you put him on trial. Because maybe – just maybe – it’s sinful you who is wrong. Not non-sinful, perfect, all knowing, loves you more than you know -- Jesus.
3) Give Thanks (a lot).
Considering what Jesus has done for us – forgiven us for our attacks on him AND freed us from an inevitable condemnation in the fiery jail cell of hell – saying thanks seems more than appropriate.
Instead of figuring out ways to complain against him, think of ways to say thanks to him.
· Start a journal and keep track of all the blessings he gives you each day.
· Send an email invite to your friends inviting them to church
· Grab one of the Preserve our Missions jars and put a few extra coins aside to say thanks.
· Resolve to love your spouse all the time
It’s in our text too! What did Jesus say when Caiaphas questioned him about being the Son of God? Jesus knew the law. He knew it better than Caiaphas. He knew that blasphemy – saying you are God when you aren’t – was punishable by death. He knew that when he admitted to being God’s Son the jury before him would not believe Him and would convict him of death.
But Jesus still said YES. He let them convict him. Even though he had stopped storms, walked on water, driven out demons, and conquered death – he let some measly, angry human beings crucify him.
Because He is merciful. Amen.
Let me set the scene.
It was 7:30am on a Tuesday morning. Our Seminary classroom was in the basement. It was the only room without windows. But what it lacked in light, it made up for in warmth.
Dim, cozy, & early.
Sounds like the perfect place to preach a sermon right?
I started speaking. “Umm…uh…this is about…Jesus.” (My Professor, who had one of those moustaches that screamed “I’m a scholar” slowly shifted his pen and began scribbling into his notebook in back.)
I started sweating. I took a deep breath I continued.
Thirty some minutes later I was, thankfully, done. All in all…I wouldn’t say my first sermon was very memorable. The only thing that was memorable about it was the AMEN (which woke up a few classmates from their slumber.)
Today we’re taking a look at Jesus’ first recorded sermon. In contrast to my work, his first sermon is very memorable.
I. Jesus Preached In Church
Take a look at Luke 4:14-15. It says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Since we left Jesus last time, his ministry has kicked off. After changing water into wine, he went to be baptized by John the Baptist and as he did so the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God the Father’s voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Would you be interested in hearing from the one who changed water into wine AND about whom a booming voice from heaven spoke in person?
It worked exactly how God wanted. These signs perked people’s interest so that they would come to see Jesus. And did they ever come. Scripture says that people came to see Jesus in all kinds of places. At the beach. On a hillside. In the streets.
But there was one place that seemed tailor made for listening to Jesus teach: THE SYNAGOGUE.
The synagogue was the Ancient Jewish version of church. People would gather together daily to read and discuss God’s Word. They would hear God’s law and they would discuss theological things. It was the place to be if you were in any way interested in learning about God.
But there was one synagogue Jesus hadn't been invited to just yet. It was one that was near and dear to his heart.
Take a look at verse 16: Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up. This was his home synagogue. It was where he went to Sunday School. (To be fair, Jews worshipped on Saturdays, so Saturday School would have been more like it.) His neighbors went there. His relatives went there. He had sung in the choir there.
But it's not as if they even had specially requested Jesus to come and speak. Look at it again. Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. Zero in on that last phrase. “As was his custom.” Think about that. Jesus wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary when he went to this church.
It was his custom. It’s what he did.
Have you seen those new GEICO Commercials? They’ve got one where everything is going wrong in the peanut butter factory. Jars on the ground; wrappers flying through the area; peanut butter mushed everywhere. When the manager asks, “Who’s responsible for this?” the workers point at the goat.
The ad says, “If you’re a scapegoat, you get blamed for things. It’s what you do. If you want to save money, you switch to GEICO. It’s what you do.”
If you’re God’s Son, you go to God’s house. It’s what you do.
By faith in Jesus, we’re God’s children, too. Isn’t it a little strange then that we don’t take invitations to our Father’s house quite as seriously?
· I believe. I just don’t go to church. I don’t need to. Church is unnecessary.
· My church? It’s in the field on Sunday morning.
· I can go to church online. That should be good enough.
Think about this: the Divine, Universe creating, God’s Word sending, author of life itself – Jesus Christ--- went to church! As God, he already knew all there was to know about the Scriptures (He inspired them after all) yet he went to church.
You? Are you better than Jesus?
If you aren't, perhaps you should be going to church.
In fact, Scripture calls it a necessity. A necessity for salvation? No. Necessity for strengthening faith, connecting to God, rebuking your sins, reminding of salvation, encouraging with prayers and serving others? Absolutely.
Granted. Church can happen at times other than Sunday morning at 10:30am. It happens during midweek Bible studies. It happens at Chick-fil-A with the Young Adult Group. It happens down at Elmcroft Retirement home for a Bible study. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my mind, there I am with them.” That’s church, too. Gathering together with Christians to hear God’s Word – that’s church.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a Christian, you do church. However you do church, you do church, because you are the church. It’s what you do.
II. Jesus Preached From Scripture
But one thing you might not have to do is to get up and give a sermon. Can you imagine if that became our practice? "If you are sitting in Pew 7 seat B, come up front—it’s your turn to do the sermon."
That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Scriptures says, "He stood up and read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written."
Did you notice something very interesting? Jesus is the Son of God. He knows all things.
Yet – he didn’t just speak off the cuff. He read from the Bible.
Granted back then the Bible looked a bit different. Instead of books, they had scrolls. Generally, these were long pieces of parchment that had been rolled up. As you scrolled, you would roll the ends of it to get to the next page and the next words. There also wasn’t any New Testament yet. Jesus was busy living the New Testament.
Still, there's something to learn here. Jesus had a deep respect for the Old Testament. He had a love for the Bible. His sermon was based on God's Word.
Take this away from this section: Good sermons are based on God's Word.
This is key. Preachers should preach on God’s Word.
Not on last night’s debate.
Not on their political parties' latest agenda.
Not on the latest article in Time Magazine.
Not on some Facebook post.
Preaching, good preaching, is Biblical. It is based on the Bible.
Pastor, what does this have to do with me?
True. You might not be asked to preach in front of a congregation of people in a church building anytime soon. But that doesn't mean you won't preach.
You might get a chance to talk to your kids about some moral issue.
You might get to tell your coworkers about what you believe.
You might get to show your spouse how important Jesus is by going to church.
When you preach, use God's Word. Don't base your words and actions on what you want or what you feel. Base them on God's Word.
III. Jesus Preached About the Messiah
Now take a look at what part of the Bible that Jesus read from, it’s Isaiah 61. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Sounds awesome right? Most of the people knew who this Scripture was talking about. It was talking about the Messiah. The Anointed One. The One promised by God to save them.
Think again about what the Messiah had to offer them AND has to offer you:
Good News for the Poor. If you receive bad news after bad news. Late fee after late bill after late fee. The power just got turned off because you’re too far behind. You don’t have enough money for gas to get your kids to school – and they’ll be expelled because you can’t get them there.
The Messiah is good news. The golden studded, eternal riches of God.
Healing for the Brokenhearted. If you’re brokenhearted. If the man you loved cheated on you. Broke your heart. Left you behind. Dumped you…alone, by yourself, with nothing but pain. “Why did I give so much of myself to him?”
The Messiah is good news. He will be faithful and will not leave you.
Freedom to the Captives. If you’ve been to jail. If you’ve been behind bars. If you’re now behind the bars of your own guilt and shame – unable to escape what you’ve done. Reminded of it at every job interview and every government application...
The Messiah is good news. He frees you from guilt. He releases you from your chains.
Recovery of sight to the Blind. If you are losing your sight…if you’ve lost your way. If you remember God, but you can’t see how he is in your life. If you can’t see the right path and everything looks…dark.
The Messiah is good news. He is the Light. He is the Way.
Deliverance for the Oppressed. If you are oppressed by your own thoughts. If the devil tells you that you are worthless, that God hates you, that God wants nothing to do with you, that you can never be saved - and these thoughts filter through your brain throughout the day. Each day. Especially in the quiet moments --- revealing a tumult inside your soul.
The Messiah is good news. He says, “You’re mine. I love you. I died for you.”
The congregation of people smiled. It was nice to be reminded of what the Messiah would do. Here in this Roman dominated culture, they felt oppressed and poor. They couldn’t wait for a Messiah to lead them back to glory.
I imagine that as Jesus closed the scroll, the people nodded with approval. Ms. Mertz who he used to help carry groceries in winked at him. Uncle Karl gave him a big thumbs up. They knew what was coming next. “The Messiah will come. Israel will be restored to glory.” It would be nice to hear this young man who had grown up from their own congregation preaching that same message.
Jesus returned to the center of the front. He looked at them. He sighed. He spoke.
Their jaws dropped.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you understand what Jesus was saying? His sermon theme and parts were simple.
PART ONE: You need a Messiah.
PART TWO: I am the Messiah.
He was saying that the portion from Isaiah that he read was talking about Him! Listen to Jesus:
I AM good news for the poor.
I AM healing for the broken-hearted.
I AM freedom for the captives.
I AM recovery of sight.
I AM Deliverance from oppression.
I AM the Messiah.
This wasn’t political either. This wasn’t his version of Trump’s “Make America great again.”
This was spiritual. It was eternal. He would be the Savior from Sin.
And…that’s it. He doesn’t say anymore. It’s short. (Even our fast paced, YouTube generation minds can pay attention that long). Jesus wants you to have one simple YET incredible takeaway.
HE IS YOUR SAVIOR.
Brothers and sisters, that’s still the main point today. Jesus is your Savior. If you never got anything out of sermons than that, so be it! That’s all that matters. YOU NEED A SAVIOR and JESUS IS THE SAVIOR!
As a church, this needs to be the central point too. When you new members come up here in a bit, that’s what you’ll confess…faith in Jesus as your Savior. After that we’ll have the Lord’s Supper, where we receive the true body and blood of Jesus our Savior. At the Voter’s assembly, we’ll talk about what the church is up to…keeping in mind our main reason for existing: PREACHING JESUS AS THE SAVIOR!
May it be the same in your life too. As you preach your sermons, make Jesus the center. Make him the center of your relationships, your church life, your quiet mornings, your work day, your conversation with friends, brushing your teeth, saying your prayers and going to bed.
In short, make Jesus the center of your life. It's all about Him. He is...the Savior. Amen.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Hero, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-12
What’s the longest road trip you’ve ever taken?
4 hours to Charleston? 8 hours to New York City? A day and a half to the Grand Canyon?
If you take a long trip, there’s should be a good reason. There needs to be! The goal is what gets you through endless cornfields, static radio, countless Capri Sun spills, Dramamine induced headaches, flat tires, and that wonderful sounds from the back seat: “Are we there yet?”
Some good reasons for a long road trip: To see family. To attend a wedding or a funeral. To visit a national landmark. To ride the Teacups at Disney.
What about visiting an infant that you’ve never met before from a family you’ve never met before that is definitely not expecting your arrival in the slightest?
This is the trip that the magi took. A trip over thousands of miles. A trip that took over a year. A trip on the back of a beast of burden. A trip without DVD players, cruise control, or Trivia Crack to entertain you on the ride.
Why would the Magi take such a trip?
Magi in the Greek refers to an astronomer. An ancient stargazer. Men like this were very scientific and used the latest technological advances to track star movements in the sky. Recently, the magi in question, had noticed a strange thing. A new star. A special star. A bright star. One that appeared to the West toward the land of Judah.
They packed their bags. They began their long journey. If they were riding on camels, I’m sure whenever they stopped at an oasis they bobbed up and down as they felt like they were still riding between humps. Why go on such a trip?
They came to Jerusalem and explained their visit. “Where is the one who was born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him!”
Doesn’t that still seem a little strange? King of the Jews. Why would they travel so far to meet a king from a different nation? To pay respects to their on king, sure…but to travel across the continent to visit a new king from a different country?
Do you know the name of the current Prime Minister of Canada? The leader of Australia? How about the governor of South Carolina? (Isn’t it someone from American Idol?) The truth is that we don’t usually care about government and governors unless they directly affect us!
The Magi must have been convinced that this king directly affected them. It didn’t matter that he was “King of the Jews.” It didn’t matter that the prophecy from Malachi said, “Bethlehem…out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel!” It didn’t matter that seemingly an ‘earthly rule’ of this king wouldn’t come close to affecting their day to day lives. They were convinced that this baby born countries away from them would be their king?
1) MYTH: The Messiah is the Savior the Jews Only!
This idea flew in the face of a very popular myth at that time. The Messiah is the Savior of the Jews only. It’s easy to see why they might have gotten that sense from Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God operated though the Israelites. He did miracles in and among the Israelites. He made promises to the Israelites. Very easily the devil would get a hold of Israelite hearts and lead them to believe – God hated the other nations. God wanted nothing to do with the other nations. God was not the God of the Gentiles.
This is a big deal. Because Gentile means “someone who isn’t Jewish.” If you aren’t Jewish (and this would be true), then Jesus would not have come to save you!
What was it then that convinced these Gentile men to travel a long distance to visit a king of a country that seemed to be opposed to their very existence?
Simple. They saw the birth announcement.
It wasn’t on Facebook. It wasn’t Tweeted to them. They didn’t receive a postcard with a blue bubble gum cigar in the mail.
It was a star.
And how many people do you know that can create stars? We’ve got smart phones, smart TVs, and robotic limbs, but still not the technology to create stars in the sky – BOOM – just like that. Yes, if you pay thousands of dollars, you can buy the right to name a star, but humans cannot create stars.
Only ONE has the ability to create a star in the sky. Only one could be behind the intergalactic birth announcement. God himself.
This is huge. Because it was God who announced to these foreigners, these Gentiles, these strangers to the land of Israel, that their Savior had been born. It means God wanted them to know about this Savior. It means this Savior was their Savior. The God of the Jews, yes, but also the God of the Gentiles.
The book of Galatians talks a lot about this. In chapter 3 Paul wrote the following beginning at verse 7, “Understand then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham--the father of the Jews. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advent to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” This means the Magi. This means you.
Later on in verse 26, Paul describes what this inclusive Jesus means for you, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus! If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise!”
Jesus is inclusive! He came for all people. He didn’t come just for the Jews; he came for the Gentiles. He came for you.
Of course, once you grasp and believe this awesome truth, it isn't long before the devil starts to trick you into believing a brand new myth about how Jesus includes in his love:
MYTH #2: The Messiah is the Savior of my people only.
My people could mean a lot of things. The people who like the same style of worship as I do. The people who like the same football team as I do. The people who go to the same church as I do. The people who have the same taste in clothes as I do.
The people who are of the same race as I am.
One sad thing we learned in 2014 was that racism is still very much alive in America. If it wasn’t from the big events themselves, then the bickering in the media, on TV, and in the comment section of blog posts revealed some very sad disconnects between races. Selfishness and even hatred.
But I don’t believe the saddest thing has even been covered…When this racism leaks its way into the eternal, saving message of Jesus.
Does it leak into your message of Jesus? If not verbally, subconsciously?
Brothers and sisters, hear my heart: There is no worse racism than withholding the saving message of Jesus from someone, simply because they look different from you! If that is us, when that is us, we need to REPENT! Repent and turn to our Jesus who really is his own race: a divine race, a sinless race, a perfect race – he’s God himself and all people came from his creation. Asian, African, Hispanic, Native American, White…whoever from wherever, God created them, loved them, and died for them.
What does John 3:16 say? “For God so loved the world. The World. THE WORLD!!! That he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him, whoever, whoever, whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life!”
Jesus is inclusive. He is the Savior of all people. He wants us to reflect that.
MYTH #3: Someone Else Will Tell Others of this Inclusive Jesus.
Think about what told the Magi about their Savior. It was a star. Brilliant and bright. It was obvious to these men that this was a special star. God was shining that star so brightly that people from very far away knew that God had a very special message for them.
That star is no longer in existence. But…that doesn’t mean the light has gone out.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” He was talking to his disciples He was talking to you. Previously he used starts to point people toward Jesus. Now he wants to use you.
To continue Jesus says, “You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” That would be foolish. Similarly, you don’t learn about Jesus and then…not tell anyone! That’s foolish and you can’t expect others to learn about Jesus this way.
Shine. Shine in your actions. A smile. A hug. A gift card. A listening ear. These are things that speak through languages. These are things that speak to people - even if they are of a different race: YOU ARE LOVED!
That needs to be a goal of our this 2015. As a church we will to think of ways to reflect that truth – to speak to people with our words, our worship, and our actions – this is a church for you. You are included in his message of Jesus!
Shine in your words. Tell others about Jesus in your interactions. As Raleigh becomes more and more global, teach these global neighbors about the Savior you have in common.
You know those mission videos that show parts of Africa or Russia and how they need to hear about Jesus. Those are in our backyard. You can be a part of this! You can be a part of this now!
Take a look at your Connection Cards. On the back are some ways we are reaching out in 2015. Can you be a part of this? Some are simple. Some take some courage. All of them will be backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same God who put the star in the sky to guide the wise men, has put you on this earth to guide your neighbors.
Brothers and sisters, shine! Shine to tell of your Savior. Shine to tell of the Savior of the World. Shine together!
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen one star peeking out? One star gives a little light, but it’s not enough to see much without street lamps and flashlights. But if you head out into the country on a clear night – stars are everywhere! Many stars light the way easily.
That's us. Together we will light the way to Jesus. With our actions and words pointing people to the inclusive love of Jesus.
He came into the wedding a nobody.
A happenstance invite. Nowhere near the head table. A thirty minute wait to get to the buffet. Jesus wasn’t much more than a nobody at the Wedding in Cana.
Until they ran out of wine.
The servants approached him. “Your mother said you might be able to help us. Do you know a store open close by?” Jesus shook his head. “My time has not yet come.” Then, he told them to retrieve some large jars, fill those jars with water, and serve that water to the guests. The servants left. The jugs were filled. The water was served.
But water was not tasted.
Somehow. In an amazing change of events, Jesus had changed the water into wine. The best wine! It was a miracle. Though it wasn’t his last. Slowly Jesus began to do more miracles coupled authoritative preaching and wise teaching.
Suddenly, people everywhere were asking this question:
Who was this nobody?
Who was this Jesus?
Today we’re going to start our series on Who Is Jesus? By examining a the thoughts of many people of the time. Take a look at John 7:40-43:
40 On hearing Jesus’ words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him.
For some, it was simple. Jesus was the Messiah. But it wasn't so simple for others. In their opinion, Jesus was too Unlikely. Let's examine why.
1. Jesus Did Things Unlike What Humans Thought the Savior Would Do.
Some (v.40) called Jesus “The Prophet.” This was a reference to the Deuteronomy passage we read in our Old Testament lesson. These people recognized that Jesus was something special, but they didn’t quite want to call him “THE” Messiah.
Why? Because what he was doing too unlike their own idea of what the Savior might do. They wanted him to hold political rallies against Caesar. They wanted him to train an army. They wanted him to lead a rebellion and free them from Roman power. They wanted him to hang out at swanky Pharisee parties, eating swanky Pharisee food, and talking about how great these swanky Pharisee parties are.
But Jesus? He only talked about sin. He cared more about their relationship with God then anything. And he hung out with the lowly and dregs and society.
This wasn’t how the people wanted Jesus to act and because of his actions, they were respectful, but dismissed him as unimportant. They called him “the Prophet,” but not the Messiah.
But the truth is that Scripture never says that the “prophet like Moses” was going to be a different person than God’s Anointed Savior. Nor does Scripture ever describe the Savior as bending to your every whim and will. The people would have seen that, if they would have looked at what God said the Messiah would do, rather than what they would like the Messiah to do.
This is still a problem today. People think about Jesus more in terms of what they would like him to do, rather than what God’s Word says he would do. The temptation is to dismiss him when he doesn’t follow through. It happens like this:
It sounds a lot like the Genie from Aladdin doesn’t it? “Jesus I have three wishes. If you fulfill these three wishes, then you will be a real Genie…I mean Savior…and then I’ll believe in you.”
This isn’t good. God isn’t a Genie and he doesn’t bow to your wishes.
2. Jesus is Unlike Human Assumptions about Who the Messiah Would Be
Others found a different reason ignore Jesus. Check out verse 41: “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”
This seems like such a good assessment. Yes, Scripture did say that the Savior would come from Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) Yes, Scripture also said that the Savior would come from David’s line. (Jeremiah 33:15) They were correct.
But…Jesus also fulfilled both of these prophecies completely.
So what was the disconnect? Why weren’t the people getting it? Because Jesus was too unlike their own assumptions about who the Messiah would be.
For instance, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This was a disconnect. These people people thought “from Bethlehem” meant more that he would have grown up in Bethlehem and grown his power and influence there. (Like a local politician making his way into state politics.) Their mistrust of God’s Word was subtle, yes, but it shows their faith was in their assumptions more than God’s Word.
Similarly Scripture said Jesus would come from David’s Line. Jesus was the Son of Joseph a descendant of David…but also a lowly carpenter. These people would have liked him to be born of a fancy royal family.
In short, the people were looking for someone who looked the part a bit better. More money, a more impressive stature, even a handsomer appearance.
Jesus was a carpenter. (Mk. 6:3) He wasn’t all that pretty. (Is. 53:2) He looked like a normal guy. (Lk. 4:22) He died on the cross!
In our modern era, we might expect the Messiah to have bulging muscles, a veiny heart tattoo, a thick accent, and an affinity for smoking cigarettes. Then, he would have a looked like he belonged in The Avengers.
This is one of the reasons we struggle with putting our trust in Jesus. We put up our posters of Superman and download episode after episode of The Flash, but that guy Jesus – dying on the cross. Who has time for him?
This is not good. God isn’t a superhero imagined up by a sinful human’s invention.
III. Jesus Said Things Unlike What We Might Expect the Messiah to Say
Take a look at the last reaction to Jesus. In verse 43, "Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him.” Later on we learn more about why the people were so angry with Jesus. They had expect Jesus to say things much differently than what he did. They expected Jesus to say, “You guys are so awesome. I’m so glad I can be your friends. You are so much holier than the other people here.”
But he didn’t.
He called them sinners.
He warned them to flee from God’s wrath.
He told them that they need Him to be their Savior.
They were so upset by hearing this that they literally plotted to kill him.
Again – how is this so far off today’s reaction to Jesus? Some people are cool with Jesus as long as they don’t actually read the Bible and hear what he actually said. As soon as they do that, they drop Jesus like a bad habit.
Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts…such as sexual immorality.” (Mt. 15:19)
Modern American Society human reacts, “Like sexual relations outside of marriage is a sin? That’s wrong Jesus. Everyone is doing it. Stop being so judgy…or I’ll stop believing in you.”
Jesus said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife…”
Modern American Society human reacts, “That sounds a pretty intolerant definition of marriage Jesus. Unless you stop thinking so archaically, I’m not going to tolerate you as My Messiah anymore.”
Jesus said, “Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Mt. 5:48)
Modern American Society human reacts, “Perfect? Lighten up Jesus. Some Messiah you are. Unless you meant “be the best you can be,” you are not my best choice for Savior."
Jesus said, “I am the Way…no one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6)
Modern American Society human reacts, “Whoa…Jesus. A cool Messiah wouldn’t care if people belived in Him or not. Are you really going to talk about hell for all unbelievers? If so, you can’t be my Messiah. Maybe, I’ll look into Buddhism.”
Is Jesus a paper doll? You follow the outline and get a general perception of what he’s like. But then you can add whatever you like. A sprinkle of glittery “helps you get lots of money” here. A few buttons of “that sin that you deal with isn’t really a sin” there. Color it in with whatever level of holiness fits your own lifestyle and DONE. There’s the real Messiah.
This is terrible thinking. God isn’t a paper doll that you can cut and shape how you like.
IV. The Real Messiah
The problem with all three of these bogus perceptions of Jesus is that they are all based on human ideas of the Messiah. Humans are flawed. We are flawed. Therefore human perceptions of the Messiah will be flawed. In other words: THEY ARE WRONG.
God, on the other hand, is never wrong. It’s what makes him God. Repent, therefore. Ask God for forgiveness. Stop looking to your own wants and desires for a definition of the Savior and start looking to the Bible.
Ever heard the story of the blind men and the elephant? I’ve heard it in about 7 different sermons so I have no problems rehashing it here today. Four blind men approach an elephant. Each one touches a different part of the elephant and comes to a different conclusion of what the elephant is.
One touches his trunk and proclaims, “This is a snake!”
One touches his legs and proclaims, “This is a tree!”
One bumped into his side and said “This is a wall!”
One was poked by his tusk and said, “This is a spear!”
The point? Just as the elephant is too big for those men to identify it after one experience, so God is too big for us to come up with one experienced.
That story is nice, but it’s a bit lacking. There should really be one earth shattering, incredible realization about this elephant.
So God talks. He is too big and too large for you to ever experience enough of him to understand him, so he tells you about himself – in the Bible! Why walk around in blindness anymore? Why be satisfied to listen to your own sinful logic about who God might be, when his Holy Perfect Word declares to you who He is and what He has done to save you: That he lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly as your Savior!
What you will find in the Word is glorious. It’s what some blessed souls found. Look at verse 41: Some said, “He is the Messiah.” They knew that Jesus was the One God had promised them. He was the One selected by God for a rescue mission. Jesus was the One who would save them from sin, from death, and an eternity of punishment in hell!
This was revealed to them by the Word. Both the Old Testament Word and the Living Word himself – Jesus Christ.
The Word said, “He would strengthen the feeble hands.” Jesus went from town to town restoring the strength of incurable, leprous hands with nothing more than the words of his mouth.
The Word said when the Messiah came, “the eyes of the blind would be opened.” Jesus had covered blinds eyes only to restore their sight in an instant.
The Word said, “The lame would leap like a deer.” Jesus grabbed the hands of the 30 year crippled and helped them take their first steps.
The Word said, “The mute tongue would shout for joy.” There were formerly mute tongues throughout Israel giving praise to Jesus for their newfound ability to sing! (Isaiah 35:3-6)
The Word said, “The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem…of the line of David” (Malachi 5 & Jeremiah 33) Both of these things happened to Jesus…and many more that were all predicted in the Old Testament.
Including, but not limited to the most amazing, “God’s Holy One…would no see decay.” (Psalm 16:10) Which is what happened to Jesus. He died, but he rose.
God is so unlike human perceptions of a Messiah. But that’s not a bad thing:
Thank God for our unlikely Savior.
What’s on your bucket list?
A bucket list is a list of things that you want to have done before you “kick the bucket.” Normal bucket list items include: travelling to Europe, sky diving, or snorkeling in the Bahamas.
My bucket list? In no particular order – here are a few things I’d like to do before I die: Visit the Holy Land of Jerusalem, go to the Super Bowl, defeat every Legend of Zelda video game, and play Michael Jordan in a game of HORSE.
Ah yes – and create my own flavor of Doritos.
What’s on your bucket list? Any ideas? What would it take to make sure that your life is fulfilled?
Today we’re going to hear about a man named Simeon – he had only had one item on his bucket list. ONE ITEM. There was only one thing he wanted to do before he died.
I. Simeon's Fulfillment
Take a look at Luke 2:25:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Immediately you get the sense that Simeon was very old. He had been waiting and he was near death. I bet a bucket list was something he thought about all the time.
Being a Jew at the time of the 1st century, there could have been a lot of things Simeon might want to do before he had died. Enter the Holy of Holies. See an angel. Slap a Roman soldier in the face. Enter the Holy of Holies.
But Simeon wanted none of those. Instead Simeon simply was waiting for the consolation of Israel.
Just like in a tournament, the consolation bracket exists to encourage the losers of the first round, so the consolation of Israel would encourage Simeon. Only the consolation of Israel wasn’t some tournament for a tiny 6 inch trophy.
It was a person. The Messiah. The One who would save people from their sins.
What do you think about that list? Is that all you’d want to do before you die?
Regardless we easily see what God thought about such a list in verse 25. God’s Word calls Simeon righteous and devout. This is a commentary on Simeon’s list. It’s God approved. God loved where Simeon’s heart was at. More than that, God sent his Holy Spirit and had promised to Simeon that it would happen. It’s like the Divine Make-a-Wish Foundation. Simeon’s list was God Approved! God makes it happen.
Check out what happens next.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Mary and Jospeph enter the temple. Jesus is only a couple of months old. He’s a baby still. He’s not some gigantic conqueror with a sword slung at his side like The Rock, Dwayne Johnson in the new Hercules movie.
He’s just a little baby.
Yet look at how Simeon reacts in the first part of verse 28. He runs over to the parents and took him in his arms.
Do you guys ever just run over and grab newborns from their parents? Maybe if they are relatives – but strangers? No. That’s strange. But Simeon doesn’t care. Throw any sort of societal rules out the windows. Simeon is excited to see and meet the Savior!
Then in the second part of verse 28 – he praises God! He gives thanks to the LORD for making this dream come true. For bringing fulfillment to his life.
Finally, in verse 29 – what does he say? “In peace LORD, you let your servant now depart according to your Word.” Simeon wasn’t just saying, “Now I can leave the temple and grab some lunch at the local Bojangles.” Nor was he thinking, “I can finally retire from my job.” Remember: He had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. “Depart in peace,” therefore, meant: “Die in peace.”
Simeon was so thrilled after having met Jesus that he was ready to die in peace. He didn’t need to do anything else. He didn’t need to say good bye to his family. He didn’t need to make some more money. He didn’t need to run a half marathon.
He saw Jesus and his life was fulfilled.
II. American 21st Century Fulfillment.
Imagine for a second that Simeon was on TV. They were interviewing him. “Have you lived a fulfilled life?” What if Simeon’s answer was – “Yes. I got to see my Savior Jesus Chrsit – who would live perfectly for me, die innocently and rise triumphantly for me.”
How do you think they’d react? Maybe it’d be like Ben Watson the NFL player who wrote a wonderful Christian response to the happening in Ferguson and was asked to talk about it on live television. The second he mentioned Jesus as the reason for his hope --- this television station magically lost him over the air waves. All day long no problem. As soon as he mentions – Jesus – “our broadcast equipment broke.” Coincidence?
Jesus doe not fit into the fullness of an American life. What does? You could answer that in a lot of ways. But here are just a few ideas that are out there that might be negatively affecting your idea of a full life.
· Money. As in a full life has lots of money. You won’t feel fulfilled until you have enough money for retirement, for a second beach house, for spoiling your grandchildren at Christmas. If you don’t have enough money, your life isn’t fulfilled.
· Travel. We have full cable television stations devoted to this. It’s no wonder The Amazing Race is in its 23rd season. This isn’t a bad thing. From a Christian perspective, it’s nice to see God’s creation. From a secular perspective, it’s awesome to show off all of your souvenirs and say to people – “Look at how well traveled I am. My life is fulfilled because I’ve been there!”
· Experience. Similar to travel, but you can have the experiences in your own backyard. Our America is fixated on experiences. Some good – helping in a homeless shelter – spending a day reading at a children’s cancer Ward. Some neutral – trying the Fire wings at Buffalo Wild Wings – riding a pogo stick. Some sinful – having sex without someone you aren’t married to – having sex with someone of the same sex – trying a drug – drinking 21 shots on your birthday!
· Relationships. For some, it’s the quality of relationships that leaves your life fulfilled. “Am I truly living out the Notebook in my marriage?” “Is my friend really as good as all of those Friends on TV?” For others, it’s simply the quantity of friends. As in – “Did I get to 1000 friends on Facebook yet? Until I’m there I don’t think my life will have really been fulfilled.”
· Longevity. Sometimes people just find fulfillment in the length of their life. It’s why we spend thousands on gym memberships, organic food, and pills guaranteed to extend your life each day. This perspective acts as if each day is a grain of sand that you add into a jar. The more you have – the fuller your life is.
III. Your Fulfillment
What do you think about these options? Are they good things to pursue in having a full life? Are these things that you pursue in your life? Are these things that you place at a higher importance level than pursuing Jesus? The truth is some of these thing are harmful. Some of these things are good. Some of these things are neutral.
But if you ever make any of these things more important than finding your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior – you will never be fulfilled.
If eternity isn’t taken care of, then even the now isn’t fulfilled. If eternity is taken care, then even the now will be fulfilled!
So– be like Simeon. Find your fulfillment in Jesus your Savior. Look at Simeon’s song again and hear how it is Jesus will fulfill you:
1) Peace with God.
Don’t think that if you save up enough money you can bribe God into being your friend. Don’t be under the impression that if you travel up to the highest mountain suddenly you and God will get each other. Don’t think that if you Facebook message God and say– “Hey God, I’ve got lots of friends. If you want to be cool, you better be my friend too,” will not convince the Almighty to suddenly friend you and be “cool with your sins.”
The only One who can make us at peace with God is the little One that Simeon held in his hands. It’s Jesus.
Listen to what Scripture says. Jesus would be “Pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) So that in Jeremiah 33:6 God says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” In Romans 5:1 “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is clear throughout Scripture Jesus himself is the ONLY ONE who brings us peace with God. He is the ONLY one who brings you the message; “You are forgiven.”
2) God’s Salvation.
Look at what Simeon proclaimed was his reason for peace. “In peace, Lord, you let your servant depart, according to your Word…for my eyes have seen your salvation!”
Simeon was a human. He too had his sins. He too had his failures. He too had guilt. The only One who could save him from the eternal consequences for his sins is the very God who was at peace with him!
The problem with all those human ideals for fulfillment is that they are human ideas on how to save your life from being linked into these categories of failure, pathetic, or normal. But when someone else surpasses us…where is your salvation? When someone else makes more money, where is the salvation? When someone else has more friends, where is your salvation? When you die, how many people in how many generations truly remember you!?!
The only one who understands true salvation is the very one who invented salvation. And in Jesus, Simeon held the salvation of God himself.
God’s salvation was that little baby. The little child who would grew up without any sin. He would give up his life innocently on a cross. He would rise triumphantly from the dead. He would defeat sin – he would defeat death – he would defeat the devil. He would save you from failure to live perfectly and failure to get to heaven. He would save you from those voices that accuse you. He would save you so you can have eternal life!
Jesus is the Only one who does the Only thing that takes you the Only way to the next life!
3) Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel.
Simeon uses that phrase in his song: “The light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.” A light to the Gentiles – people who weren’t Jews – because now they were no longer in the dark. They knew that Jesus loved them. The glory of the people Israel because now they knew God had meant it. He did love them enough to send them a Savior from sin.
In Jesus, you know God’s love too. You have been enlightened to see just how much God loves you. You get to glory in the fact that God loves you with an unquenchable, awesome love – willing to die to take away your sin.
If you have God’s love, who else’s love do you really need? His love is the only LOVE that lasts forever. It’s the ONLY love that is UNSTOPPABLE. It is the only love that loves you completely and fully even when you don’t deserve it!
So how do you respond?
Stop running to earthly things for fullness in life. Stop looking to earth ideas – even sinful ideas to feel full. In fact, if you are feeling unfull – it’s not Jesus’ fault. He’s the fullness of all things. It’s a problem with you. You’re too focused on earthly pursuits and earthly ideas of fullness.
Instead, run. Run to God’s idea of fullness. Run to Jesus. Like Simon pick him up in your arms. Sing his praises. Give glory to Him. Hold on to him every chance you get. Stop thinking that you can find fulfillment in something else and find your fulfillment in God alone.
The New Year is very soon. As you make out your life change lists, put “see Jesus” as number one on your list. Sign up for that Bible study. Become a member at that church. Get involved in children’s ministry. Do whatever you can at whatever point you are at in your spiritual journey to get closer to Jesus.
Then…your life will be filled. You’ll have everything that this life is all about – peace with God, salvation from death, and the knowledge of God’s love! Whatever else you get in this life? Those are just awesome and added bonuses. Because come what may you’ve got Jesus. Your life is full.
God is fully behind such a notion. Amen.