Throughout the Advent season we’ve been focusing on the theme of Light. Today, we’re going to draw that all together and take one broad look at the light that God provides us as his children, from start to finish. We’ll start at the beginning, when light was new and perfect. We’ll see that light lost to sin. But then we’ll see God immediately light a candle of hope in the promise of a Savior. And then, throughout the centuries, that light will grow brighter as God expands on that promise, revealing more and more about the Savior, until at last we see him revealed in the flesh. Naturally we can’t possibly focus on every prophecy of Jesus today. But we’ll look at a select few and see the blessings the light brings for us today and always.
We begin at the beginning:
Light Destroyed: Genesis 3:1-8
It didn’t take long for man to ruin what God created. What they had was perfect. Not just the light that shone from the sun but the light that was in them. Adam and Eve did not know pain or suffering. They didn’t know want. They didn’t know anger or jealousy. And they knew their God. They were made in his image. Holy. It was paradise.
But the temptation was that it could be better. The temptation was that they could have even more. The temptation was that they could be like God himself. They did the one thing God told them not to do. “Love me, trust me enough not to do this.” was his command. But instead they loved themselves more. And light within them was destroyed.
Suddenly they did know evil. It was them. Suddenly they knew shame. Suddenly they knew fear. They ran from God. They hid from each other. Holiness was destroyed. Pain and suffering and death would be their lot from then on. God can only accept the holy, those in his image. Adam and Eve were not anymore. And their children were born in that image, not God’s. Down through the generations, everyone born naturally is not born in the image of God. We are born in the image of our fallen parents. That sinful nature meant Adam and Eve were cut off from God and his grace. It was a dark and dreary road ahead, one filled with nothing but misfortune that would end in eternal death.
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Light Focused: Genesis 15:4-7,15
We don’t know exactly how much later it was when God revealed more about the Messiah to a man named Abram. It was a long time. The great flood had come and gone, and the earth was once again being populated. The promise of a man, born of a woman, who would crush the serpent’s head was the gospel until that point. But now, much later, God focused the light of that promise in on one place, and one family.
Abram trusted God. God made him a number of promises. Not the least of which was that he would have a son, born of his wife, and through that son would come a nation’s worth of people. And through that line, all peoples on earth would be blessed. The new news was that the Savior promised would come from his family line. And what’s more, we now had a place. The land of Palestine, which would be known later as Israel, was where this would happen.
It was during a moment of doubt, needing reassurance that God showed Abram light. He brought him out and showed him the stars to reassure Abram of God grace, mercy, and faithfulness. And Abram’s trust in God’s promise of the Savior made him righteous and holy in God’s eyes, just like our own faith that brings salvation.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Light Brings Clarity: Numbers 24:15-19
God continued throughout the ages to illuminate the picture of the Savior. He used a prophet named Balaam to teach us what the work of this Savior would be like. He saw a bright star coming out of Jacob, one of the sons of Abram, shining its light on the world.
And then we learn here more about how the Savior would accomplish his task as the prophecy turns… aggressive. Yes, the first promise of the Savior said he would crush the serpent’s head. But here, it seems an even greater battle would be fought. Though the prophet uses the names of real nations at the time, the intent is clear. This Savior would fight as God’s chosen champion. He would wage a battle so fierce that none of his enemies could stand.
Sin itself. The Devil. Our own death that haunts each one of us. These are the greatest enemies we have. And through a fierce battle, God’s chosen would destroy these enemies for us and win our victory. You and I have the benefit of knowing this fight did not take place on a grassy plain with swords and shields but was fought on a cross for us. But the message is still the same. God’s champion will fight for us, and the victory will be ours through him.
15 Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
16 the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
18 Edom will be conquered;
Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,
but Israel will grow strong.
19 A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Light Brings Healing: Isaiah 9:2-7
Having all our enemies defeated is a great thing. But it is not our only problem. Removing all the outside forces does not fix the wound within. It doesn’t fix the darkness we are born in and it doesn’t suddenly make us acceptable in God’s eyes. The devil could not exist, there could be no outside temptation and you and I would still break God’s law every day. We would still be broken inside, born in human image, not the holy image of God.
And so, the prophet Isaiah further reveals the work of the Savior to us. There’s more to his work that just crushing the devil and his enemies. He has something for us too. Isaiah proclaims a light dawning that heals us. The light itself brings us peace with God. It heals us from within. It makes us whole again. The burdens we have within ourselves will be shattered and we will be at war with God no more. Instead we will belong to his kingdom. We are not holy. But the light makes us holy. The Savior heals his people, ends their struggle, and brings them in to his kingdom.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Light Arrives!: Luke 2:8-14
It took a long time by our standards. Not by God’s. Throughout history God taught his people more about what to expect from the Savior. And he worked history until the everything that he promised would happen exactly as he said. When the time was exactly right, the very event we celebrate today came to pass. Jesus was born. God made man, come here as one of us to fight our battle and heal us from within.
This is our good news, our great joy. We do not see him from afar anymore. We know him. All these prophecies would be meaningless if nothing came of them. The angels, God’s heralds, announced his arrival in glorious light to the shepherds. And they proclaimed peace. Peace between God and man because the Savior would restore the light that was lost at the beginning. He would defeat the enemies and bring us healing. The baby born contains every hope we have worth clinging to.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Light Forever: Revelation 22:21-27
That we know Jesus, that we see him and have watched his work for us does not mean there is nothing left to be revealed. The light continues to grow brighter. There is still more to come for us. Yes, we saw God fulfill his promises. We have seen Jesus grow and live as one of us but not like us. He kept the image of God. He did what his Father asked. He was obedient where we are not. And we have seen him march into battle with death and the devil. We watch the serpent strike him on the cross, but in vain. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We know that death did not hold him. We know the serpent’s head is crushed.
The battle is won. And Jesus took his perfect life, wove it into a brilliant garment for you to wear, and gave it to you. It covers all your wrong and makes you holy to God. The image is restored. The relationship with God is restored. And there is one more promised to be fulfilled: eternal life with him. Yes, our greatest problems are solved by Jesus, but the fact is – we’re still here. We may be healed by the light, but this world is still broken and decaying. And so, we won’t stay.
That is our goal, the city of light. Light better and brighter than even the sun. The light of the glory of God. Where everything will be the way God always meant for us to be, before the fall. The baby born, Christmas, it’s a great thing to celebrate, but today let’s finish by celebrating what that truly means for us. It means paradise restored.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
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.
It’s Holy Week. People everywhere are preparing for special services, religious traditions and special ceremonies. That’s why we’re gathered here tonight. To celebrate a special supper that connects us with Jesus our Savior.
But if you go down the street – to the left about 3 blocks. You’ll find another place of worship. Temple Beth Meyer. A synagogue. There’s another one on Falls of Neuse – Temple Beth El. These are places similar to this church. A place people gather for worship. A place for those of the Jewish faith.
And people who belong to that faith are having a ceremony tonight too. They’re gathering together around 6p. Decorations on the table – blue and white hanging from the ceiling. Everyone sits down and they sing some religious songs and read some religious readings – in Hebrew, not English – but still. They eat some bread. They drink some wine. They say, “Happy Passover” in Hebrew.
But as similar as it might sound.
It is not the same ceremony that we’re having.
It’s not the Lord’s Supper.
Is Passover something that is completely Jewish?
Does is have nothing to do with Christianity?
Is something of a different religion? Or does it help us connect with Jesus?
Tonight we’re looking at the institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. We’re going to see that a correct interpretation of the Passover not only is very Christian – but connects us to Jesus. Let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us: 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. A Jewish Celebration
This takes place in Exodus 12. A brief summary of what’s going on. The Jewish people have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries for help and God decided to use his miraculous power to set them free. He does this through a man named Moses. God uses Moses to send messages to the king of Egypt – Pharaoh.
The conversation quickly becomes very repetitive. Moses tells Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Pharaoh refuses. Moses says that God will send a plague if he doesn’t. Pharaoh still refuses. God sends a plague (millions of locusts all over the land, frogs in your kitchen and bedrooms and bathrooms, a giant hailstorm to destroy all the crops, a week of nothing but darkness over all the land). Pharaoh summons for Moses. He pleads with Moses to pray to God to stop the plagues – then he’ll let the people go. Moses prays. God stops the plagues. And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You are still my slaves.”
Until we get to the tenth plague. God tells Moses. “Moses, Pharaoh will let you go this time. Because this plague is awful. This plague is terrifying. I will send the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt—from the maidservant all the way to Pharaoh’s family. The son will die.”
But God didn’t want that terribly sad result to happen for the people of Israel. Not for his people – believers. He tells Moses the following:
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people here are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” (Exodus 12:2-6)
The initial instructions are interesting. God tells the Israelites to get themselves a lamb. Not from the store. Not from the local Whole Foods. Not even from the local Gyro restaurant. (I don’t even know if Gyros were around back then). They are to go out back, grab one of the lambs that their family owns, one that’s almost been like a pet to them – providing wool, blankets, clothing.
And kill it. Clean it. Wash it. Prepare it.
Then, eat it.
But notice it isn’t just any lamb. It’s the lamb without defect. There weren’t any spots on it where the wool wasn’t coming in. There weren’t any sickly parts. There weren’t any malformed limbs or cross-eyed lambs being sacrificed.
The best lambs were killed.
The ones that were in great condition.
The ones that were perfect.
But they weren’t just using the lamb for food. They were also using it for exterior trim paint.
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.
Picture that – Blood drained into a bucket. A paint brush. Dipping it into the blood. Painting it carefully, gruesomely over the frame of the house.
On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you.
God’s wrath will pass over.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood of the Lamb.
That’s what happens. The angel of wrath kills the first-born sons of the unbelieving, unrepentant, rebellious Egyptians. But He has mercy on all who trust God’s Word and trust in the blood of the lamb. The Israelites are set free.
That’s a big deal. A moment in history that the Jewish people want to remember. It’s why they celebrated Passover for years after that – to remember God’s mercy to the Jewish people.
II. With Worldwide Consequences
Fast forward thousands of years. That’s exactly the meal that Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. They were eating the unleavened bread so they could remember how quickly this happened. Eating the bitter herbs to remember the slavery of Egypt. Eating the lamb to remember the lamb and drinking the wine to remember its blood.
But in the middle of the meal Jesus does something different.
He took bread, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body; given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Drink from it all of you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Why? That’s not how the Passover meal goes.
1 Peter 1:19 says this, “Jesus is a lamb without blemish or defect.” That’s not a reference to his appearance. It doesn’t mean that every piece of beard hair was in perfect order. It means he was perfect. He had no moral flaws. He never rebelled against God. He always obeyed God. He had no sins.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says this, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” He was killed on a cross. He shed his blood. His body is broken. His blood is spilled – it’s painted on wooden frame. Whoever believes in him is covered by his blood. God’s wrath against his sin passes over him or her. His wrath passes over you.
In fact, that was the point of the original Passover – the whole time! Look at what Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regard to a religious festival…These are a shadow of things to come. The reality is found in Jesus.”
That means the Passover was like a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. If you see a shadow on the ground, try to step on it. It won’t feel it. You need to follow the shadow to the real thing. The real thing casts the shadow.
The Passover is the shadow. What is it casting the shadow?
He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the real perfect Lamb. He’s the one whose real blood covers our sins. He’s the one that gave the original Passover lambs their strength. He’s the one who really shows God’s mercy. He’s the one that the Passover lambs were pointing to for thousands of years.
The Lord’s Supper, then, make a wondrous connection with the Passover. As the Passover pointed forward to Jesus – the Lord’s Supper points backwards to Jesus.
More than that it points downward to His Word where he promises us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in this supper. It even points upwards as it reminds us of God’s final plan for us – because of His mercy – because of the lamb – because of the blood of THE PASSOVER Lamb.
I look forward to celebrating the death of the Passover Lamb with you tonight. Amen.
What would you do inside of a fish?
Yes, that is a strange question and, yes, I really am opening my sermon with it. But humor me and think about it. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself inside of a fish?
Perhaps you’re thinking about the movie Pinocchio. Remember that? Pinocchio’s dad gets swallowed by a monstrous whale named Monstro. When Pinocchio becomes brave enough to go after him, he expects to find Gepetto, his dad, near death. But inside he finds him cooking a meal and playing some cards. Honestly, that’s not so bad. It’s sounds just like Geppetto was roughing it for a bit.
But cartoons aren’t reality. The Scriptures say that Jonah wasn’t swallowed by some gigantic whale with room enough for a king sized bed and a continental breakfast spread. It says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. (1:17) Rather than the Pinocchio scenario, picture it more like a coffin. A smelly, fishy, vile-filled, plankton stinking coffin. What do you do in such a mess?
It sounds kind of like a horror movie. Trapped, claustrophobia settling in. What do you do? Panic? Scream? Close your eyes and wait to die? At the very least – if you can keep your wits about you, you can pray for God to "have mercy and to please save me and to do so quickly before my hair smells like tuna fish forever?”
But Jonah, well, Jonah says a prayer. But not a prayer asking for help.
Jonah says a prayer of thanks.
A prayer of thanks for salvation.
A prayer of thanks for the fish.
Today we’re going to continue our series called Runaway – and we’re going to learn about what Jonah did when he was inside the fish, and even though it’s a strange place to do so, inside that fish, we’re going to learn a lot about God’s salvation. Before we study God’s Word and hear Jonah’s words from inside that big fish, let’s say 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. God Brings Salvation…in Dire Situations
Take a look at Jonah 2:1. It says this, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry.”
Notice how dire the situation was for Jonah. He calls it his “distress.” He was in extreme anxiety and terror. Why? Well – remember the last chapter. Jonah was in the middle of the sea. He didn’t have any floaties. He didn’t have an inflatable SpongeBob to hold onto. He couldn’t stand up; he wasn't in the shallow end of the pool. There wasn’t a boat in sight and he was quickly running out of strength to tread water.
To help with the picture, have you ever tried treading water before? I remember we had to do it back in swimming lessons for 5 minutes. It was a tough five minutes. My thighs were burning; my arms were burning; my lungs were burning. That’s what happens when you know how to tread water. If you don’t, you panic and splash – and your body’s energy gets used up even more quickly!
Can you imagine how Jonah felt as this strength went away?
Can you imagine how he felt without any lifeguards or any kind of a wall close by?
That’s the terror Jonah was feeling!
His next phrase describes just how terrified he was. He says, “I was in the depths of the grave.” The metaphor is that his body was already laying inside a grave, dug about 10 feet deep with a headstone that read, “Here lies Jonah, reluctant prophet.”
In other words, Jonah thought he was a goner -- as good as dead! Lost in the middle of the ocean…slowly drowning…not a boat in sight…Jonah did the only thing he could do:
“I called to the LORD and he answered me…I called for help and you, O God, listened to my cry.”
And God didn't say, "It's too late."
God didn't take too long to get there.
God didn't assess the situation and determine that there's nothing he could do.
God took a dire situation and made it one worthy of His praise.
This leads to our first salvation truth.
Salvation Truth #1: No situation is too dire for God’s salvation.
That's important to remember. Because you might feel a bit like Jonah. I’m looking out right now. None of you are literally in a pool of water drowning. Sure, it’s humid, but you get the point.
Still you might feel like you’re drowning.
Drowning in bills and mortgage payments.
Drowning in doctor visits and cancer medicines.
Drowning in relationship struggles and family feuds.
Drowning in guilt and sadness.
Drowning in loneliness – even depression.
Drowning in sin that leads you to sin that makes you feel so bad you sin some more!
He reaches out. He grabs your hands. He pulls you to safety. He rescues from the direst of situations.
To be fair: that’s what he’s already done and in the direst situation of all time. Remember the Colossians 2 passage from last week? Let’s look at it again this week. God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. (Col. 2:9) The dominion of darkness. That’s a dark place. The darkest of dark places. It’s a place of sin. A place of guilt. A place where you are alone with only the thoughts of how you have failed God and how you deserve his punishment! (It’s a place where we’ve all been. And if you think you aren’t there, then that’s proof that you been slurping up the abysmal water of death a bit too long).
Because being in that dominion of sin darkness is a lot like being in the middle of an ocean without a boat in site. We can’t tread water forever. We can’t swim to shore. No amount of good deeds will empower us to do a Michael Phelps and get out of there. The only thing left for us to do is die!
But while there was nothing for us to do, there was plenty for God to do. God brought us into the kingdom of the one he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 2:10)
That’s when he sent Jesus. Jesus is a lifeguard. A spiritual life guard. He saw us drowning and hopped off his lookout chair in heaven. He came to earth. He went into the depths of darkness on the cross. He reached out his arms for you and grabbed a hold of you – just as a nail was drive through his palm.
And then – as we waited on the other side, our hero returns to life. Three days later he bursts forth from the dominion of darkness. He resides in the safety of the light. He grabs our hand and promises to take you with him –safely home.
If that’s what God did in the direst of situations, then what will God do in your situation?
There’s no situation too dire for God.
Your situation is not too dire for God.
II. God Brings Salvation… When I don’t Deserve it
But Pastor. I get it. God is big. God is powerful. Nothing is too dire for him.
But why would he want to help me? I haven’t been exactly listening to him very much lately. I’ve ignored his warnings. I’ve barely worshipped him. I’ve mostly acted like he didn’t exist. When I do that stuff to my friends, they don’t even respond to my messages on Facebook. Why would God ever respond to me? I don’t deserve his help.
Neither did Jonah. Remember chapter 1? God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah ran away from Nineveh and didn’t preach. Then, Jonah got onto a boat and planned to run away from God. He betrayed God and did the exact opposite of what God wanted.
And Jonah understood that! Look at verse 3-4, “You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, “I have been banished from you sight.” Jonah doesn’t write any excuse. He knows that he turned his back on God and he knows that he deserves to have God’s back turned on him. He uses the word banished – meaning that he didn’t deserve to ever set a foot in God’s kingdom again. He knew it.
But read Jonah’s next words. “Still I will look again at your holy temple.” From complete despair to confidence. Why?
Because Jonah stopped looking at himself.
Because Jonah started looking at God.
It's like the old Magic Eye page. Do you remember it? It's a page of abstract art that if you look at it long enough without blinking it uncovers a secret 3D image of a ball or a potroast. Sometimes if you can't find it, you have to change perspective. Back up. Look at something else and return to it.
It's the same thing with salvation. If you're struggling to see how God might save you -- change perspective. Back up. Look around. Stop looking at yourself and start focusing on God.
Because of Salvation Truth #2: God Brings Salvation, even when we don’t deserve it. Consequently, that’s all the time. Yet God keeps bringing it. He gives us salvation even when we don’t remotely deserve it.
If you think that God couldn’t possibly bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re too busy looking at yourself.
If you think that God doesn’t need to bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re looking at yourself.
Stop it. Look at God.
Jesus says in John 6:47, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s his love. Whether you are a drunkard or a pornographer, a gossip or a liar, a thief or an abuser, an adulteress or a homosexual offender. Whatever you are, whatever you were, whatever you’ve done to sin.
Receive God’s incredible salvation!
III. God’s Salvation is Complete
That sounds nice, Pastor. That sounds nice. But will it be enough? Will Jesus be enough? My situation is so big, so large, I wonder if He’ll be enough?
Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant? I’m not talking about just a sit-down restaurant, but a sit-down and wear nice clothes restaurant? A five-star restaurant. A celebrity chef restaurant. It’s quite the experience. The ambience is gorgeous and the wait staff is extra polite. They might even bring out warm little towels to wipe your fingers on.
But then comes the meal – which you’ve been waiting for – and voila! It looks great. At least, the 4 inches of the plate that actually has food on it. You eat it; every bite about $2. You savor it, but…It’s not enough.
On the way home you stop at McDonald's for a few items off the Dollar Menu.
Do you ever wonder if God’s salvation is like that? Like it seems fancy and nice, but is it really going to be enough? It’s why we still feel so icky and still feel the pressure of trying to be perfect as if -- Jesus did a lot of this, but unless I become perfect it’ll never be enough!
Look at what God did for Jonah. It was more than enough. “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweeds was wrapped around my head." Understand how massive Jonah’s problem was. It was a problem that would cause almost anyone to come up short on. "To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” (v.5-7)
What seemed impossible to Jonah – was no problem for God. He simply reached down and plucked Jonah up from danger.
God was enough. More than enough.
Salvation truth #3: Jesus is enough for you. No matter your situation, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter how long you’ve been gone – Jesus is enough.
He was enough for a man who had stolen and lost friends his whole life.
He was enough for a woman who had committed adultery and prostituted herself.
He was enough for a thief who was literally dying next to him.
Jesus is enough for you.
1. Throw Out Your Idols.
That was Jonah’s conclusion. He said, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” An idol is a little statue. Something that people would take and worship. They’d carve; they’d cut; they’d paint. Then, they’d say, “Save me O god (aka piece of wood that I spent hours making).”
Idols aren’t super prevalent in America. At least not this kind. We’ve got other idols. Idols in the shape of money. Idols in the shape of Instagram followers. Idols in the shape of family. Idols in the shape of whoever stares at me in the mirror.
An idol is anything that tempts you to trust in it more than God.
Jonah’s advice – The guy who was literally drowning in the water and God saved him with a fish?
Drop those idols. If that’s who you trust for salvation, you will be disappointed.
Throw out your idols. Stop trusting in other things and stuff to save you. Get rid of the bottle of Jack Daniels. Block the porn website. End that ungodly relationship.
Stop trusting in them. Start trusting in Jesus.
2. Thank God for Your Fish.
Again -- this is so interesting. Because where was Jonah when he prayed this? He was inside the fish. Yet he wasn’t complaining about the fish. He wasn’t frustrated that God didn’t send a yacht for him. He wasn’t mad that he wasn’t on the beach.
He was thankful – for the fish. Look at verse 9 “Salvation comes from the Lord.” He started praising God and thanking him – even when he was inside the fish!
What’s your fish? What’s your something that’s normally bad – that God used to accomplish great good?
A job loss?
A relationship spoiled?
A health issue?
Thank God for it. Thank God that he used it to bring you back. Thank God that he used it for your salvation!
And that’s it. Jonah’s prayer ends and the final verse says, “The Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah unto dry land.”
Of course that’s what makes this story very unbelievable. Truth be told thousands of churches and pastors that would never preach on this text, because “It’s insulting. It’s unbelievable. It has a nice moral, but in the end it’s a myth because no human could be inside a fish that long.”
Lots of people don’t believe it. You might run into people like that. You might be tempted not to believe it. You might be tempted to not believe anything about God’s salvation.
But…do you know who did believe it?
Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three day and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so I will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Jesus didn’t just believe that the Jonah story was real.
He believed his resurrection would be real too.
And it was.
And he did.
And he will accomplish your salvation.
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. 4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” 7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” 9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) 11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” 12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
I cried like a baby.
The other day I stumbled across a YouTube clip. It was of the ending to Homeward Bound. Have you ever seen that? It’s a Disney movie – great family movie by the way – it’s about 3 animals – a funny boxer, a sassy Siamese cat and a wise, old Golden Retriever that think their owners run away from them. They drop them off at a doggie day care and the animals get away. What results is a wise cracking, heartwarming, courageous Disney adventure through the wilderness.
But near the near of the movie, right before they get home. Right before they find their owners – the old dog, Shadow. Falls into a pit. He hurts his legs. He can’t get out. The camera pans out as the golden Retriever does one of the saddest puppy dog faces you’ll ever see and sinks into the dirt.
The movie continues. The family is shown having a BBQ – at this point assuming that they’ll never see their animals again –when they hear a bark. The Boxer comes running up and licks the boy’s face. Then, they hear a meow. The feline bounds over to her owner for hugs and cuddles.
But then, there’s a pause. The music gets real sad. Zoom in on the oldest boys face with disappointment that his Golden Retriever didn’t make it. He turns to return to the house.
But then, over the hill, limping, dirty, panting, comes the Golden Retriever.
That’s when I lose it.
But it’s so wonderful. That’s love. The dog relentlessly pursues his friend – He doesn’t want to lose him. His love was so great that nothing could separate him from the one he loved.
Today we’re going to begin our series called Runaway – and throughout this series we’re going to hear about a man named Jonah. Have you heard of him – Jonah and the Big Fish OR Jonah & the Whale. But this is more than just another good idea for a Disney movie. Because within the very real story of Jonah, there are some very truths that we need to consider: (1) what running away from God looks like (2) Why it’s a horrible idea & (3) why God relentless pursues runaways.
Before we study God’s Word, let’s say 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. Jonah Runs
Take a look at Jonah 1:1. The story starts like this: The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. I think that’s interesting. The whole story starts with God speaking to Jonah. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe it was a vision. Maybe God spoke directly to him. Whatever way it was – there was no that this message was from God.
God had a task for Jonah “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
A little bit about Nineveh. Nineveh was a large city. Estimates are at close to 1 million people. It was on the harbor. It was very rich. Yet as large and rich as it was, there were scarcely any worshipers of the true God and even fewer people who lived according to God’s Word. They were sexually immoral, rude, violent, and greedy.
It’s a huge city.
It was an anti-God city.
And God wanted Jonah to go tell them they were wrong.
Does that sound easy? It’s not like God told Jonah to go find a few of the believers and say to them, “C’mon guys. You know we probably shouldn’t be saying those words. Let’s clean up our language or I’ll have to give you a noogie!”
This is way more intimidating. God told Jonah to go tell a people who don’t believe in God that the God whom they didn’t believe in would destroy them unless then turned to belief in him.
And it wasn’t like Jonah just had to tell a few people. If that were the case – Jonah could have just ran in, found the smallest 5 year old available, mentioned something about God and got out of there. Nope. Jonah wasn’t supposed to tell just a few people, but the whole city!
So. Look what Jonah does. “Jonah ran away from the LORD.” He headed to Joppa. He hopped on a boat to Tarshish which was the western-most city in the ancient world. It was the farthest place int he opposition direction. He was trying to get out of God's jurisdiction.
But it wasn’t enough. He walked down the stairs to the lower part of the ship. He searched for a small, compact space and when he had found it he wedged himself between two boxes. He draped a blanket or two or three over himself. And breathed a sigh of relief. “God won’t find me here.”
He drifted off to sleep.
He thought he had run away from God.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever run from God? Got up from church and bolted out of these doors? Probably not. Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never do what Jonah did. I would never run from God.”
But…notice when Jonah started running from God. It wasn’t when he got on the boat; it wasn’t when he got to port; it wasn’t when he packed his bags. It was before that.
It was when he decided not to listen to God.
Understand this: Running from God starts with not listening to His Word.
It doesn’t mean that you sprint out of the church service.
It doesn’t mean that you literally run away with your hands over your ears whenever you hear Amazing Grace.
It doesn’t mean that you get in your car after church today and drive until you reach San Francisco.
If you’re not listening to God, you are running from him.
I’ve run from him.
In fact, I’m all too good at running from him.
II. God Catches up
But maybe it’s not a big deal.
You ever done something wrong before and not been caught? Me too. Maybe you stole a pencil from work and now have over 17 in your car dashboard. The wrong is no big deal anymore and you think nothing of it.
You can sleep without any problem.
Like Jonah. He slept at the bottom of the bottom a deep sleep. He dreamed of being in Tarshish far away from his responsibilities in Nineveh. Maybe there were lollipops and rainbows there. He probably sat on a hammock under a tree being fed the finest Tarsishian grapes available.
BAM! A large wave crashed against the side of the boat. Jonah awoke to a bottle of beer rolling across the lower deck floor.
Jonah closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
CRACK! A bolt of lightning went off as the doors to the cabin flung open. A quick series of thuds followed as crew members trudged downstairs. “Guy! Hebrew man. What was his name? Jonah! Jonah are you here! We need you.”
Jonah pretended to be asleep.
Suddenly the blanket was torn off of his head. The men began shouting at him. It was a storm – a terrible storm. There weren’t going to make it. They had tried bailing water. They had tried throwing cargo overboard. Each man had tried praying to their gods – the wind god, the rain god, the lightning god – but it wasn’t working! Was it him? Could he do something? Could he speak to his God & save them?
Jonah explained. “Yes, he could save us. He could save us, because I serve the only God – the God of heaven and earth…. but…”
A glimmer of hope appeared in the men’s eyes. They rushed him upstairs to the captain’s office where more men were busy praying to their respective God’s. Jonah closed his eyes. He mumbled to fit in. But his heart wasn’t in it.
They were interrupted by a deckhand in a panic! “We need to do something quick or the whole boat will capsize.” The men needed to decide whose fault it was so they starting throwing dice to see whose fault it was. (Hoping that the universe – that God would reveal it to them.)
They captain divided up the group. If it lands on an odd number; it’s the guys on the left. Evens? It’s one of us on the right.” Evens. Odds its one of you two; even its one of you two. Evens again.
A lump grew in Jonah’s throat.
They cast the final lot.
It fell to Jonah.
They asked him. “What is it you have done? Who is your God? How have you wronged him?”
Jonah explained. My God? He’s not just the God of the waves. He’s not just a demon hovering over this part of the ocean. He is the LORD – the God of heaven and earth. The one who made the land, the seas, and the oceans.
And…I…ran away from him. Or I thought I did. Foolishly. I sinned against him. And now? We’re going to pay for it. Unless. Unless you give him what He wants.
Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v.12)
The sailors looked at him in terror. They didn’t want to do that. They tried to talk him out of that. But as their voices grew in panic, the waves rose in a thunderous approval to Jonah’s statement.
The men said one more prayer. They asked God’s forgiveness. They lift Jonah up & tossed him overboard.
God had found him.
You can drive past the church a couple mph’s faster whenever you’re on Newton Rd.
You can scroll real fast through all the scriptures that appear on your Facebook page.
You can click DELETE to the email after email that you receive inviting you to Back to Church Sunday.
You can come to church, be in church and get up to go to the bathroom whenever pastor starts talking about ‘that one sin.’
But you can’t hide from God.
God knows where you are.
God will find you.
Eventually he finds us all.
We will all face him.
I’ll face him.
You’ll face him.
Then, what do you say to him?
Don’t know? God knows what he’ll say. Scripture tells us. He’ll say, “You wanted to be away from me. Fine. Have it your way. There's one place where I'm not...
It's called hell.
III. God Saves Jonah
Jonah knew that was coming for him. As his body hit the cold water, the cold darkness of the water, soon ran over him. He kicked wildly as he tried to stay afloat. He reached for the surface and took a breath – only to inhale half a lung of seawater. He flailed his arms and kicked his feet for a until it burned deep in his muscles. A wave hit him in the face.
I’ve done wrong. I crossed God. I ran away from him. I’m getting what I deserve. It’s over.
He let his body grow limp.
He sank as the water grew dark over his face.
He awaited his death.
But it didn't happen.
The LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.
And Jonah? He awoke. It saw stinky. It was smelly. It wasn’t a holiday inn, but he wasn’t dead either. He was alive.
God saved him.
Understand – This is key in the story of Jonah. God was only pursuing Jonah because he loved him! God didn’t want him to be lost forever. God didn’t want him to be thrown into the darkness of hell. God didn’t want him to be a part from him, because he loved him and knew Jonah couldn’t exist without him. God wanted him back. God wanted to save him. In fact, God would stop at nothing to save him. Even if it meant churning up a huge, terrifying storm in his life in order that Jonah might be at his mercy – see his mercy – and return to him again.
God does that in our lives too. Maybe you’ve never been on a lake in a storm – but maybe you’re going through a life storm right now.
A devastating failed relationship.
A terrifying eviction notice.
A disastrous loss of job.
A depression. A sadness. A feeling of guilt that has overcome you to the very core.
Something that has happened to you to make you realize you can’t do this alone. You need Him.
And you made it this far. You’re hear. And the devil’s in your ear, “He’s not serious. This isn’t real. God couldn’t love you. God won’t have you back. You’ve abandoned him too many times for too long. He’s done with you.”
But listen to God’s voice. Now. Today. Right now. God says to you, “Return. Come back. I love you. Be mine.”
And God will save you! In the most unlikely of ways! That’s how he saved Jonah. Not with a rescue boat. The coast guard didn’t show up with a life saver. There wasn’t even a piece of driftwood for him to float on.
He was swallowed by a fish! There’s nothing more unlikely than that!
Except maybe this: Some guy, 2000 years ago, gathers a bunch of followers, says that he’s God, angers a group of religious zealots, is executed falsely on a terrifying instrument of torture, dies, and saves you.
This is exactly how God saved you. It isn’t from within. He doesn’t say, “Try harder.” “Do Better.” Or “Give me lots of money and I’ll think about it.”
He says, “I’ll die for you. I’ll die for you to save you. I’ll die for you; to forgive you. I’ll die for you; to make you mine.”
Colossians 1:13 says this, “God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Do you understand that? When you return to God, who has been relentlessly pursuing you his whole life – even dying for you – he offers full and complete forgiveness.
But you’re right, we don’t always recognize that. That’s why God comes after us with this message – even in an unlikely way!
Through an over-caffeinated, Raleigh transplant.
Through a few kids singing his praises.
Through a few drops of water.
Through a few words on a page in a book with a torn cover in the back of a wooden pew.
Unlikely as it is – God pursues you. God is pursuing you. Right now. Relentlessly.
Because he loves you with every fiber of his Divine heart.
It’s a pursuit worth crying about.
Like my friend Beulah. Beulah is a young 90 years old. Beulah has been attending some of my Bible studies at an assisted living home close by. Beulah had come every once in a while over the years. I’ve met her a few times. Some days she’d be awake; other days she’d drift asleep.
But one day a few months back, she listened. Her eyes didn’t come after me. When we were done, she asked to talk to me in private.
Is what you’re saying true? Does God really love me? I’m old. I’m alone. I’m forgotten about. I’ve done wrong; lots of wrong. I’ve hated God. I’ve abandoned him.
Could God really love me?
I opened up my Bible. Beulah, God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. All sins. Your sins.
God’s love will make you do that.
Have you been watching the weight lifting in the Olympics? (It’s usually on ESPN 7 at about 2am in the morning, but it’s good.)
These men – huge men – busting out of their Olympic gear with muscles, veins, and eyeballs lift these huge barbells. On each end is plate after plate after plate – which isn’t so bad at first glance – until you realize each plate is about 100 lbs.! These guy take 650 lbs., clean it and throw it above their heads without much of a problem.
If I were in the Olympics and I had to lift that above my head, I think I’d have to settle for a participation medal. Because there’s no way I could lift something like that. There’s no way I could do it. I don’t have the physical strength.
The task is too big!
Does your life ever feel like that?
Do you ever encounter something that feels like a 497 lb. barbell?
Does it ever look like too much?
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project by looking at the Big Task that Nehemiah discovered awaiting him in Jerusalem. In fact, it was a huge task! A task that would definitely qualify under “it looks way bigger than one person can handle!”
And yet – Nehemiah was confident he could handle it.
Why? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. 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. Big Tasks Look Big
Last we left Nehemiah, he had just gotten permission, protection, and a promise for supplies from King Artaxerxes. Verse 11 picks up after Nehemiah gathers his stuff, selects his crew, passes through city after city, and journeys 1000 some miles to Jerusalem. It says, “I went to Jerusalem and after staying there three days, I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.”
Initially Nehemiah simply reintroduces himself to Jerusalem. He probably meets up with some old friends for coffee. Grabs a bite to eat with his 2nd cousin twice removed. Catches a local wrestling match for entertainment and settles into the area.
Notice -- he hadn’t yet told anyone about his plans for Jerusalem. That’s probably just a reference to the people of Jerusalem -- not so much the guards who came with him – He hadn’t yet told them that he planned to rebuild.
I think he just wanted to come up with a plan first. He wanted to propose a simple plan that would be easy and not that much time and effort. A plan that people could easily get on board with.
Think about it. Are people more likely to choose things that are easy or difficult?
Would you prefer to move the mulch from the parking lot to the playground with your bare hands or a wheelbarrow?
Would you prefer to move from one house to another using a full service moving company or by yourself using a single passenger smart car?
Would you prefer to get a college credit from a course called “A Review of Addition and Subtraction” or “Advanced Trigonometry and Calculus formulas Approaching the Infinity Limit”?
And that’s what I think Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. He wants to be able to tell people it won’t be so hard before he gives them the idea.
So he begins his investigation at night. Like a celebrity wearing a moustache and sunglasses, he doesn’t want to be seen until he’s done with his investigation.
He approaches the first area. He gets off his horse. He holds up his lantern ...and is shocked.
Piles and piles of rubble. Stone on top of stone on top of stone. Charred marks from the first fire still mark the gates. The whole thing looks like an old dump, not the impressive wall of Jerusalem he was expecting.
Ok. It’s a bit rough. Maybe there are other parts that won’t be so bad.
So he heads toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s pool but…there it’s even worse! In fact, the rubble is so bad that he gets to a point where his horse, which needs a couple feet of space on each side to maneuver, has to turn back! The destruction is everywhere – so bad that he has to head to the outside of the wall to finish his investigation.
That was worse. But I’m sure once we ride around the city a bit, we’ll find at least a few entrances that don’t need much work other than a fresh coat of paint.
He was wrong. He couldn’t even get back into the city other than through the gate that he had just entered.
This was a big task.
Then, Nehemiah remembers something. Check out verse 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews, or the priests or the nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Suddenly, that itself was a tall task. He was going to have to convince all those people that this complete dump was worth all the cleanup, all the hard work, and all the funding to be restored!
This task seemed a lot bigger than originally anticipated.
Do you have a task in your life like that?
Something that seems so big you wonder how you could ever do it?
I don’t know how I’ll ever repair this marriage. Too much damage has been done.
I think it’s impossible for me to make a connection with my son. We’re too different.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of poverty. It’s too much a way of life.
I know my body will never recover from that surgery. Recovery is too tough.
I don’t know that I’ll ever reconnect with God. I’ve done too much wrong. I’ve been too far away. I destroyed my life. I’ve left it in shambles. Relationships have fallen apart. My bridge to God has been burned. There’s grief lying around every corner. Sin has stained my walls and there’s hateful graffiti reminding me of my past actions.
The worst realization? This is all my fault!
It’s impossible for me to do.
Well…do you know what God’s Word says to you today? It says, “You’re right. It is impossible for you to do.”
II. Our God is Bigger
Segue with me to the Gospel. A rich man approaches Jesus. Everything he has in his life, he’s built. He’s built a career. He’s built a family. He’s built his stock portfolio. He’s built his riches. He’s pretty sure that he’s already built up some eternal riches, but he wants to ask Jesus to make sure.
“What do I need to do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus gives him the formula. Keep God’s commands. Love God. Love others. Do so all the time and perfectly.
The man considers his life. A grin comes across his face. He brushes off his shoulders: “You bet. I’ve done that. Anything else?”
“Sell everything you have and devote your life to me.”
The man’s face drops. He looks around in shock. He stares at Jesus to see if he’s bluffing but – he’s not. He turns around and walks away – dejected.
The disciples who have been watching this are even more dejected! If he can’t do it, who can? He’s handsome. He’s rich. He’s got it all. If he can’t build himself a way to heaven, then how can any of us? We’re fishermen. We’re sinful tax collectors. We don’t have it together anywhere near as much as he does. How can anyone do what you are asking?
He says, “With man this is impossible…but…nothing is impossible with God.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? When it comes to salvation…when it comes to forgiveness and peace with God and the path to heaven…we cannot. It’s impossible! But not with God.
Look up at that cross. That’s a symbol for the best reconstruction crew of all time. Because on that cross – Jesus fixed your life.
He replaced the broken bridge to God with a cross.
He cleaned up all the stains of your sin.
He removed the rubble of guilt.
He power-wash cleaned you inside and out.
He paved you with the jewels of his righteousness at every street lamp.
He built a wall of protection made out of the Holy Spirit himself.
He says, “Here I will dwell; you will be mine.”
God did that impossible thing! Something that not one construction crew, band of workers, or a Habitat for Humanity group could even approach building.
He built your salvation.
That’s the same God who is with you whatever your task is.
He was with Nehemiah! Nehemiah knew it. And so in spite of how difficult, challenging and tall of a task the rebuilding of Jerusalem was going to be, look at what he does the next morning. V17 I said, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem!”
And the people don’t refuse. They don’t say It’s too hard. They don’t tell Nehemiah to do it on his own.
They said yes. They said yes, because they knew they had a pair of very capable hands behind them.
I’m not talking about young Jake’s hands that didn’t quite know how to make brick yet.
Nor elder Malachi’s hands that shook as he lifted up a saw.
Not even Eli the carpenter’s hands that swung a hammer at slightly above average speed.
But the hands of the Almighty, Eternal, All powerful, world creating, volcano shaking, God were with them.
And as big as the project was – God’s hands were bigger.
And as big as the task that you are going through may be. Remember: God’s hands are bigger.
III. WHAT NOW?
Now take a look at a picture of the universe. It’s huge. We haven’t even explored all of it. What’s interesting is that if you take a look at a picture like this, you need to realize that earth is such a very tiny speck. But then, if you take a look at a map of the world. It’s gigantic. On it, Raleigh is so very tiny small. Not even identifiable. And if you take a look at a map of Raleigh – zoomed out on Google maps – Gethsemane is so tiny. And the field across the way for our Building Project is so tiny as well.
So…if that field is tiny compared to Raleigh compared to NC compared to the world compared to the universe compared to God!
What is our Building Project to Him?
And what is your big, impossible task to him?
Nothing. Nothing in fact is impossible with God.
Keep that in perspective. You’ll gain a lot of confidence.
(2) Start Building
That’s what happened when the people decided to do what they were going to do. They started building! Scripture says, “They began this good work.”
Maybe they put together a Building Committee, volunteered for a design group, set out sign-up sheets for making bricks and a sign-up sheet for making noontime meals for the workers. They gathered money. They said prayers. They did whatever it was they could do to make the project work!
Do the same thing. Whatever your task is – get to work.
And if you are able to help with our building project! Please do. Give and volunteer and pray. Email me to find out some of the ways that you can help.
(3) Ignore the Haters
Did you notice chapter 2 doesn’t end all that pleasantly? Scripture says that a host of foreigners – non believers – mocked and ridiculed us. They said, “What is it you’re doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
That makes things tougher. When someone is telling you, you can’t.
But look at Nehemiah’s response. “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.”
In other words – You’re right. We can’t. But God can. And as his children, we see that. WE see God. We see his hand at work and we know he’s working for us.
You don’t see that. And that’s ok. It won’t stop God from getting the job done.
Ignore the haters.
Ignore the blog posts that talk about how you’ll never rebuild your life.
Ignore your friends who say you’ll never fix that relationship because it’s just too big of a job.
They don't see what you see.
They don't see that your God is big.
And there isn't any task too big for Him.
I’m from Wisconsin. I love the Green Bay Packers and I try to never miss a game.
But we live in North Carolina. The Packers aren’t always on television. So I have to be creative. I can go to a sports bar – I can make friends with those who have an NFL ticket – or I can sneak a peek through someone’s back window.
One time I was feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to go out. So I opened up my computer and I typed into Google, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” Sure enough – a link popped up right away with that exact phrase, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” I clicked on it.
I was taken to a “kind of shady" looking website where there wasn’t a lot of punctuation and every letter was lowercased, but right in the middle was a big flashing GREEN button that said, “WATCH FREE HERE!” Again – I clicked. This time an ad popped up, “Complete 2 of 3 offers for access to the game.” The offers? Sign up for two year subscription to a magazine; buy $20 of stuff at Home Depot OR take a 45 minute survey for a clinical trial.
FREE isn’t so FREE, is it?
That was for watching a Packer game. How much do you think heaven costs? How much do you think forgiveness costs? What about peace, eternal life, and victory for your soul?
I. Salvation Can’t Be Bought
Romans 2:6 says this, “God will repay each according to what he has done.” You get paid what you have earned. If you work 4 hours, you get paid for 4 hours. If you work 8 hours, you get paid for 8 hours. If you work on commission, you get paid for the work you did.
Romans is saying, “if you want salvation, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Ever heard of UBER? It’s a phone app that allows you to request a ride from just about anywhere. Only uber isn’t a taxi service, it simply alerts people who have signed up to be Uber drivers that you need to be picked up and moved from point A to point B.
Being an UBER driver sounds pretty sweet. You get paid for gas and for the time spent in the car driving person from A to B. Once more people use this service, I imagine you can live in and this becomes a full time job. But – if you live in the outskirts, Concord OR Rolesville – probably not a full time job. You probably aren’t as busy.
What does it take then to get heaven?
How much do you have to do to earn salvation?
How many hours do you have to put in?
Take a look at Romans 2:7 “Those who persist in doing good will be given eternal life.” Notice that word persist. That means “To continue in.” There’s no qualifier in this sentence. It doesn’t say, “Persist for a while.” “Persist for a week.” “Persist for a month.” Nope. It simply says, “Persist.”
As in, “All the time.”
Sound easy enough? Just do good, speak good, and think good all the time.
But, I gotta ask, do you even think you’ll persist in good until noon? As you’re leaving, will you fight over the radio? “I want Justin Bieber – but my NFL game is starting.” Will you argue over lunch? Swear at the first turnover during your football game? Lust as the cameras pans in on the cheerleaders? Or dream about the guy next door doing yard work with his shirt off? Yell at the kids, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they’re annoying you. Call up your mom to bad mouth your sister and have enough glasses of wine that the room starts to spin.
Honestly – we might not even persist in doing good the rest of this church service. We might see someone and start thinking about how much we hate them. We might ignore the sermon because we want to check out our fantasy stats. We might gossip with the person next to us during the sermon because, “Did you see how ornery those kids were?”
Let’s be honest. We haven’t persisted in doing good. We can’t persist in doing good. We don’t quality for receiving eternal life.
What then? What do we do if we haven’t done persistent good, but instead we’ve done sin? Romans 6:23 explains it very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s Halloween weekend. Did you see anything scary? Miniature witches? An exorbitant amount of spider webs? My neighbors have a scarecrow that’s motion censored and moves when you get close. (I didn’t get scared at all. I promise.)
But Halloween’s not that scary. Afterall, it’s pretend. That Romans passage? It is. It mentions death. It talks about eternal separation. It mentions the hellfire wrath of God against sin.
I can understand if you don’t want to believe it. It’s a terrifying thing to be true. But just because it’s terrifying, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Sin is scary and the wages of in is scary.
Ask Martin Luther. He was a 16th century monk. Martin Luther was terrified of God. He understood sin. He understood that a Good God MUST hate sin; therefore, Martin would try to soothe God’s anger. He would lock himself in a dark tower. He’d beat himself. He’d starve himself. He’d pay money to the priests earn forgiveness.
Yet he knew it wasn’t working. He knew he was still persisting in bad. He knew he was earning death.
Then, Martin got to studying the Bible for himself. He learned Greek and Hebrew so that he could read the Bible in its original languages. When he did, what he found shocked him.
Here for instance. Read the entirety of Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
Every birthday party – there are always some gifts you look forward to and others that you can do without, right? Grandmas’ gifts? Awesome. She’d give you a Nintendo game or a sweet book. Mom? She always knew exactly what you wanted. Crazy Aunt sally? She'd knit two pairs of socks that didn’t match because she ran out of the color yarn she was using.
Look at who is giving a gift in Romans 6. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t run out of yarn. He owns all things. He has an unlimted supply of everything.
What he gave – is even better than one of those cards with cash in it – God give something that lasts forever. He gifted us eternal life in Christ Jesus.
This wasn’t cheap for God. Notice he gave us eternal life in Christ Jesus. Eternal life was so costly, so expensive, that God had to give up the life of his one and only, persisting in doing good, never sinned once, holy in every way Son.
And this was hard. Jesus endured nails through his hands. He endured thorns pressed into his head. He endured a slow painful death on a cross.
But he stayed up there. He stayed up there because he loved you too much. He stayed up there to save you. He stayed up there, because you couldn’t pay for salvation. He stayed up there because he could. He stayed up there because salvation MUST BE A GIFT!
Three day later, what happened to him? He came back to life. He rose from the dead. He didn’t die trying to win you a gift, but he came back to life triumphant because he had had!
Look at the result. Romans 3:24 says this, “We are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” Justified is a courtroom term. It’s legal speak. It means, “Not guilty,” or, “Innocent.” “Forgiven.”
It means that when God is judging you, God remembers Jesus. He says, “This one persisted in doing good, give him eternal life!”
The devil objects, “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you watch this person’s life? The porn use. The time he cheated on his wife. The time he stole money at work. The lies. The guilt. The greed. The anger. God – it’s all over this person. Don’t you see how sinful they are?!”
And God? “No.”
This is grace. It’s a gift – an eternal, incredible, divine gift from God to you!
But, here’s the thing. The devil didn’t convince God that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough; so the devil will try to convince you. “That Pastor is foolish. Grace might work for that Wally Cleaver over there, but not you. Jesus isn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. You need to do better. You need to earn your salvation. You need to get better – which you’ll never do – so you might as well give up!”
Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, then it is not by works; for it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
In the back of church, there are a bunch of free Bibles. Guests, please take one. If anyone else wants one to take to a friend or coworker, go for it.
Now, if we had someone back by the Bible with a cash register and one of those little card swiper thingies who said, “That’ll be $5.” Then, we can’t say “Come get your gift.” It’s not a gift. Even if the Bibles cost a penny OR sign up to be a member in our church, then it wouldn’t be a gift.
Same thing with salvation. It is a gift. It’s yours by faith. It’s yours without having to earn it. It’s your by grace alone.
Now what? Believe it. Don’t leave this gift behind. Experience its benefits.
Like the Philippian Jailer. Do you know that story?
There had just been an earthquake. As the dust settled and the landscape calmed, the insides of the jailer became a jumbled mess. “Shoot. Did the prisoners get out? Are they getting away? If they do, where should I go? The Romans will kill me. If they do, who will look after my family? Who will pay for their food? How much longer do I have to live? When I die, where will I go? How will I face God? Will it be peaceful? Or will I be punished?"
The jailer ran to the cell. Hoping – praying that they were still closed. Hoping – praying that the men were still in them. Hoping – praying that he would get to keep his life.
As he turned the corner, his heart dropped. He saw a cell door – wide open.
With tears streaming his face, the flickering light of the one remaining candlestand revealed that all of the cell doors had been busted open. His shook his head in disbelief. This was a disaster. There was no reason to remain. No reason to face his employers. No reason to live.
He unsheathed his sword. He took a deep breath….and…
“Don’t do it!” A voice shouted, “We are all here.”
The jailer opened his eyes. He followed the voice. There he saw the man called Paul in the corner. He was some sort of religious guy. He had the others prisoners gathered around him in prayer. He had been singing praises to God. He was smiling.
The jailer didn’t know a lot about him, but right now…right now that didn’t matter. His life had just flashed before his eyes and he hated what he saw. Now only one question went through his mind:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting some incredible answer. Maybe he was expecting “Increase your giving to the temple.” Maybe he was expecting, “Improve your morality.” Maybe he was expecting, “You can’t; it costs too much.”
But that wasn’t what he heard. It wasn’t what Jesus taught. Paul replied, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized.”
In other words: “Trust in God’s grace. Receive his gracious promises." God did it all!
You do the same. We are saved by grace alone. Amen.
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.
Let's talk a bit about Christmas Footwear. There are all kinds of options. There's the green elf shoes that curl at the end with the little jingle bell attached to the tip. There's a pair of fuzzy, candy cane striped socks that goes up to your knees. If you are a kid getting ready for a Christmas program or play, you might get a pair of shiny new black shoes.
Or maybe you just get Frozen shoes. Really. Anything Frozen will do.
The kind of footwear you have for Christmas will leave an impression on all the people you meet.
But it's about more than just what you wear on your feet. It's also about what kind of message your feet bring to people. And th truth is that sometimes, yes, even during Christmas, feet bring bad news.
Lots of bad news.
There’s a lot of bad news in this world.The sad thing is that the places people go for some good news --just give them more bad news:
Science, which is supposed to be so predictable, logical ,and rationally help us wrap our minds around our existence says this, “There is no God! God is a nothing! You are nothing more than a bag of bones that accidentally got created, lives a miserable life making other people miserable with your bad choice, only to one day be buried under the ground – rotting, lonely, and forgotten.”
A counselor says, “You feel bad. That’s part of who you are. You need to try better. You need to feel better. You need to get past this on your own. You need a pill for this and a prescription for that. You’re broken. You’re unfixable."
A church says, “You have sinned, you need to do better. You need to win God back. You need to rededicate yourself this New Year and you will eventually earn yourself God’s favor. And if you don’t, if you sin and fail, you’ll be worse off than you were before.”
That's bad news too.
Even you. You might be negative about Christmas. You might remind people "There's presents to wrap, lights to hang, and cookies to make." You give people the impression that if they don't do these things, they have failed this Christmas.
That's bad news.
We need some good news.
For the Israelites in 500 B.C., there was mostly bad news. Because of their sins, God had handed the Israelites over to the Babylonian army. Their cities were destroyed, their way of life uprooted, some were taken into captivity, others were dispersed throughout the Middle East.
70 years. For 70 years these Israelites were taken into captivity. 70 years without their homeland. 70 years without their government. 70 years without the freedom to worship their God in peace. 70 years separated from family. 70 years spending the holidays away from their homes. 70 years unable to celebrate festivals as they had before. 70 years of bad news.
I imagine they were reminded of this often. The architecture of the local schools screamed Babylonia. The dress of the local people reminded them – you are not the dominate culture anymore. The rules, laws, and culture of the land said your way of living is second class to our way of living.
Just imagine the captive Israelite headed to the bar for a drink after work and running into a group of loudmouthed Babylonian soldiers, “You people are so worthless. You were such wimps when we overtook your land. How the mighty have fallen?”
“Speaking of mighty? What about this Almighty God of yours? How Almighty can he really be if he can’t defeat our great king? How powerful can he be if he can’t even provide his people their own country? King of the heavens and the earth? HA! He should be called the king of bread crumbs and a few copper coins. Your God is a NOTHING!”
Maybe. Maybe he was nothing. Or maybe he was still angry. After all they had sinned. The words of the prophets echoed in their minds. They had been warned. “Stop sinning or the Lord himself will abandon you.”
They hadn’t listened. They hadn’t stopped sinning. They hadn’t followed through on their promises to God. But God had followed through on his threats to them.
There was a lot of bad news for these Israelites.
They needed good news.
Perhaps the feet were quiet.
Slowly, quietly walking over to a vase. Reaching inside. Pulling out a scroll. Hurriedly rushing to the front door. Watching out for Babylonians. Stopping quietly at the front door. Waiting for it to open.
Hopping inside. Scurrying to the table. Sitting. Opening the scroll. Reading out loud.
These feet brought “Good news.”
Take a look at an example of that good news that an Israelite father might have read his family in verse 6-9 of chapter 52. "Now therefore what am I doing here," says the Lord, "seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl," says the Lord, "and continually, all day long, my name is despised.” Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Ah! Good news. Did you hear it? It was for the Israelites to be sure, but it is also for you. It’s for your neighbors. It’s for your friends. It’s for your family. It’s for your boss, your coworkers, and even that guy who give your morning coffee with a smile at Starbucks. This is the very good news that your feet have to share with the world this Christmas. It’s the good news you and I have to share with the people of North Raleigh.
Listen and reflect on this good news:
1. Peace with God.
As Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces peace!” For the Israelite it meant that God was waiting for them to return. As they repented, he awaited with an announcement of peace and the good news of sins forgiven. They may have been captives, but they were no longer abandoned. God was at peace with them.
This is the same news that is written in Christmas light displays throughout the triangle. It’s the news that the words of Silent Night speak of. It’s the peace that the you read of as you tell your children what the angels sang on that first Christmas night.
To be fair – this is not just "sitting by the fire, smelling Christmas potpourri, and listening to the Easy Listening Christmas Piano Music station on Pandora" – type of peace.
It’s greater than that.
This is a peace the angels sang on the first Christmas. It’s the peace angels – who are messengers of God – announced to the world. It’s the peace that God has sent a Savior and because of Him – God’s anger against us is gone! Through faith in Him, we are at divine peace with our Savior!
Think of this good news you get to tell your friends. Because of Jesus, their sins are forgiven. Because of Jesus, they are at peace with God. Because of Jesus, they can release themselves from guilt. Because of Jesus, they can have real, everlasting, peace this Christmas.
2. Good Tidings of Joy.
Literally this means good news. The good news of Christmas is that God came to save us.
It isn’t that you might get some cool presents. It isn’t that there’s 50% off sale at Macy’s. It isn’t that you get a holiday bonus. It isn’t that family is coming to visit. It isn’t that there’s one more bon bon left in the fridge.
The good news of Christmas is that your Savior came! He became a human being. He was born of a virgin. He grew up a human being. He was tempted as a human being, but unlike any other human being he was without sin. He died like a human being—a criminal human being though he had done nothing criminal.
But then unlike any other human being ever, Jesus brought himself back from the dead. He returned to life on the third day as he had promised! He promises that through faith in him you will do the same!
This is the good news of Christmas. It’s the good news that you know well. It’s the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, and death that you get to share with your children, your spouse, your parents, even a friend who has never heard the story of Jesus ever before.
3. Salvation from Sin, Death, and the Devil.
The good news grows from there. Isaiah says, “Blessed is the one who announces salvation!” Salvation means “the good news of being saved.”
But what kind of salvation? For the Israelite captives, the good news was that they would be saved from their captivity. They would return to Jerusalem. They would return to their lives.
For those in your world? You too can share salvation with them. Salvation from their captors.
Salvation from sin. It’s consequences no longer hold us down and its power no longer rules over us. In Jesus’ name, the addict defeats his addiction, the alcoholic defeats her alcoholism, the begrudged husband restores his marriage, the depressed breaks free and feels joy.
Salvation from evil. God defeated the devil on the cross. How then can Christmas scrooges ruin Christmas? Tell that to your friend. How can any evil ruin Christmas? God has ruins evil already!
There is salvation over death! Tell your friends and family that. Jesus’ birth means that we too will be born into a new life. An eternal life. Tell them it means more than just sadness, tears, a funeral, and a bag of dirt. Tell them Jesus’ birth means his life and his resurrection to life – and eternal life to all who believe!
4. God Reigns.
What an incredible message this was for the Israelites in captivity to hear. Their captors continued to chant at them, “We reign. Not you and not your God. We are in control of you and all your do.” But the good news is that God still reigned. He had not forgotten them. He was still in control. He would watch over them in captivity and restore them to Jerusalem at the proper time.
This is the same message of good news that you get to share this Christmas. To remind others that God reigns. Not addiction. Not sin. Not the devil. Not hatred. Not evil. Not science. Not racism. Not hatred. Not atheists. Not doubts. Not fears. Not sadness. Not loneliness.
God reigns. The same loving God who restored peace with you, the same loving God who came to earth for you, the same loving God who won salvation for you, is the God who is in control on high. He reigns!
This is good news. This is great news. This is incredible news!
Think of how important that is for the addict who thinks his addiction rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the financial unstable who thinks money rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the sick who thinks the disease rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the guilty who thinks that the one terrible sin they did one time rules to hear.
Think of how important that is for the atheist who think that chance and an unloving nothingness rules to hear.
Good news is super important to tell. Clothe yourself with it this Christmas!
Traditionally at my house Christmas morning gifts can be kind of funny. Gag gifts, if you will. One year I opened my stocking to find that my mother had stuffed it with a pink plastic egg looking thing. I didn’t have any idea what it was. My mom informed me it was a foot scrubber. It helped to keep your feet good looking and manicured as I was getting closer to being married to Julianna.
I thought, "Maybe I’ll just keep my socks on."
You too need to make sure your feet are beautiful this Christmas. But you don’t need to see a pedicurist or buy some fancy shoes. You simply need to TELL the Good News about Jesus.
· As you wear a pair of tennis shoes handing out Christmas service invitations to all of your neighborhood houses.
· As you wear your business shoes, explaining to your coworkers the true meaning of Christmas.
· As you lounge around the house in Crocs, telling your family the good news of Jesus that they won’t want to miss out on at church.
· As you wear your funny Looney Tunes slippers and quietly sing Christmas Carols of Jesus’ birth with your children.
This Christmas. Make your feet beautiful. Make sure your feet travel with the good news of the Savior wherever you go.
The other day my wife's grandfather became very ill. He was in hospice and on his last bed. As my wife called him, she heard rasping and heavy breathing coming from the other end of the phone.
What do you say? I'm sorry I wasn't there? I'm sorry you are sick? I hope it isn't painful. Glad you had a good life!
Not to embarrass her, but my wife's words were simple:
"Grandpa, I love you. Jesus loves you."
After he had passed, grandma spoke to us and said that he had been having such a hard time during his lasts moments on this earth, but when he spoke to Julianna--when he heard what she had to say-- he smiled.
You too. Tell the good news of Jesus this Christmas. Amen.
As Christmas approaches, you’ll see that phrase in a lot of different places. Painted in sparkles and decorating a plaque on a tree. Written in cursive icing over the top of a gumdropped Gingerbread house. Sung in wispy, happy , 80’s voice at the end of a made for TV holiday Classic.
OK...the message is clear. One thing you’re going to want to do this Christmas is to BELIEVE.
But…believe in what? Believe in elves? Believe in the power of the mistletoe to bring couples together? Believe that the next helping of figgy pudding will be a healthy choice? (It’s got figs in it afterall). Believe in the magic of the iPhone 6 to make sure all of your kids have a Merry Christmas and never ever sass you again? Believe in the power of the human spirit? Believe that if you just want it hard enough and wished for it with all your heart, this will be a good Christmas?
Did you know that BELIEVE is also a message that was a part of the very first Christmas? In fact, about a year before the first Christmas – just a little bit earlier than Walmart puts their Christmas decorations out – an angel brought that very news to a man named Zechariah. Only what the angel asked Zechariah to believe was much different than believing in Santa Claus or a Red Nosed Reindeer.
It was real.
Here’s his story.
Zechariah lived at a time that wasn’t filled with a lot of hope. His country was dealing with foreign opposition. In verse 1 it says, “…Herod was king of Judea.” King Herod was the appointed representative of the Roman Empire from around 49 B.C. to 4 B.C. And the history books record him as kind of a tyrant.
Times were hard for the Jewish People. They were not in charge of their own country and didn’t have a lot of say in their government. They dealt with angry Roman soldiers, over taxation and over bearing Roman laws. It wasn’t exactly a magical winter wonderland filled with belief.
Then there was his personal life. Zechariah was a priest. He had devoted his life to God. In fact, Scripture mentions that Zechariah was blameless which – while it isn’t the same as sinless, because no one is sinless – it does mean that Zechariah was a generally respectable and faith-filled guy. – Always in church, always in prayer, always working hard to obey God’s laws.
Yet…in spite of all this, Zechariah had no children. He had served the Lord, worked in the church, devoted his life to God and he was still childless!
I’ll bet it bugged him. Bugged him when he saw others with kids. Others who didn’t spend their lives devoted to God, who weren’t even married—even godless Romans had families! This didn’t seem fair.
And now? He was old. Too old. Both he and Elizabeth were past their childbearing years. Scripture says that Elizabeth was barren.
Imagine what this was like. Kids running into temple for Hebrew school were just another reminder that he would never teach his own son the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Playful shouts from the marketplace were reminders that he would never bend over to play tag with his boy. The neighbor boy didn’t just leave his toys in his yard…he left a reminder of the scars on his heart.
Do you see why it would have been hard for Zechariah to have hope? Hard for him to BELIEVE?
One day Zechariah was on duty with his division of priests and was chosen to into the temple and burn incense. An honor that was only given to one priest at a time every so often. Zechariah went in and began going about his duties. He lit a candle. Gathered more incense. Set it on fire. Then he backed up to watch the sweet smelling smoke rise to heaven.
Then, he saw it. Behind the thin wavering lines of the smoke was a light. Dim at first. Then, as the light sifted through the smoke it became clear.
It was an angel!
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. God has heard your payer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you will name him John."
I’ll bet Zechariah blinked his eyes. This angel’s message was so incredible. Think about what the angel was saying:
First, that God had heard his prayers? He had been praying those prayers days after day and night after night for years. Never did his wife get pregnant. Never did he receive an answer. Never did he get so much as a sign that God had actually heard him.
Was he really to believe that God had heard him all this time?
Second, that he would soon have a son. Did the angel get the wrong priest? Was he off a week with his visit? Did he know how old he was? Didn’t he know that his wife was barren? That he was known as “Zechariah—the old priest with no children…”
Was he really to believe that God would give him a son after all this time?
Then the angel’s message got even more incredible. 15 As far as the Lord is concerned, he will be a great man... He would bring many people of Israel back to God. He would have the power of Elijah and be filled with the Holy Spirit even at birth. He would prepare people for the Lord –as the director prophetic forerunner to the Christ!
Was Zechariah really to believe that his ‘son’ would be a special servant of God?
Perhaps for a second, a glimmer of hope glistened in his eye. But then…that hope was clouded. Doubt took over. Grumble and unbelief voiced its opinion: “What proof is there for this? I’m an old man, and my wife is beyond her childbearing years.”
I don’t know that angels know how to speak sarcastically. Yet… 19 The angel answered him, “I’m Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence.” In other words, I’M AN ANGEL!!!! Zechariah wanted a sign? What did he think he was looking at? “Talk to a bright, shining, winged, otherworldly being” was not on the list of temple duties that Zechariah was to perform that day. Wasn’t the angel himself proof that something incredible was happening?
Secondly the angel added, “God sent me to tell you this good news….You Zechariah, should believe me, because this message is from God. God who created life out of nothing and who would have no problem creating life in a barren womb. Zechariah, you should believe me because God said so.”
"But because you didn’t believe what I said…God will give you a sign. A reminder each day for the next nine months of your unbelief and of God’s promise: You will be unable to talk until the day this happens.”
Zechariah was speechless.
The angel left and Zechariah stumbled out of the temple. Crowds of people gathered around him. What did you see? Why did you take so long? Are you alright?
Zechariah couldn’t say anything. He couldn’t muster a word. But he didn’t need to. That smile on his face said it all.
What about you? Do you believe?
It's easy to feel like there’s not a lot to believe in this Christmas. Like Zechariah, our country has its own gloomy problems. The still struggling economy means you might not be able to get every gift you wish you could get your kids just like last year. Emergency news stories about violence and hatred are more common than seasonal specials about the peace of the season. Estranged relationships keep your family from any kind of holiday togetherness. Silent Night means grabbing a Jack and Coke to sip on while sitting by yourself with your feelings of loneliness and solitude.
Understand what God’s message is for you today. No matter how lonely, no matter how inadequate, no matter how scared, frightened, or hopeless your life feels right now, God wants you to BELIEVE! BELIEVE…in HIM!
It all seems a little foolish. In our high tech, high business, highly practical, no room for faith world, this seems a little foolish. It may seem silly in this struggling economy and take a break and gaze at a cute little stable scene: A cow. A horse. A few sheep. A mother. A manger. A child. All under a sign fastened to the top of the stable: A SAVIOR IS BORN!
Do you understand what those words mean? Do you understand what God wants you to believe?
BELIEVE: At Christmas God enacts his plan of salvation.
BELIEVE: God placed the Christmas family together in his divine providence.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is your Savior.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is God himself.
BELIEVE: God grew up and never sinned.
BELIEVE: God was put to death for your sins.
BELIEVE: You are forgiven by God.
BELIEVE: God came back to life on Easter.
BELIEVE: God promises eternal life for you.
BELIEVE: You are loved by him.
BELIEVE: You will be in heaven with God.
This is the message of Jesus. This is the message of Christmas.
Want proof? Don’t look to me. I’m not an angel. I don’t have wings. I probably won’t leave you speechless. But I can point you to where the proof is. In the Bible. God’s message.
In the Bible, this baby boy grows up to change water to wine, to heal men with the incurable disease of leprosy, to make a lame man walk, a mute man speak, and a dead girl live.
Anyone else you know do that? Why not believe!?! Believe as our verse of the day says, BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
Even today’s miracles which took place before Jesus was born at the announcement of Jesus’ cousin are proof that this “Jesus” is someone special. Think about it – (1) an angel (2) a barren woman made pregnant AND (3) a voice removed for nine months! This is miraculous.
BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
You wanna know what happened to Zechariah? SPOILER ALERT: He became a father. He went home and Elizabeth was pregnant. Nine months later he held his baby boy in his arms and that baby boy grew up to serve the LORD in a very special way.
God’s promises are real. They do not falter.
In the coming weeks, you’ll see the phrase BELIEVE more than once. When you do, BELIEVE. But not just in the generic magic of Christmas…believe in something real. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. Believe in your Savior.
And when you BELIEVE – I guarantee your holidays will be brighter. Not because you’ll get lots of toys or your family will magically get along, but because you will be attached to your Savior. You will have the peace of sins forgiven. You will have the hope of eternal life in heaven.