When you spend a long period of time alone, you get to thinking.
At first, the thoughts might be fun.
It isn’t fair that coffee stains your teeth brown, but milk doesn’t stain your teeth white.
My dog probably thinks "fetch" is a game that I made up and he loves me for that.
Who is Mr. Dorito and where do I find him? And is the factory just like Willy Wonka’s? And if I attended would I eventually fold to pressure, sample the Cool Ranch Carnations will I be turned into a Dorito and be trapped there forever?
The things you think about, become less fun.
“Look! On Facebook, there’s that one girl you knew way back in high school. Do you remember what you did to her? That was awful. You’re a terrible person.”
“Do you see that couch over there? It’s a nice and comfy place to rest and be very rude to your spouse. Remember? You did it, yesterday!”
“Check out the empty beer cans in the trash. Remember when you drank way too many of them and made a fool of yourself and everyone saw!”
“Oh Listen! Do you hear that? It’s quiet. Because your kids don’t live here any more and they don’t call you because of the awful way you’ve treated them. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Shame is difficult thing to master.
It can come out of nowhere.
Today we’ll see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER SHAME. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Corinthian Shame
Today’s lesson is from a book in the Bible called 1st Corinthians. It is the first letter written by a pastor named Paul to a church in a Greek city called Corinth. He writes this letter to encourage the believers, because a lot of these church members had been feeling ashamed.
In Corinth, there weren’t a lot of believers.
Most people believed in reason.
They believed in science.
They believed in what was socially acceptable.
Some guy dying on a cross to take away our sins?
That wasn’t reasonable.
That same guy coming back to life?
That wasn’t scientific.
That guy being the one and only true God?
That wasn’t very socially acceptable.
Society shamed the believers.
The produce merchant grabbed the shiny red apple from the believer. “You believe in Jesus. Here. Have him bring this rotten, worm-infested apple back to life.”
The neighbor knocked on their front door. “Listen! I heard you praying out loud from your front window. I don’t need to hear that. Keep that junk to yourself.”
The church’s maintenance man got to church and did a double take. The decorated cross? It had more decorations in the form of a graffiti telling them to get out of town.
The shame affected the believers.
Some were questioning their resurrected Lord.
Some were engaging in sinful things of the world in order to fit in.
Some were trying to make themselves feel better by shaming other believers.
In fact, there was a whole group that made it a point at each church to be divisive:
“You were baptized by Pastor P? Ha. He’s kind of a dork. I was baptized by Pastor A. Pastor A is the real deal and so are his followers. The world might shame us, but at least I’m not as shameful as you.”
God inspired Pastor Paul to write this letter to correct their thinking.
He writes, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor. 1:26)
Take note of the verb.
It’s past tense.
The adjectival quality ascribed to the Corinthians by the verb was true before they were believers.
But now that they are believers.
It’s no longer valid.
They were not wise.
They were not influential.
They were of not of noble birth.
They were not, not wise.
They were not, not influential.
They were not, not of noble birth.
To put it simply, the Corinthian believers had no reason for shame. If they were still feeling shameful? it was because…
They were measuring their level of SHAME with the WRONG STANDARDS.
It’s kind of like baking a cake. You need to follow the directions and use the correct measuring devices.
If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, putting in a tablespoon may mess up the consistency.
If it calls for a ½ cup of flour, putting in a full cup may cause it to taste starchy.
If it calls for one cup of sugar and you put in one quart, well, you’re following some six-year-old’s recipe for Kool-aid.
The same thing is true for believers. When we’re measuring shame, we can’t use the wrong measuring device.
II. Human Standards of Shame
What were some of the wrong measuring devices?
If you examine verse 26-27 closely, you can see the very standards. They are standards that are still around today and that can infect our mindset on shame.
Paul begins by writing, “Not many of you were wise by human standards… (v.26)
In preparation for our trip to Colombia, I am studying Spanish. I’ve been using phone book, telephone apps, and children’s books to practice. The other day I go to practice Spanish with one of my Spanish-speaking neighbors.
And I said something to him in Spanish, the neighbor said, “Tu hablas Espanol?” which means, “Do you speak Spanish?”
I replied, nonchalantly, “Si. Yo hablo un poco,” which means, “Yes, I speak a little.”
To which my wife Julianna replied, “No. Tu hablas un poquito,” which means, “No, you speak a very little bit.”
To be fair, that’s accurate.
But I felt embarrassed and couldn’t wait to be described as “un poco” Spanish speaker. I use that phrase to bolster my Spanish speaking ability, because I was ashamed.
I was ashamed because I was measuring my shame by intelligence.
This happens to all of us.
When our friends are mentioning the high-level universities they graduated from, we might feel ashamed of our Community College experience.
When we’re in a conversation with people and they tell a joke that we don’t understand, we feel ashamed and laugh anyways to appear smarter.
When someone points out that we misspelled some words on our social media post, we get mad. And block them from future posts.
Even if you are intelligent, when the knowledge is from an area that you don’t know much about you downplay it.
Like if you’re playing one of those trivia games at the local pub and you’ve been knocking it out of the park as you showcase your knowledge of history, arts, and literature.
But the next question is:
What is the biggest Football Game of the National Football League?
And you answer: The world series?
To save face, you start talking about how, “sports are the drudgery of society,” and, “true intellect is not measured by your ability to name batting averages.”
But we say that, because we are ashamed.
We’re ashamed because we’re measuring shame by intelligence.
But your intelligence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
Paul continues, “Not many of you were influential…” (v.26) The word in Greek refers to “being able to do something” or “to be powerful”. This word is used to describe two different types of power, both of which, we often use to measure whether we should feel shame or not.
(2a) Physical Power
This is the reason that people can be so very intimidated to go to the gym. We measure worth by how much we can lift. If the muscle-bound monkeys are throwing a couple hundred pounds over their heads over there and I’m over here pulling apart a pink rubber band, I feel ashamed because I’m measuring greatness by physical power.
Maybe this happens to you:
Maybe you feel ashamed because your physical health isn’t where it should be.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you aren’t as athletic as your friends.
Maybe you feel ashamed because you ate a whole bag of Doritos for morning snack.
But there’s a second kind of power that also induces feelings of shame:
(2b) Influential Power
This is the type of power that fits better into the context of 1 Corinthians. It has to do with influence in the community, at your job, in your family, or even in your church.
Are you embarrassed by how many YouTube followers you have?
Do you like your own Facebook posts just so it looks like you have more influence?
Are you self-conscious about how your spouse has a better job title than you? So, you made up a title for yourself?
Are you jealous of someone at church because they are in a leadership position? So, at every chance you get, you say things like, “That position’s really unimportant.”
Your level of influence doesn’t determine your level of shame.
(3) Social Status
Finally, Paul writes, “Not many of you were of noble birth… (v.26) The word in Greek here literally means “well-born”, that is, “born while well off.” It has to do with your genealogy and, as a result, your social status. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that not many of them were born into social privilege. It wasn’t as if they lost social privilege by becoming Christians.
The point? Don’t measure your shame by your social status.
Because the world would love to tell you when your social status should cause you shame.
If you listen to it, it’s easy to feel ashamed.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family doesn’t have a lot of money.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family was homeless.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your dad was in jail.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you can’t afford the clothes to make you feel as put together as the other job applicants.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if your family has a history of alcoholism.
It’s easy to feel ashamed if you grew up in foster care.
But if you’re feeling ashamed because of your social status, you’re believing the world’s lie.
Social status doesn’t determine your level of shame.
III. God’s Standards of Shame
What does determine actual shame?
It isn’t our standards.
It is God’s standards.
Look at what Paul writes next:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (v.27-29)
Some of the most shameless people at the time of Jesus were a group called the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day.
And to be fair…
They were intelligent.
They were quite rich.
They were influential in their neighborhoods.
But they were also quite shameless.
They’d flaunt their intelligence by using big Hebrew words that commoners couldn’t follow.
They’d flaunt their riches by walking around in expensive robes.
They’d flaunt their influence by reminding people daily, “Did you know I’m a Pharisee?”
As a result of their influence, intelligence, and social status, they were praised by society!
Imagine how they felt when Jesus left them out.
When he selected “idiot” fishermen…
When he ministered to “street beggars”…
When he rubbed shoulders with prostitutes, thieves, and outcasts.
Only to turn to the Pharisees and say.
These ones that you shame.
These ones are valued members of God’s family.
Why did Jesus do this?
So the Pharisees would be jealous.
So the Pharisees would be forced to think.
So the Pharisees would realize they were using the wrong measurement.
God chose the “SHAMEFUL” things (according to human standards) so the “UNASHAMED” (according to human standard) would realize their SHAME (according to his standards).
God finds value in holiness.
God finds value in godliness.
God finds value in “without-sin-ness.”
So many people miss that.
God must love me ‘cause I’m smart.
…‘cause I’m pretty.
…‘cause I’m muscular.
…‘cause I’m successful.
…‘cause I’m privileged.
God doesn’t use human standards.
God uses God standards.
God says, “Be holy as I am holy.” (Lev. 19:2)
God says, “Be perfect as I am perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
God finds value in holiness.
God finds shame in sin.
Therefore, Jesus came to earth.
To remove our sin.
Which would remove our shame.
Which would leave God unashamed to have us in his family.
But if worldly things get in the way…
If you think like a Pharisee and use your own human standards.
Then, you miss out on the Savior.
TRUTH: Real shame comes from missing out on your SAVIOR from SHAME.
IV. The Savior from Shame
When you see your REAL shame.
When you see your REAL Savior from shame.
When you see Jesus?
Shame goes away.
Paul writes, “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (v.30)
To be “in Christ Jesus” means to have faith in him.
It means you are not in shame.
But you are in Jesus.
Believers in Christ are no longer in shame.
And look at the benefits of being in Jesus:
Because true wisdom comes from knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus is knowing forgiveness of sins. It’s knowing removal of guilt. It’s knowing how to get to heaven.
You don’t get that from achieving a high-level degree.
You don’t get that from having honor cords.
You don’t get that from answer 49 out of 50 IQ question on a Facebook quiz.
You get to heaven by knowing and trusting Jesus.
By God’s standard, knowing Jesus means you are wise.
It doesn’t matter if you retook the 4th grade.
It doesn’t matter if you got a high school diploma.
It doesn’t matter what your GPA was.
If you know Jesus, by God’s standards you’re wise.
Righteousness is a courtroom term. It’s a term used by a judge. In fact, a judge determines if you are righteous or not.
If you aren’t? Then you’re guilty. That’s shameful.
The news will report that you’re guilty.
Twitter will trend with your guilty verdict.
Your face will appear on the front page of the Slammer.
But in Jesus?
You aren’t guilty.
You are unashamed because there’s not any wrongdoing anyone can pin on you.
Holiness has to do with purity.
In the Old Testament, if there was something impure about you, you need to do a ceremonial washing.
If you touched a dead body, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you ate the wrong food, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you had bled, unclean. Wash your hands.
If you were impure, then you dare not come anywhere near the temple.
You’d better stay outside the temple.
Across the street.
Near all the dirty scoundrels.
But in Jesus?
Cross the street.
Walk up the temple steps.
Go through the temple door.
Walk all the way up to the front altar…
Imagine for a second that you’re a young man taking a young girl out for a first date. You promised you’d pay. They’re excited. You pick them up. You take them to the restaurant. You let them order up as my appetizers as they want. You’re excited to show them that you’re a working man at your newspaper deliver job.
But when you get the bill.
You don’t have enough money.
You excuse yourself to the restroom and text your mom to wire you some money.
Because it’s way less shameful than saying to your date, ‘Can you spot me a $5?”
Jesus is our redemption.
In Jesus, we have enough of a payment.
In Jesus we have heaven.
We are a part of God’s family.
We are UNASHAMED.
V. What Now?
(1) Be Unashamed about Jesus!
All of this leads to Paul’s final point for the Corinthians, “Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
What’s his point?
Stop worrying about earthly standards.
Stop finding your glory in how wise you are.
Stop finding your glory in how influential you are.
Stop finding your glory in how high your social status is.
Stop bringing other people down just to make yourself look better.
Instead, find your value in Jesus.
Boast about his love for you.
Boast about your Savior.
Be unashamed of the one who removed your shame. Amen.
The penultimate reading of Jesus’ passion history this evening will also serve as a primary basis for our message tonight. Chances are you’ve heard it before. You’re probably familiar with the grim picture it paints. Here is God himself, our savior, brought out after a savage beating and now put to death. Not because he did wrong, but because he didn’t. He would not toe the line with the corrupt religious leaders of the day and instead spoke the truth. Their jealousy drove them to this end. He came to help, and he was executed because they did not worship God, they worshipped themselves.
Of course, it’s easy to point that kind of finger at the events that surround the cross. How dare they attack Jesus. How dare they put him to death for no reason. How loathsome. How vile.
Perhaps you remember some time ago when Mel Gibson produced his Passion of the Christ movie? Now I know he’s been the subject of controversy since then, but let’s put that aside for a moment. There was a stir of controversy around his movie at the time, as it included the biblically accurate line where the crowd, shouting for Jesus’ death, took responsibility for his death. “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” they shout. In compromise, the production chose not to subtitle that line in the film, leaving it only shouted in Aramaic. But what was telling was Gibson’s response to this controversy when interviewed. He was asked, point blank, who really killed Jesus.
His response? “I did.”
Whatever else you want to say about him, his answer was spot-on. The people of the day may have been responsible for carrying out the events that happened, but God orchestrated everything that happened, Jesus allowed jealous men to put him on the cross. But it was my sin that made him go. It was my failures he suffered for there. It was because of me that he did this. It was because of and for me that he died.
The payment made on the cross is universal. Jesus suffered for all at once. Yes. But it is also personal. It happened because of you. It happened because of me. I often like to remind myself that if, in all of creation, I was the only one who ever sinned…Jesus still would have done this. Just for me. Or just for you.
It is a grim spectacle, and a testimony to just how awful our sins are. The defeat of death that plays out here is vicious, and it is difficult to look at, but it is a necessary reminder of the seriousness of our crimes. This is what should have happened to us. Listen, as God goes in your place:
As they were going out of the city, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon. They forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. They came to a place called Golgotha, which means “The place of the skull.” They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. After they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among themselves by casting lots. Then they sat down and were keeping watch over him there. Above his head they posted the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
At the same time two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. People who passed by kept insulting him, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
In the same way the chief priests, experts in the law, and elders kept mocking him. They said, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. If he’s the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now, if he wants him, because he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him kept insulting him.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, there was darkness over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “This fellow is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran, took a sponge, and soaked it with sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks were split. Tombs were opened, and many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised to life. Those who came out of the tombs went into the holy city after Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:32-54)
There’s a detail in the passion reading that may have blown by you with everything that happened, and I’d like to focus on it this evening. But to understand its significance, we have to go back. Way back. Hundreds of years back to the earliest days of the Israelite nation, on their journey away from Egypt, wandering in the desert.
Back then, the primary place of worship was the tabernacle of the Lord. It was built exactly as God prescribed to them. The Temple of the Lord built in Jerusalem built centuries later would simply be a larger-scale version of this same house of worship. The space was laid out like 3 cubes set side by side by side. The first two formed a single space, the Holy Place, where the majority of worship was done. The last cubic space was separated from the rest by a curtain. Not a lot of detail is given about the curtain, except that it was thick enough that you couldn’t possibly see through it, and that it covered the space entirely, making it 15 feet tall by 15 feet wide.
The last space was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Here was where the ark of the covenant sat, containing a number of holy relics God instructed the Israelites to store there. But what is more significant is that God said his presence would dwell in the Most Holy Place. Of course, we know from our Lenten series that God is everywhere, but he was making a point here, that his presence dwelt there in a unique way, and so to enter this space behind the curtain was truly to come into the presence of the living God.
In this account from Leviticus, God establishes a festival called the Day of Atonement. And in it, he impresses upon the people just how ridiculously difficult and dangerous it is to approach a holy God as a sinful human being. Aaron’s two sons had already died for not treating God’s presence with the proper respect. Listen how strictly God defends his holy presence and how difficult it is for a sinner to approach him. Only with blood could Aaron make this one, tentative approach to God on behalf of the people once every year.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who had died when they approached the presence of the Lord. The Lord said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he must not enter into the Holy Place at any time he chooses by going inside the veil which is in front of the atonement seat that is on the ark. This is so that he will not die, for I appear in the cloud over the atonement seat.”
This is how Aaron shall enter the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. He is to wear a sacred linen tunic, with linen underwear covering his flesh, with the linen sash as his belt, and with his head wrapped with the linen turban. These are the sacred garments. He must wash his body with water and then put the garments on. From the congregation of the people of Israel he shall also receive two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering.
Aaron shall present the bull for his own sin offering, to make atonement for himself and for his household.
After Aaron has presented the bull for his sin offering to make atonement for himself and for his household, he shall slaughter the bull for his sin offering. Then he is to take a full pan of glowing coals from the top of the altar, which is before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and bring them inside the veil. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord so that the cloud from the incense covers the atonement seat that is over the Testimony, so he will not die. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger upon the surface of the atonement seat on its east side. He is also to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger in front of the atonement seat. He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering of the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he had done with the blood of the bull. He is to sprinkle it on the atonement seat and in front of the atonement seat. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary to cleanse it from the uncleanness of the Israelites and from their rebellions and all their sins. This is what he shall do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells in the midst of Israel’s uncleanness. When he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary, no other person may be in the Tent of Meeting until he has come out. In this way he shall make atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the entire assembly of Israel. He shall then come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat and smear it all around the horns of the altar. With his finger he is to sprinkle some of the blood upon it seven times. In this way he is to purify it and set it apart from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:1-6,11-19)
And here’s where we come to our point.
The Most Holy Place still existed in Jesus’ time. It was simply much bigger and was part of the stationary temple built in Jerusalem, and not a mobile Tabernacle that could be put up and taken down as needed. The linear dimensions were double that of the tabernacle, which means if you remember your volume equations, it was eight times larger inside than the previous model. The curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy place would hang 30 feet in the air down to the floor.
The rules and promised consequence around the Most Holy Place still stood. No one could just approach God. You didn’t go in there unless you were instructed to and only if you did everything just right or literally being in God’s presence would kill you. Sin cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is a stark reminder of how seriously we are separated from him.
But on this day:
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
Thirty feet, top to bottom. This was not some damage as a result of the earthquake that happened here. This was a deliberate, miraculous sign. Jesus went to the cross for our sin, and he suffered there for it. It was ugly and he died. It looked like a miserable defeat. But then, the curtain was torn.
You see...the divide was gone.
Our sin, our un-holiness is what separates us from a Holy God. It’s what keeps us from being able to approach him. It divides us from him.
But it’s gone.
Your sins are paid for. They don’t exist to God anymore. You can approach him with confidence, because you are holy in his eyes now. The tearing of the curtain says, “Come on in.” As we sit here, day by day feeling cut off from the rest of the world, we have this privilege. We can approach God ourselves with petition and prayer, not needing any intermediary.
And at the end of all this nonsense, we go to him. Nothing stops us anymore. The curtain is gone. We leave here, we go direct to God’s presence, to be with him forever. This is our promise, bound up in the tearing of that curtain as Jesus gave up his life for you.
Tonight, with reverence we humbly remember why this was necessary. We let ourselves be reminded what the stark cost of our sin really is. We feel the shame that it was my fault this happened. It is good to be reminded why we need a Savior. It’s good to look at the cost of our sins so we stay humble. But we should not wallow in this evening as though it were a loss. More than ever we need to remember that this was a triumph for God and for us.
Jesus went willingly for you and for me. He stayed there because he loves you. He died to pay your price. It looks ugly, but it was a victory. God did exactly what he set out to accomplish this night. The curtain is torn, the divide between us is removed. Defeat? No; victory!
This morning, we continue our miracle series, by examining Jesus’ power over demons. But before we do that, a prayer: O 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. A House Divided
The lesson for this this morning comes from Matthew 8. It occurs at a time in Jesus’ ministry when he has already done plenty of miracles and healed multitudes of people. Word about him is spreading and people are flocking to see him.
A common question among the people is, “How can Jesus do miracles?”
There was a variety of answers:
“Those ‘sick’ people weren’t really sick to begin with.”
“Maybe, there was some kind of medicine involved?”
“He just got lucky.”
Mark 3:22 “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He drives out demons by the ruler of demons.”
It’s similar to getting onto your spouse’s phone. Have you ever done that? When you are in control of the account, you can send text messages in your spouse’s name. “My husband is the greatest!” You can send out an email: “We should plan a surprise party for my spouse.” You can go onto Facebook and post a status update: “I have the best spouse ever! I am so lucky to have them as my spouse because they are the best ever.”
The contention is that Jesus can control demonic work because he’s working on the devil’s behalf.
He sold his soul to the devil.
Look at Jesus’ response:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished.” (v.25-26)
The NFL Championships are today.
I wonder how many defense coordinators are coaching their players to wait for the ball to snap and then tackle their teammates next to them.
Or how many times the head coach will tell his running back to “knock over the Quarterback already.”
Or how many times Aaron Rodgers will decide to “throw the ball as hard as possible into the back of his center’s kneecaps.”
They probably won’t coach them that way.
Because a house divided against itself cannot stand.
And a football team divided against itself cannot stand.
And if the devil was driving out his demonic warriors?
His house wouldn’t stand.
This means that if Jesus is driving out demons and destroying their work, then…
TRUTH: Jesus and the Devil are NOT on the same side.
Because Jesus is good.
And the devil is not.
Good doesn’t work on behalf of evil.
Evil doesn’t work on behalf of good.
The two are dynamically opposed to one another.
Gives me pause.
Because we are on God’s side, right?
We are on the side of good, right?
Was everything you did this week on behalf of good?
That porn you’re looking at? Was that for good?
Those racist things you said? Was that for good?
That gossip you were sharing at church? Was that really for good?
Those complaints about that person across the aisle? Was that really for good?
If you’re on GOD’S side; you can’t do the DEVIL’S work.
Because if you do, then you’re working for the devil.
And if you’re working for the devil, then you’re working against Jesus’ kingdom.
And if you’re working against Jesus’ kingdom, then…
A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
This is truth.
About your family.
About your friends.
About this church.
Understand - The devil wants nothing more than to destroy those things.
In fact, he’s all about destruction.
He loves destroying families.
Destroying souls forever in hell.
When you do evil, you work for him.
II. The Most Terrifying Thing
Jesus was definitely not working for the devil. There might not be a Bible story in which this is clearer than Matthew 8.
When Jesus arrived…in the region of the Gergesenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him there. They were very dangerous, so that nobody could pass that way. (v.28)
Possession is a simple word. If a dollar bill is in your possession, you own it and you control what it does. If you’re team is in possession of the football, they own it and controls what it does. If a remote control is in your possession, you own it and control what it does.
In demon possession, the demon is in control of the body and it controls what the body does.
If you are demon possessed, then…
You no longer have control of your body.
You no longer have control of your words.
You no longer have control of your life, because the devil and his demons are in control.
For these men, that’s exactly what happened! Demons took control.
And remember the goal of demons is destruction.
They destroyed their family life.
They destroyed their friendships.
They destroyed their lives.
In fact, Mark’s version of this account, adds that at least one of these men had caused so much trouble that local law enforcement had tried taking him outside the city and chaining him to a wall in an above ground tomb.
But… None could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones (Mark 5:4)
Sounds like a horror movie
When Jesus approaches….
It was just like a horror movie,
Not for Jesus.
The demons cried out “What do you want with us Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Mt. 8:29)
You are more powerful than us!
You are more miraculous than us.
Eventually, one day, we know that at “the time” you will seal us forever in the fires of hell.
We might bust out of these chains, but…
We’ll never bust out of your grip.
Demons are TERRIFIED of Jesus.
There are a lot of different phobias in the world.
Arachnophobiacs are afraid of spiders.
Agoraphobiacs are afraid of crowds.
Coulrophobiacs are afraid of clowns.
Mysophobiacsa are afraid of germs.
Phobophobiacs are afraid of being afraid.
What kind of fear do demons have?
They have Son-of-God-o-phobia.
Fear of God’s own Son.
And with good reason.
Because while demons are bent on destruction of God’s people,
Jesus is bent on the destruction of the destroyer.
Way back in the garden of Eden. That was God’s promise. He told Satan, who had just destroyed God’s work of a perfect world, that a day would come when one of Eve’s children would Crush his head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Jesus is on your SIDE.
The devil wants nothing more than your forever destruction in hell.
Jesus wants nothing more than your forever existence in heaven.
It’s why he came to earth.
It’s why he came to fight the devil.
It’s why he continues to fight for you against the devil.
(In fact, that’s what he’s doing with these very words in this very sermon at this very time.)
Jesus is fighting on your side.
III. The Confrontation
But can Jesus really defeat demons?
When Jesus approached the demon possessed men, he asked, “What is your name?” (Mark 5:9)
One of the men responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (v.9)
A legion is a Roman concept. A Roman legion could be filled with a population of almost 500,000 soldiers.
Jesus wasn’t just dealing with one demon.
He wasn’t just dealing with two demons.
He was dealing with a legion of demons.
And it wasn’t just something the demon was saying…
In the field, next to this graveyard was a herd of pigs.
Eating some slop.
Sitting in the mud.
Being generally disgusting.
Jesus looked at the pigs.
He looked back at the demon-possessed men.
He looked past the demons and saw the two human souls trapped within.
And said, “Go!”
So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs. Immediately the whole herd of pigs rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the water. (Mt. 8:30)
Now, when I first read this story, I thought, “That’s mean Jesus. What did the pigs do to you?”
First, Jesus is the ruler of all. He invented pigs. He gave the pigs life. He could that away as he pleased.
Second, think about what Jesus accomplished by allowing this. Granted, the demons just wanted to destroy something. But by allowing this, think of what Jesus accomplished.
Because at the exact instant, he told the legion of demons to leave the two men – an entire herd of pigs rushed into the river and drowned.
Do you get it?
This event was proof that the demon possession was no joke.
It was proof that demons were real.
Demons are absolutely REAL.
I think this is important to remember.
Because it’s common to talk about “demons.”
Could be “anxiety” that paralyzes our interactions with others.
Could be “guilt” that never seems to go away.
Could be “a temptation for addiction” that we just can’t seem to conquer.
We call it our “demons” but usually we mean “not demons.”
The reality is that when we call it “our demons” but we really mean “not demons,” - It’s usually “real demons.”
Demons are real.
They were real at Jesus’ time.
They are real today.
As real as demons are…
TRUTH: So is Jesus’ VICTORY.
Because the end result is that the two men who had been demon possessed were set free.
They were restored.
They had a Savior, Jesus.
That same Jesus went on to defeat the devil himself.
Even when the devil thought he won.
When he got the Pharisees to concoct a conspiracy…
When he got Judas to betray his teacher…
When he got a crowd to chant, “Crucify! Crucify!”…
When he got Pontius Pilate to be afraid, “Go ahead, just take him.”
When he caused those soldiers to nail Jesus hand and foot to the cross.
The devil probably thought he won.
Three days later.
His head was crushed.
Jesus defeated sin.
Jesus defeated guilt.
Jesus defeated death.
Jesus defeated the devil himself.
IV. What Now?
(1) Be Wary
The Bible tells us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around you like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour, resist him. Standing firm in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Because if you are on an African safari, you’d be wary of lions.
You’d put something on camouflage you.
You’d carry a weapon for protection.
You’d probably put some kind of anti-lion repellent deodorant on to repel it.
And if you saw a lion – you’d get out of there!
Do the same thing with the devil.
We identify the areas of temptation that we fall.
We avoid those places.
When temptation comes, we flee as if our lives depended on it. (Because spiritually speaking, we do.)
Friends, be wary of the devil.
Be wary of demons.
(2) Be Confident
Because it’s easy to feel dejected when facing temptation.
Because we’ve lost to the devil so many times.
We’ve fallen to BIG temptations.
We’ve fallen to LITTLE temptations.
We’ve fallen to the SAME temptations again and again.
What could possibly make us believe that this time will be different?
Jesus is on our side.
He wins the victory every time.
Be confident because of Jesus. Amen.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. 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. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
What do you value?
Maybe even your God?
Let me ask again: What do you value?
And I don’t mean what SHOULD you value?
Or what do you think that I AM expecting you to say that you value.
But…reflect…what do you really value?
Sometimes my wife and I have a hard time deciding what we value. For instance, on a Friday evening we might be trying to figure out what we want to do. We could head over to Gonza’s Taco and have a delicious Mexican food style evening, or we could head to the local Pho joint for some delicious Vietnamese soup.
And I say, “I Don’t care.”
And she says, “You pick.”
And I say, “It doesn’t bother me.”
And she says, “I don’t know.”
So…what we do is we throw fingers. It’s a game used to decide what to do – kinda like casting lots. I count to three (1-2-3) and then we both hold out any combination of fingers (1, 9, or maybe 3). Then, we add up the total between the two of us. If the number is even, we go out for Vietnamese; if it’s odd, we go out for tacos.
It usually works.
But sometimes, what happens is that we throw out the number, it’s odd and I say, “Good. We’re going to tacos. It’s settled.”
But Julianna says, “Yes, but…can we go for Pho?”
Isn’t how much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing?
It’s the difference between missing out on your morning orange juice and missing out on your morning coffee.
It's the difference between missing a non-Conference game AND the UNC/Duke showdown.
It’s the difference between missing the “women tell all” episode of the Bachelor and the “After the Final Rose” episode.
It’s the difference between not getting a birthday present from an acquaintance and not receiving one from your spouse.
How much you value a “thing” best revealed in your reaction to not having the thing.
If that’s the case…
The biggest problem.
Not that it isn’t true, but that it reveals the things we really value…to. Our. Shame.
“Should I get some sleep or stay up late talking to my friend in need?” I choose sleep, because I value it more.
“I could go home and spend time with my kids, but…I want my boss to be impressed.” I value my career more.
“I could sit down and ask my spouse about their day…OR I could watch a rerun of the Office on Netflix…” I value it more?
Jesus has something to say about value. He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Mt. 6:25-26)
Birds don’t seem to have a lot of value.
They aren’t very big.
Most are the size of my hand.
They can’t get jobs in the tech industry.
They don’t often receive medical internships.
They aren’t even valued enough to get a job in fast food!
Yet…God cares for them.
He gets the nightcrawler out of the ground for the little robin to eat.
He reserves a few kernels after the squirrel’s ambush for the sparrow to be nourished.
He uses a few bread crumbs tossed by a three-year-old down at Lake Lynn to give the duck a kinda fat gut!
Birds don’t have a lot of value.
Yet…God cares for them.
And if God cares for birds of little value, how much more will he care for you…of great value!
He’ll feed you (and if you were at the Fellowship meal – he maybe fed you more than enough).
He’ll clothe you. (and it appears he did that for all of you today)
He’ll give you a roof over your head. (And we have one over ours right now!)
More than that – Jesus died for you.
Because Jesus didn’t come to earth to save sparrows.
He didn’t die on the cross to redeem robins.
He didn’t rise triumphantly to triumph trumpet swans!
He did that for you.
You are more than a body.
You are more than organs, blood and bones.
You are more than a temporal, physical vessel that will be here for 70 years – 80 if we have the strength.
You are more than evolved slime.
You are more than a smart animal.
You are more than just “the dominant species.”
You have a soul.
You have an eternal soul.
You have an eternal soul that God wants to spend eternity with – so much so that He is willing to shed His Own divine blood on the cross!
Do you get that? When God was faced with the choice between losing you OR losing his life…
He didn’t haven’t to throw fingers.
He couldn’t bear the thought of losing you eternally and so he gave up his life just to be with you.
So…What Now? Two things:
(1) Understand Your Eternal Value
Because it is easy to feel valueless.
It’s easy to feel worthless.
It’s easy to look at how other’s treat us, get in our head, and conclude: “I really, don’t have a lot of value. If any!”
When that happens, hear God’s voice.
Your value isn’t determined by how many hours a week you work.
Your value isn’t determined by how many pounds you can lift at the gym.
Your value isn’t determined by how many followers you have on Instagram.
Your value isn’t determined by how perfectly you parent.
Your value is determined by God.
And God was willing to die for you.
Because to God, you are invaluable.
(2) See the Eternal Value of Things
I used to collect baseball cards. I collected baseball cards because my friends collected baseball cards. It was the thing to do.
I remember that I was trading cards with my friends and I saw this card pop up: A Juan Beringer.
I thought he looked cool.
He looked intimidating.
Also – it was signed!
I offered to trade for it.
What would I give my friend?
I’ll give him the Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card!
Turns out? Bad assessment of value.
Griffy Jr. Rookie? Worth over a hundred.
Juan Beringer? About five cents.
The more we understand our intrinsic, eternal value to God, the more we will value the things that have intrinsic, eternal value.
Things like a midweek Lenten meditation.
Things like personal Bible study.
Things like Baptism.
Things like Lord’s Supper.
Things like singing Jesus Loves Me with your kids.
Things like meditation.
Things like sharing the Gospel with your coworker.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our spouse.
Things like sharing the Gospel with our neighbor.
Friends, this is easier said than done. We live in a world that tells us to value anything but our Savior.
Best case it’s confusing, worst case – soul damning.
But tonight’s message is that Jesus values you.
More than His own life.
And you will have eternal life. Amen.
Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
Over the holiday season, I imagine there were lots of things you wanted to invite people to.
Come over for a holiday meal.
Come watch the Bowl Game with me.
Come watch the giant acorn drop with me.
Come shopping with me! There’s sales at Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, Sam Ash, Claire’s, Pandora, and Belk! And that’s just at Crabtree Valley Mall.
And then, if you’re a part of a church your pastor asked you to share a Christmas Worship invite with your friends.
How’d that go?
Was that at easy as inviting someone over for the Big Game?
Was that as easy as inviting them out for a Double Cheeseburger?
If you’re like me, then probably not…In fact, it can be downright intimidating.
Case and point – I was at the Pickled Onion the other week – because my favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, were not on regular TV. I was sitting by myself eating a delicious order of nachos, when I struck up a conversation with the Jacksonville Jaguars fan next to me.
First, I was impressed that a Jaguar’s fan even existed. And second, it was nice to talk to someone during the game.
And as we watched we talked about a lot of things: About the NFL and its concussion problem – about our favorite type of hot wing – about his former job in government – about our current government – about dogs and how to train them.
And, then about halfway through the game – he asked me a question during the lull of a commercial.
“What do you do?”
And…I looked over at him, cigarette hanging from his lip – PBR in his left hand. Football noise in the background. I know what I do. I’m a pastor. I tell people about the Almighty God, his hatred for sin and his answer in Jesus our Savior. But I also know how people react—I know how that answer could cause this new friend to switch spots – or at least clam up for the rest of the game.
Within that 5 seconds of silence – I had a crisis of conscience. I could answer. If I would, it might be the end of this friendship.
Should I clam up?
Should I make up something not necessarily true?
Should I tell him that I work in communications and leave it at that?
Maybe something like that has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve had moments to share the Gospel and clammed up.
Why? Why the anxiety? Why the nervousness? Why the fear?
Today – we are going to finish up our series called “Do Not Be Afraid” and we’re going to hear about the final time an angel said that, “Do not be afraid,” during the Christmas story. And as we do so, we want to learn (1) what is it about the Gospel message that’s so scary – to hear and to share (2) why we don’t have to be afraid of sharing it.
Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Afraid of Good News?
This takes place in Luke 2 beginning at verse 8. It’s actually the same night as baby Jesus was born – the very first Christmas.
You know how in movies, they sometimes segue from one scene to the next? Picture that here. We were just at the scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Mary’s crying. Joseph’s crying. The donkey is crying. Everyone is happy that the Savior has been born.
Segue to a shot of a dark night sky. A few stars quietly shining their light on the countryside.
The camera pans back to reveal a campfire. Smoldering. Roasting. A few men – ranging from age 19 to 67 are circled around the fire. One sits against a tree. One is laying on his side. Another is cuddled up with a gentle lamb.
They are shepherds. Their job is to watch sheep. They lead the sheep to water. They help the animals find food. They protect them from wolves and bandits.
And tonight, was a quiet night. As they passed around a loaf of stale bread that the eldest had kept in the side pocket of his tunic – they relaxed and listened to the hum of the locusts in the background.
It was a quiet life. Not a lot of exciting things happened. There was the occasional lamb in the thicket and the squirrel mistaken for a wolf, but usually the night was fairly dull. Boring. Uninteresting.
But on this particular night, something interesting began to happen. A light appeared in the sky. Slowly at first, but then building in brilliance.
One of them began to notice. At first, he didn’t say much – “It must be a shooting star.” But soon the light grew. It moved more quickly than a star and was more brilliant than a star – and it was getting closer than a star!
Wake up! What’s that?!
The star-like creature grew closer and closer until it stopped directly overhead.
It wasn’t a star.
It wasn’t a Chinese lantern.
It wasn’t a glow in the dark drone that wouldn’t be invented for another 2000 some years.
It was an angel.
Luke 2:9 says, “They were terrified.” Literally – they were afraid – a great fear.
The kind of fear reserved for horror movies, roller coasters and when you’re driving in the ice and snow and lose control of your car. That’s the kind of fear they have when they see an angel!
And why not?
(1) It’s an angel. Not an angel ornament or a stuffed Christmas angel. A real angel. Divine. Out of this world. Incredible.
(2) This angel was from God! He was messenger of God. He was a messenger of the Holy, All Powerful God. He was messenger of the Holy, All Powerful, sin hating God.
And these shepherds? Were sinners.
Their minds started racing.
Did God hear the gruff, four letter shepherd words that we were joking about earlier?
Does he know about what I did with the farmer’s daughter last weekend?
Can he smell the stale booze on my breath?
Is he here to confront me, because I haven’t been to synagogue in months?
Their minds were racing. This was a representative of God.
God knew all things.
God knew their sinful things.
God hated sinful things. He was undoubtedly about to destroy him. And all they had to defend themselves was a 5-foot piece of wood. A shepherd’s crook that might double as a bow staff, but what would that do against the fiery judgment of God?
They braced themselves for the attack. “It was nice shepherding with you. If you make it out alive, tell my wife I love her!”
I suppose that’s the rub. The friction between sinful humans and the divine message of the Gospel. It’s not God – It’s our sin. Our sin which burdens us with guilt. Our sin which stays on our hearts. Our sins which the devil uses to accuse us – God could never love you.
And, even after we know the truth of that message and we understand how God has used that to change our lives -- it’s almost like we project that onto others. They’ll get mad. They’ll get upset. They’ll not like the whole Savior from sin part – because it implies that they are sinners!
I was on Facebook the other day – and I saw one of my friends had posted something about Jesus being our Savior from sin. Sounds nice, right? But the comments that he had been receiving back were threatening. “Shut up with your religion.” “Yeah, some guy died a long time ago and that’s forgiveness.” “Keep your magical, mystical stories to yourself, Harry Potter.”
His response was this: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would upset ya’ll so much.”
Should we be surprised? Isn’t that expected? You understand – sinners naturally balk at God. In fact, Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Yours was. At times – it still is. And no matter who you bring it to – understand that may very well be their reaction.
II. Finding Joy in the Good News
So…how do you change their attitude towards God?
Take medicine with big scoop of applesauce?
Do you add applesauce to the Gospel?
Do you make it more pleasant by removing sin and hell?
Do you just say things like “Be kinda sort spiritual and I’m sure it’ll all be fine.”
OR do you do like the angels do – and bring them the good news anyways…
Verse 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.”
Zero in on that message. It’s good news. Not terrifying, you’re about to be eternally destroyed by God’s hell fire wrath news. Good news.
And it’s for all people.
For the young shepherd struggling to control his sexual urges.
For the foreign shepherd feeling like he doesn’t fit in.
For the lifelong, aged shepherd who has a history of gruff language, broken relationships, and death creeping closer and closer.
The message is for all people – all shepherds – you.
Listen to the message:
A Savior has been born. A Savior from your sins. A Savior form your past. A Savior from the worst things you’ve said – and the worst things you’ve done. A Savior from the guilt and the pain – and the name calling of the devil: “Loser. Failure. Sinner.” A Savior from God’s Almighty wrath – a Savior to his everlasting love.
He is Christ! That’s the Greek word for Anointed One! As in – this is the One that was promised to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob – Ancestors of the Jewish race. The One that is born is the one who fulfills God’s plan to save the world from sin. He is the fulfillment of God’s love to you.
He’s the Lord. As in master. As in ruler. And not “a” Lord or “a” ruler.” But “The” Lord and “the” ruler.
As in God. As in you needed a Savior from sin and death and hell – a job that’s impossible for any human being to conquer. Impossible for police. Impossible for firemen. Impossible for the military and political heroes and even a guy who’s really good at swinging a sword.
Impossible for humans! But not for God. So… God came.
God is that Savior.
And suddenly, more angels appear.
But this time the shepherds aren’t frightened.
This time they are overcome with joy.
And they find their gruff, off tune, monotonous voices to be humming along with the angelic choir:
14 “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to mankind on whom God’s favor rests!”
III. What now?
(1) Hurry and See
Look at what the shepherds did in response to the angels. Verse 15 says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.”
Notice it says, “When the angels had left them.” As in, right away – right afterwards.
Not – in the morning.
Not – later on this week.
Not – after we find appropriate replacements to watch over the sheep as we’re gone.
They just leave. They go! Because this message was that GOOD and this news was that INCREDIBLE!
Do the same. Hurry and See!
If you’re struggling to tell others about Jesus, because you are unsure about the validity of this message in your life – Hurry and See!
Hurry to your Bible and re-read the Gospel of God’s love for you.
Hurry and listen to a devotion in which God’s love is shared again and again.
Hurry and free up your schedule on Sunday to hear God’s Gospel over and over.
Hurry and get into a Bible study, where you can talk about God’s love, encourage with God’s love and lift each other up with God’s love throughout the week!
Hurry and see Jesus – because in Jesus you have your Savior. I don’t’ care who you are. He’s a Savior for all people.
He says, “I love you. Though you have sin, I came to save you. And I have. I lived perfectly when you couldn’t; died innocently in your place; and rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins.”
Hurry and be reminded of that awesome truth! No matter what others think! Mary has just gotten baby Jesus to fall asleep. The long journey to Bethlehem has worn them out. The family falls asleep in each other’s arms.
Then, a rag tag group of dirty, rough, tough shepherds knocks at the door. “What do you want? Don’t harm my baby!”
We aren’t here to harm. We are here to praise. To bow. To see the Savior.
Let that be the same with you. Who cares if your relative says, “That sounds crazy.”
(2) Hurry and Share
This is what the shepherds do next. Verse 17 When they had seen Jesus, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…
Remember: It’s early in the morning. Yet you get the impression with the conjunction and in this narrative – that as people are waking up, feeding the cattle, arranging their flowers, sweeping out their market shops for sales the next day – a group of dirty shepherds comes running through the streets:
“Stop what you’re doing. Something incredible has happened. A baby has been born! Not just any baby. A Savior. My Savior. Your Savior. Because of him, by faith in him, you won’t go to hell! You’ll be forgiven!”
But the shepherds didn’t care. The message was that incredible. The message was that good.
Like double coupons at Harris Teeter. Did you know about this? Apparently once a month, Harris Teeter will double your coupons. I think that’s awesome. If you find a coupon that’s fifty cents off, it’s now a dollar off. If you find one that’s 10% off, it’s now 20% off. If you find something’s a dollar off and the price of the item is $1.99, it’s free!
I really need to stock up on $2 off Doritos’ coupons!
It’s a good enough of a deal that you want to tell others.
Isn’t the message of Jesus that good, too? Eternal salvation for free. Forgiveness of sins for free. Heaven for free!
I want you to think about someone you know who doesn’t know the Gospel. Someone who doesn’t care about Jesus. Remember what we just learned – Jesus is their Savior, too. It’s even better than a double coupon deal at Harris Teeter. It’s double – no—infinite forgiveness in Jesus!
Don’t you want your family to know?
Don’t you want your friends to know?
Goodness – even that coworker that you don’t like that much --- needs to know!
But…what if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t want to listen to me?
Honest truth is: They might. But why let that stop you? The message is too good. The message is too important.
Picture the shepherds: Can you imagine how crazy that might have sounded?
How do you know?
Well, we saw a multitude of angels in the skies.
We saw a virgin who had given birth to a child.
We visited a barn and found a family there.
We saw God – lying in a feeding trough!
Because it was so crazy, you’d think that the shepherds wouldn’t have done this to tarnish their already poor reputation. Why would you knowingly put your reputation on the line like that? It’s the same reason I don’t run around telling everyone that I saw a purple monkey flying through the air last night!
But the shepherds did share this message – with everyone they saw.
Because it was true.
You share that same message. It's true.
Don’t be afraid. Go and tell.
Your husband. Your wife. Your cousin. Call up a neighbor.
That’s the challenge for next week Sunday. It’s a brand-new sermon series we’re starting called “Follow.” It’s all about Following Jesus and it’s a great Sunday to invite a friend to join you in church.
Your challenge? Invite and bring a friend. Ask them to come with you to see Jesus. If they ask why it’s so important, don’t be afraid to tell them about your Savior. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the good news.
And if you get nervous? What will they say to me? What if they mock me? What if they make fun? What if they block you on Facebook?
Remember this – This is God’s message. It isn’t yours. God isn’t asking you to share your message on your own. Nope. God has your back.
The God who sends multitudes of angels into the sky – has your back.
The God who makes Mary pregnant when she hasn’t slept with anyone – has your back.
The God who became a human to save you has your back.
The God who lived, died and rose against has your back.
The God who forgives you -- The God who empowers you – the God who is commissioning you has your back.
Don’t be afraid to share the Gospel.
I did end up telling that guy at the Pickled Onion that I was a pastor.
And he did ask me a question or two about God.
And he did say that he may join us for worship one time.
And God willing – he will.
Share the Gospel message. Don’t be afraid. God has your back. Amen.
Does Christmas scare you?
That might seem like a funny question. Christmas isn’t known for being especially scary.
Candy canes don’t usually cause kids to scream.
“Joy to the World” isn’t usually the background music for a creepy moment.
“Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” is not under the horror section on Netflix.
Christmas is joyful. Christmas is merry. Christmas is holly jolly.
Yet all the family togetherness and joy of giving – seems to amplify our fears:
Fears that you won’t be able to afford food for the coming week thanks to your last dimes being spent on Christmas gifts.
Fears that you won’t be able to find work after the seasonal work is over.
Fears that your kid – whom you barely get the chance to see – will hate your gift and want to spend even less time with you in 2017.
Fears that dad will bring up that one time you said that one thing to him which will cause mom to blow up and the whole Christmas dinner to explode with fury.
Fears that the gift you got for your spouse – won’t make it up to them and the distance between you will only grow.
Fears that this may be your mom’s last Christmas – if she even makes it that long.
Today we are going to look at a very scary scene from the very first Christmas. We want to (1) see how God calmed Mary’s fears and (2) how the same truths can calm your fears this Christmas season and always. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Fear of God’s Presence
v.27 – a virgin – young lady – soon to be married – nervous excitement about upcoming life:
Will the wedding all come together?
Will the flower girl remember to throw the flowers in the right direction?
Will there be any wedding crashers?
Will I make a good wife?
Will I like being with Joseph – all day, every day?
Will our family be a blessing?
Something happened to truly frighten her: “God sent the angel Gabriel to her...And he said, “Greetings!”
Is God angry with me? Why would an angel come to me?
Is he coming to get me back for not going to synagogue the last couple of weekends?
Does He know about the lusting that I had for Joseph’s brother last weekend?
Is He upset that I’m not inviting Aunt Matilda?
I’m a sinner. God is holy. I’ve read the Old Testament. I know how he hates sin – how he sent a flood to destroy the world, fire on Sodom and Gomorrah and an infestation of poisonous snakes on the unbelieving Israelites. I’m a sinner too! He can’t possible have good news for you.
Mary fell to the floor. Her face grew pale. Her heart beat fast. Sweat dropped from her forehead.
She was more than frightened; she was terrified!
Can you relate? An angel represents God. God is Almighty. God is All Good. The All-Good ruler of the universe cannot tolerate evil – even for a second!
Maybe you get this.
Maybe American culture gets this about God.
In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons that church going is one of the least favorite activities for Americans at Christmas time.
Give me presents. Give me holiday songs. Give me holiday specials. -- Just don’t give me church.
Because they’re gonna talk about God and sin and hell.
And that’s not very merry.
I want Christmas to be about sitting back, having eggnog, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Because the truth is…
The truth is…that I get enough conviction on my own.
Voices that scream “you’ve done wrong.”
Phrases repeat: “You liar. You adulteress. You jerk. You sinner.”
I can’t go before God – To hear him say it…It’s too scary.
II. The Comfort of God’s Presence
But the angel didn’t let Mary to sit in that fear very long. Look at how he responds to her. He says, “Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God.” Literally that means “You have found a gift by God!" – A gift of his grace. The gift is this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son and you to call him Jesus.”
Mary breathed a sigh of relief. Phew! She wasn’t going to be zapped. God wasn’t angry with her. He wasn’t mad at her past sins. In fact, he was going to give her a gift – the gift of a Son. What a blessing! What a nice message. What a….
… Wait!?! A son? How can this be? I am a virgin! My mom talked to me about the birds and the bees. I know my biology. You created biology. You know as well as I know that I haven’t done anything that would warrant a child!
Look at the angel’s response to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”
In other words – This will happen because God is with you.
This will work out because God is with you.
Don’t be afraid because God is with you.
This is so interesting. Because that’s what frightened her to begin with. She was nervous about what kind of a greeting this might be. (v.29) But now that she knew of his grace. Now that she knew of his love. Now the thing that once frightened her – God’s presence – was now the thing that would give her the most comfort.
God would be with her. Every step of the way.
And she must have repeated that to herself over and over as she journeyed to the first Christmas.
At this miraculous conception, God was with her.
In that scary moment when she told her parents, “God is with me.”
In that scarier moment when she told her fiancé Joseph, “God is with me.”
In the months that she began to show, “God is with me.”
In the dirty looks people gave her at the marketplace, “God is with me.”
In the moments she heard people whisper, “That sinner!” “God is with me.”
In the hustle and bustle of getting things ready to travel, unexpectedly to Bethlehem, “God is with me.”
In the long journey filled with bumps in the road and labor pains in her tummy, “God is with me.”
In the frantic search for an inn – with room after room being filled, “God is with me.”
In the barn, surrounded by pigs and horses without a doctor in sight, “God is with me.”
On the first Christmas night, holding her newborn Son in her hands, looking into his eyes and whispering quietly, “God – you are with me.”
III. What now?
The truth is that what comforted Mary’s fear throughout that nine-month journey to Christmas is also a comfort for you. Because the two things that the angel Gabriel said to comfort Mary are also true of you.
(1) The Savior has Come!
Have you heard of Gender Reveal videos? It’s the latest trend for new parents. They get the results of their child’s gender. The results are sealed in an envelope and given to a friend. Then, they set up some kind of epic reveal – where they find out whether the baby is a boy or a girl – and someone records the whole thing on an iPhone and immediately posts to Facebook LIVE, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
I saw one the other day for a friend of mine who is a body builder. In his video, he had a giant, big rig tire with some black bags of chalk taped to the top of it. In the video, he flips the tire over, the bags explode and blue dust floats in the area! IT’S A BOY!
As exciting as it is for Mary to find out that she would be having a baby boy, think about how much more exciting it was to find out that he would be the Savior of the world!
In fact, she even found out his name – Jesus. Do know what that name means? It means “He saves.”
Now there’s a lot in a name. Some people are named after their hair, “Ebony,” or “Autumn.” Some are named after their grandparents, “Bob, Jr.” or “Thurston Howell III”. My name, “Philip,” means “lover of horses.” I don’t even like horses that much. (I’m just named after some character on the old soap opera, “Guiding Light.”)
“Jesus” means “he saves.” And that had great meaning to Mary because “he saved” her.” He saved Mary from her sins. He saved Mary from her guilt. He saved Mary from hell.
And he saves you. He saves you from sin. He saves you from guilt. He saves you from hell.
But here’s the difference. For Mary, it was something that was going to happen. And on Christmas she said, “The Savior has been born!”
For us? That’s true -- The Savior is born! But we also have the benefit of looking back. The Savior has been born, but also the Savior has lived perfectly. The Savior has died innocently; and the Savior has risen triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
It means that by faith in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
All that guilt. All that shame. All the sin that makes you feel scared to approach God – has been removed!
(2) God is Near
For Mary – that was so important. It’s the reason she was pregnant – the Holy Spirit came upon her and dwelt on her in a miraculous way. His presence upholding, uplifting, and fear shielding her throughout her 9 month journey.
The Holy Spirit is near right now.
The Bible tells us that he works through his Word.
Besides – it promises that he remains with all who believe in Jesus.
Is that you? Take comfort – God is near.
He’s near no matter what you’re going through.
Are you alone this Christmas? God is near.
Are you behind on rent? God is near.
Are you spending it in the hospital? God is near.
Are you far away from family? God is near.
Are you apart from your kids? God is near.
Are you nervous, frightened, and scared? Don’t be! The God who controls all things – who loved you above all things – and who gave all himself for all of you – is near!
It’s like going to give a gift. My parents used to make me hand gifts to people at church. I was pretty shy when I was younger. So it wasn’t easy. In fact, I remember once getting some guys attention – only to have him (towering over me) turn and ask me what I wanted.
I ran away and clung to my dad’s leg.
And he said. “Don’t be afraid. I’m right here. I’m near.”
And he was right. It wasn’t so scary. My dad who loved me was right by me.
It’s the same thing that’s true for you.
Your Heavenly Dad is near to protect you – his Divine muscles are bulging.
Your risen brother is close by to go with you – He went through death and back to make it happen.
The Holy Spirit dwells within you to comfort you wherever you go – He is always at work in his Word to say in the kindest way possible, “Chill. God’s got this.”
So…chill. Don’t be frightened. Find comfort in Christmas – not the toys, not the fruit cakes and not the decorations – but the Savior.