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.
Let me set the scene.
It was 7:30am on a Tuesday morning. Our Seminary classroom was in the basement. It was the only room without windows. But what it lacked in light, it made up for in warmth.
Dim, cozy, & early.
Sounds like the perfect place to preach a sermon right?
I started speaking. “Umm…uh…this is about…Jesus.” (My Professor, who had one of those moustaches that screamed “I’m a scholar” slowly shifted his pen and began scribbling into his notebook in back.)
I started sweating. I took a deep breath I continued.
Thirty some minutes later I was, thankfully, done. All in all…I wouldn’t say my first sermon was very memorable. The only thing that was memorable about it was the AMEN (which woke up a few classmates from their slumber.)
Today we’re taking a look at Jesus’ first recorded sermon. In contrast to my work, his first sermon is very memorable.
I. Jesus Preached In Church
Take a look at Luke 4:14-15. It says, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
Since we left Jesus last time, his ministry has kicked off. After changing water into wine, he went to be baptized by John the Baptist and as he did so the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and God the Father’s voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Would you be interested in hearing from the one who changed water into wine AND about whom a booming voice from heaven spoke in person?
It worked exactly how God wanted. These signs perked people’s interest so that they would come to see Jesus. And did they ever come. Scripture says that people came to see Jesus in all kinds of places. At the beach. On a hillside. In the streets.
But there was one place that seemed tailor made for listening to Jesus teach: THE SYNAGOGUE.
The synagogue was the Ancient Jewish version of church. People would gather together daily to read and discuss God’s Word. They would hear God’s law and they would discuss theological things. It was the place to be if you were in any way interested in learning about God.
But there was one synagogue Jesus hadn't been invited to just yet. It was one that was near and dear to his heart.
Take a look at verse 16: Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up. This was his home synagogue. It was where he went to Sunday School. (To be fair, Jews worshipped on Saturdays, so Saturday School would have been more like it.) His neighbors went there. His relatives went there. He had sung in the choir there.
But it's not as if they even had specially requested Jesus to come and speak. Look at it again. Jesus went to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. Zero in on that last phrase. “As was his custom.” Think about that. Jesus wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary when he went to this church.
It was his custom. It’s what he did.
Have you seen those new GEICO Commercials? They’ve got one where everything is going wrong in the peanut butter factory. Jars on the ground; wrappers flying through the area; peanut butter mushed everywhere. When the manager asks, “Who’s responsible for this?” the workers point at the goat.
The ad says, “If you’re a scapegoat, you get blamed for things. It’s what you do. If you want to save money, you switch to GEICO. It’s what you do.”
If you’re God’s Son, you go to God’s house. It’s what you do.
By faith in Jesus, we’re God’s children, too. Isn’t it a little strange then that we don’t take invitations to our Father’s house quite as seriously?
· I believe. I just don’t go to church. I don’t need to. Church is unnecessary.
· My church? It’s in the field on Sunday morning.
· I can go to church online. That should be good enough.
Think about this: the Divine, Universe creating, God’s Word sending, author of life itself – Jesus Christ--- went to church! As God, he already knew all there was to know about the Scriptures (He inspired them after all) yet he went to church.
You? Are you better than Jesus?
If you aren't, perhaps you should be going to church.
In fact, Scripture calls it a necessity. A necessity for salvation? No. Necessity for strengthening faith, connecting to God, rebuking your sins, reminding of salvation, encouraging with prayers and serving others? Absolutely.
Granted. Church can happen at times other than Sunday morning at 10:30am. It happens during midweek Bible studies. It happens at Chick-fil-A with the Young Adult Group. It happens down at Elmcroft Retirement home for a Bible study. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my mind, there I am with them.” That’s church, too. Gathering together with Christians to hear God’s Word – that’s church.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a Christian, you do church. However you do church, you do church, because you are the church. It’s what you do.
II. Jesus Preached From Scripture
But one thing you might not have to do is to get up and give a sermon. Can you imagine if that became our practice? "If you are sitting in Pew 7 seat B, come up front—it’s your turn to do the sermon."
That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Scriptures says, "He stood up and read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written."
Did you notice something very interesting? Jesus is the Son of God. He knows all things.
Yet – he didn’t just speak off the cuff. He read from the Bible.
Granted back then the Bible looked a bit different. Instead of books, they had scrolls. Generally, these were long pieces of parchment that had been rolled up. As you scrolled, you would roll the ends of it to get to the next page and the next words. There also wasn’t any New Testament yet. Jesus was busy living the New Testament.
Still, there's something to learn here. Jesus had a deep respect for the Old Testament. He had a love for the Bible. His sermon was based on God's Word.
Take this away from this section: Good sermons are based on God's Word.
This is key. Preachers should preach on God’s Word.
Not on last night’s debate.
Not on their political parties' latest agenda.
Not on the latest article in Time Magazine.
Not on some Facebook post.
Preaching, good preaching, is Biblical. It is based on the Bible.
Pastor, what does this have to do with me?
True. You might not be asked to preach in front of a congregation of people in a church building anytime soon. But that doesn't mean you won't preach.
You might get a chance to talk to your kids about some moral issue.
You might get to tell your coworkers about what you believe.
You might get to show your spouse how important Jesus is by going to church.
When you preach, use God's Word. Don't base your words and actions on what you want or what you feel. Base them on God's Word.
III. Jesus Preached About the Messiah
Now take a look at what part of the Bible that Jesus read from, it’s Isaiah 61. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Sounds awesome right? Most of the people knew who this Scripture was talking about. It was talking about the Messiah. The Anointed One. The One promised by God to save them.
Think again about what the Messiah had to offer them AND has to offer you:
Good News for the Poor. If you receive bad news after bad news. Late fee after late bill after late fee. The power just got turned off because you’re too far behind. You don’t have enough money for gas to get your kids to school – and they’ll be expelled because you can’t get them there.
The Messiah is good news. The golden studded, eternal riches of God.
Healing for the Brokenhearted. If you’re brokenhearted. If the man you loved cheated on you. Broke your heart. Left you behind. Dumped you…alone, by yourself, with nothing but pain. “Why did I give so much of myself to him?”
The Messiah is good news. He will be faithful and will not leave you.
Freedom to the Captives. If you’ve been to jail. If you’ve been behind bars. If you’re now behind the bars of your own guilt and shame – unable to escape what you’ve done. Reminded of it at every job interview and every government application...
The Messiah is good news. He frees you from guilt. He releases you from your chains.
Recovery of sight to the Blind. If you are losing your sight…if you’ve lost your way. If you remember God, but you can’t see how he is in your life. If you can’t see the right path and everything looks…dark.
The Messiah is good news. He is the Light. He is the Way.
Deliverance for the Oppressed. If you are oppressed by your own thoughts. If the devil tells you that you are worthless, that God hates you, that God wants nothing to do with you, that you can never be saved - and these thoughts filter through your brain throughout the day. Each day. Especially in the quiet moments --- revealing a tumult inside your soul.
The Messiah is good news. He says, “You’re mine. I love you. I died for you.”
The congregation of people smiled. It was nice to be reminded of what the Messiah would do. Here in this Roman dominated culture, they felt oppressed and poor. They couldn’t wait for a Messiah to lead them back to glory.
I imagine that as Jesus closed the scroll, the people nodded with approval. Ms. Mertz who he used to help carry groceries in winked at him. Uncle Karl gave him a big thumbs up. They knew what was coming next. “The Messiah will come. Israel will be restored to glory.” It would be nice to hear this young man who had grown up from their own congregation preaching that same message.
Jesus returned to the center of the front. He looked at them. He sighed. He spoke.
Their jaws dropped.
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Do you understand what Jesus was saying? His sermon theme and parts were simple.
PART ONE: You need a Messiah.
PART TWO: I am the Messiah.
He was saying that the portion from Isaiah that he read was talking about Him! Listen to Jesus:
I AM good news for the poor.
I AM healing for the broken-hearted.
I AM freedom for the captives.
I AM recovery of sight.
I AM Deliverance from oppression.
I AM the Messiah.
This wasn’t political either. This wasn’t his version of Trump’s “Make America great again.”
This was spiritual. It was eternal. He would be the Savior from Sin.
And…that’s it. He doesn’t say anymore. It’s short. (Even our fast paced, YouTube generation minds can pay attention that long). Jesus wants you to have one simple YET incredible takeaway.
HE IS YOUR SAVIOR.
Brothers and sisters, that’s still the main point today. Jesus is your Savior. If you never got anything out of sermons than that, so be it! That’s all that matters. YOU NEED A SAVIOR and JESUS IS THE SAVIOR!
As a church, this needs to be the central point too. When you new members come up here in a bit, that’s what you’ll confess…faith in Jesus as your Savior. After that we’ll have the Lord’s Supper, where we receive the true body and blood of Jesus our Savior. At the Voter’s assembly, we’ll talk about what the church is up to…keeping in mind our main reason for existing: PREACHING JESUS AS THE SAVIOR!
May it be the same in your life too. As you preach your sermons, make Jesus the center. Make him the center of your relationships, your church life, your quiet mornings, your work day, your conversation with friends, brushing your teeth, saying your prayers and going to bed.
In short, make Jesus the center of your life. It's all about Him. He is...the Savior. Amen.
It’s 2016. The beginning of a New Year. And, here's a behind the scenes note, usually at the beginning of the year it is a time for the church leadership to assess the state of the church and make plans for the coming year. The same is here at Gethsemane. We talk about worship. We talk about in reach. We talk about what flavor coffee tastes best in the hallway. We talk about a lot of things and make plans for the New Year.
But one of the key things that we talk about in the church is something called OUTREACH. Outreach is "reaching out." But not just for a high five. It's reaching out with the life saving message of Jesus.
Think about it. Somebody reached out to you. It might have been your mom. Maybe a pastor. Maybe a friend. Maybe a Facebook post OR a coworker's invite. Whoever it was someone reached out to you and said, "Come and hear about your Savior. "
That's why Outreach is in the DNA of a Christian. In Jesus, we know forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, and victory over the devil. We desire for others to know that as well.
Today we’re starting our first sermon in our Firsts sermon series of 2016. We’re going to take a look at a few key firsts in the life of Jesus. I want to look at one of the very first OUTREACH Programs.
I. The Program's Goal
We’re going to look at Matthew 2. Take a look at it. This takes place somewhere around 1-2 years after Jesus’ birth. It says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
It says that "magi" came to investigate Jesus' birth. Magi appear to have been some kind of astronomers, hence the term "wise" men. They had been observing the skies and recording the shapes of constellation patterns and star movements throughout their lives.
Why did they suddenly drop what they were doing and embark on a long journey across the desert? They noticed a different kind of star. Something new. Something peculiar. A star so divine in it's presence that it was obvious there was something amazing at the end.
A star that God had put there.
Think about how badly God wanted to do this outreach and get this news of Jesus' birth to them. He didn't send an email. He didn't call them on the telephone. He didn't even send a text message. He didn't even boost a post on Instagram!
HE MADE A GIANT BALL OF GAS EXPLODE INTO THE SKY.
It's kind of like one of those big spot lights that businesses might shine up in the sky at a grand opening. It can lead to a car dealership or a casino or a brand new mall. I saw one in the sky once and decided to followed it. The spotlight led to a small Minnesota country town's grand opening of a local gas station.
God's spotlight directs the world to a much bigger prize than a 2 for 1 slushie sale. God's spotlight directs the magi to the Son of God. The Savior. The Messiah. A Messiah that God desperately desired for these men to learn about.
That's the first thing about God's first outreach program. God had a DIVINE DESIRE for it's message to be shared. This must be our desire too. To tell the coworker who has been cheated on by her husband - that there is a God who is faithful and just and will never leave her. To tell our friend who has hated God -- that God took his best insults and went to the cross for him, to die for him. To tell the man who has struggled with drug abuse -- there is hope. It's your Savior. It's Jesus.
II. The Program's Reach
Now some of you might be saying, "What about the shepherds? Didn't God reach out to them with this message as well?" That's true. He did. On the night of Jesus' birth, the skies lit up with their message.
But the shepherds were only a couple of hills away from Jesus. They were of the people Israel. That means they should have been familiar with the promise of the Messiah, because the promise of the Messiah had been made to the Jewish people, was recorded by the Jewish people, and passed on by the Jewish people.
it's not so much outreach, but inreach.
But this divine star outreach, God doesn't stop within the borders of Israel. These Magi were "from the east." Scholarly study suggests that they must have known about the prophesies of a Messiah from Scripture. Scripture would have made its way east in the Babylonian captivity -- which segued into the reign of the Persian Empire. An empire in which Daniel (of Daniel and the Lion's Den fame) became a key part.
That would place these men in Ancient Persia -- Modern Day Iraq. That's hundreds of miles away from Jerusalem.
That's real outreach.
It's proof that a godly outreach program isn't just for people that like Mary and Joseph. It's for people from the East. It's for people from the West. It's for people from the North and the South ...and 2000 years in the future across the atlantic ocean just south of I-540 in the triangle!
Its' for us!
But it isnt' just for people like us. We can't just be concerned with looking for Christians who move down to the area and need a church. (Don't get me wrong those people need a church home. I'm happy to provide it and I hope they'll take up the outreach message with us.)
But if that's all we're doing, we aren't doing what God has called us to do. Check out the Great Commission. It says, "God and make disciples of all nations!" Not "of all the Midwesterners already a part of your Synod that look just like you." Nope. He says, "Go into all the nations."
We've got that opportunity here in Raleigh. We've got people from all over. I've met people from Russia and Nigeria, Congo and Korea, China and Chinatown, Mexico and Canada, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal, New York, Bew Nampshire, New Guinea, Florida, Panama and Ecuador. I've met people who speak Spanish> People who speak French. People who speak with an accent. People from all over!
And they all need to hear about our Savior. They all need to be a focus of our outreach.
III. The Program's Message
But what do we tell them? "Come. We've got good coffee." "Come hear how you should vote in the next election." Come, eat some delicious cookies." Come, Hang out. Pastor's cool. Kind of?"
Listen to the message that the magi had heard. "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews. We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
They came looking for a King. They came looking for one who ruled over sin. They came looking for one who ruled over the devil. They came looking for one who ruled over death. They came looking for one who would release them from the bondage of sin. One who would crusht eh power of death, One who would defeat the enemy -- Satan himself.
They came looking for one who would issue in a time of peace -- with God and an era of joy -- in salvation.
This was the message of the star. The King has come. It's Jesus.
That is our Message as well. Our message is beautiful in its simplicity. It's a message that our youngest members know very well. "What's that?" A cross. "Who was on it?" Jesus. "What happened to him?" He died." Why?" To take away our sins.
You know it too. Our message isn't, "Hey-- everything's cool-- no worries mon." It's "You have a savior from Sin death and hell. His name is Jesus!"
This has to be what our Sunday School teaches. It has to be what our Adult Bible classes teach. it has to be what our Facebook posts lead people to. it has to be what you tell otehrs when you invite them to church. Come and hear about the Savior!
IV. The Program's Success Rate
"But Pastor," you might be thinking, "How will this work? I've got this one friend who hates chruch and this other friend I invite all the time and they don't seem to care at all. There's no way this is gonna work. It's impossible.
Tell that to the Magi.
They were from the East. They saw a change in the stars. They packed their bags. they left their homes. They travelled by animal across the desert. They followed a star. They came to a home over which the star shone. They knocked on the door.
And they saw...a toddler.
This can't be right. We're looking for a king. Where is the giant muscles? Where is the palace? Where is the golden crown? Were we supposed to take a right at the sycamore tree?
But, then again, the Star. The Scritpures. The hand of God.
They approached the child. They knelt down on their knees. They bowed down and worshipped him.
Then, they opened up their bags and delviered him gifts for a king gold, frankincense and myrrfh. There weren't any shopkins in sight!
These men travelled hundreds of miles. They followed a star They bowed to a toddler. They gave him gifts for a king.
The Outreach Program worked.
God is behind the same outreach program today. He works through his Word. he works faith in the hearts of people. Keep that in mind. Our task isn't that impossible, because we have an impossible doing God behind it! He made a star appear out of nowhere. He can make faith appear in a person's heart out of nowhere. He will be behind our outreach in 2016!
V. The Program's Tool
Of course, there is one key difference in God's outreach program now as opposed to the plan in Matthew 2. Then, he used a star.
Now? Last I looked outside I didn't see a star shining down upon Gethsemane's steeple. we did get a nice new lamp that shines ont eh words "Gethsemane Lutehran" on the side of the building, but you can't see that unless you're on Newton Road.
What are we supposed to use?
Take a look at Jesus' words in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men."
We don't depend on a star. We depend on us.
This is humbling. God could use another exploding ball of gas to bring people to the Savior. Intead, he chooses you. He chooses me. He chooses a bunch of sinful, failing, mistake making human beings to carry his message.
God has chosen Christians to be his light. He has chosen you and I to reflect his love. He has chosen you and I to pass on the message of the Savior!
This isn't just a pastor's job. You are a part of this. That "you" is plural. It encompasses us all. It encompasses you. You are so important in this.
Think about it. If only one of us invites a person to church, that means we have one light shining. One person coming. It's addition.
But if two people invite one person. That's 2 times 1. If ten people do it, that's ten times 1. If 100 people do it -- invite and bring just 1 person in the month of January -- that's not addition anymore.
Do you see why you are key in all of this? Whether you are young or old, male or female, long term Chrsitian or just come to faith, you are a key part in this outreach!
May God bless your outreach. Amen.
What in the world was going on?
The man looked around him. His friends were dragging him by the hand through a large group of people. Hands were moving and mouths were opening faster than he had ever seen them. He couldn’t make out a single word. Not because there was so much noise, but because there was so little.
He was deaf. Always had been. So the scene was surreal – a sea of commotion without so much as the background music of a silent film.
If only he could slow them down and get them to explain the situation better. He opened his mouth to shout, but the people didn’t hear a thing. It wasn’t because it was too noisy either, but because he didn’t make a noise.
He was mute. Always had been. Just like it had always been the case. He was deaf. He was mute. Now he was frightened.
But as he and his friends made their way to the center of the crowd, the man’s eyes caught a glimpse of something that calmed him. A face. A kind face. A smile from a rugged looking man who seemed to be the leader of the group.
Not that he had heard his name before, but perhaps this was the one – the one his friends had written down for him. The one’s whose name whose name was spelled J-e-s-u-s.
Brothers and sisters, today we’re continuing our DEEP series by taking a look at DEEP COMPASSION. Our goal is to learn about (1) Our need for compassion, (2) God’s deep compassion and (3) how to show compassion like God.
I. The DEEP Need for Compassion
Take a look again at what exactly was going on in Mark 7. 32 "Some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.” Notice that this man was unlike many others who had come to Jesus. He had more than one problem. Jesus had healed the blind, the lame, and the sick. He had probably healed the deaf and the mute. But nowhere else had Jesus run into someone who had two related, but different problems.
Doesn’t that make compassion more difficult? Think about it. A teacher might be willing to teach a student with ADD, but if they had Autism too, they might ask that they be taken to a special school. You might be willing to drop a buck to someone who is homeless, but if they are also addicted to drugs – you think, “Why even bother?” We might be willing to spend time with a friend who is handicapped physically, but if they are mentally handicapped too…don’t many of us suddenly become too busy because that takes a lot of work.
It’s kind of sad. But when people have more than one problem – we often label them UNTOUCHABLE and save our compassion to those who are easier to help!
But I think there’s something else that added to the UNTOUCHABILITY of this man was. Verse 32 says “Some people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.”
I was watching an episode of What Would You Do? the other day. It’s a show where they use actors to stage a social situation and hidden camera record the reactions of everyday – non-actor people.
In this episode, they recorded as a young woman walked around at the gas station asking for some money to help fill her tank and get her back home. Guess what? She didn’t have much a problem raising way more than she needed. She was kinda cute, so there were plenty of guys willing to help her. But even other women helped too.
Then, they changed one thing. Same story. Same gas station. Only this time, they used a man.
Guess what? It took him an hour and a half before he even got a buck.
Right or wrong – society has less compassion on men. Perhaps it’s because of the Biblical precedent that the man should be the leader of his family and perhaps it is often the case that the man hasn’t taken any responsibility. Whatever the reason – it’s true that men often receive less compassion.
There’s one more thing to keep in mind. The man was mute. So it’s possible that he had no idea what was going on and he had no idea that he was going to get help. In other words, it’s kind of unlikely that he was even asking for help. No doubt that would be a nice thing, but in the specific scenario he isn’t the one leading the charge to Jesus. His friends brought him.
If someone isn’t asking for help, that severely reduces the risk that they will receive help, don’t you think? If you don’t send in to the government asking for social support and welfare payments, even if you qualify, you won’t get them!
All of these things lead me to believe that this man probably didn’t receive a lot of compassion in his life. Now here he stood before the Son of God himself. But there’s one more thing that, a hidden thing, that could have easily prevented this many from receiving any compassion from Jesus.
If your child comes to you with a boo boo after falling down in roller skates, you might be compassionate. You get a band aid and some Neosporin and pour on a healthy dose of mommy love.
But if your child comes to you with a boo boo after falling off of the tree that he climbed up in roller blades AFTER you told him repeatedly not to climb up because "that’s a terrible idea and you will get hurt,” you might not be as compassionate. They might not deserve it.
Sin is what happens when we do that to God. He warned us. He told us not to. We did anyway. From Adam and Eve – to you and me — when we don’t do what God says, should we be surprised when there are consequences? Guilt, shame, relationship struggles, anxiety, even physical pain!
You’ve sinned. I’ve sinned. We’ve all sinned. We are as in need of compassion as this deaf and mute man was! We need an ALL HOLY God not to deal with us as we deserve, but to deal with us in His incredible COMPASSION.
II. How Deep is God’s Compassion
Listen to how deep God’s compassion is.
“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly."
This is incredible. Notice Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches the man’s tongue. That’s not just the touch of a human being. It wasn’t just his mom holding his hand or his grandma squeezing his cheeks. It wasn’t the doctor feeling for his heartbeat. This was the touch of God.
That’s how deeply involved God gets. He literally puts his touch into this man. The same hands that had formed this man in the womb; the same hands that had guided him on his way; and the same hands that would be crucified for him – were actively involved in healing Him!
Next Jesus looked up to heaven – this is key! Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that this is from God. It’s a prayer. It’s a communication with his heavenly Father. This doesn’t come from one of those Miracle Cure All Bottles that appear on the Home Shopping Network at 2 in the morning. This healing came from The Almighty Hand of God!
Do you want further proof? Look at his words: "Ephphatha!” (which means “be opened!”) He doesn’t say, “this medicine should help.” He doesn’t suggest, “This treatment has a 50% success rate.” He doesn’t say, “This is about all we can do." He’s speaks directly to the problem. He commands the man’s ears to hear. He orders the man’s throat to open.
And what happens?
Quietly, a sound. A melody. A bird chirping in the distance. The mysterious rustling of the leaves. A voice asking, “Did it work?”
Then another sound. A sound that not only the man, but none of his friends had heard before.
The man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. He felt God’s compassionate touch.
Jesus went out of his way to find this poor man and heal his inadequacies – Jesus went even farther for you and for me! His compassion drove him to the cross. His compassion for you drove him to suffer for you. His compassion for you drove him to die for you. His compassion for you drove him to rise triumphantly from that grave that whoever believe in him will not get as their sins deserve and perish, but will graciously, compassionately, be gifted eternal life in His name.
That’s a compassionate God. It’s the same compassionate God that is reaching out to you right now.
May he open your sin-blinded heart to see that He is your Savior.
May he open your sin-stopped ears to hear that He forgives you.
May he open your mute mouth to sing aloud – I believe!
III. Compassion Like Jesus
Notice that the mouth of the formerly deaf mute man wasn’t the only thing opened that day.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. Most likely because the more word spread about him, the quicker the Pharisees decided in their hearts to kill him. But it didn’t even work. Look: the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” People were singing Jesus’ praises everywhere they went. They couldn’t contain it. They told their sick aunts. They told their blind grandpas. They told the widow down the street who was feeling lonely.
Jesus didn’t just open the man’s ears and mouth; he opened the people’s mouths too! I’m also praying that this message this morning opens up a few things on us too.
1) Open Our Eyes.
There are people in need all around you too. I bet you that each day you will run into people who need compassion.
How do I know? Because you’ll run into people. People need compassion.
Keep your eyes open:
Instead of a bum in need of some money; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of an addict in need of a 12 step program; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of an impoverished family in need of the government to do something; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a mentally handicapped man in need of a professional’s help; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a physically handicapped woman in need of a physician’s therapy; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of the terribly sick in need of a doctor’s prescription; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Instead of a coworker in need of a chat with human resources; see a soul in need of your compassion.
Then, approach them and ask God to…
2) Open our Ears.
Too often we assume we know what others need right off of the bat. That guy needs a haircut. He needs to work harder. He needs some medicine.
But sometimes we are so interested in our answer, we miss the question.
Husbands, doesn’t this happen to you? At the supper table, you ask your wife about her day and she says, “It was a mess. The plumber couldn’t fix the leaky pipes, the kids were late to school, the baby has been crying all day; the dog made a mess in the living room, your mom called and reprimanded me for the amount of money I spent at Kroger last week. Ugh!”
And you’re like, “Call the plumber again. Leave the house earlier. Feed the baby some rum. Sell the dog and never answer my mom’s phone call again. Pass the potato salad, please.”
But she says, “What? You don’t care!!!”
She wasn’t asking you to fix it. She was asking you to listen.
Listen. That’s compassion. Listen to your spouse. Listen to your kids. Listen to your kids. Listen to that guy at work no one talks to. Listen to your boss. Listen to your neighbor.
And once you’ve listened…pray for God to...
3) Open your Mouth!
Because it wouldn’t do a lot of good to be walking down the hall this week, see someone in need of compassion, state out loud, “That person needs compassion,” and then walk away whistling to yourself that you did a good job identifying someone in need of compassion.
We need to speak. After we’ve listened, we need to speak and bring comfort. It can start pretty simple: “How are you? Nice to meet you. Tell me about your week. I love your outfit.” Those are nice things.
But how can it not, at some point, in some shape or form, involve the message of your Savior? His message is true compassion. That deals with sin. How much more compassionate is the message of Scripture, “That God so loved you – my dear friend – that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life!”
I'll bet that the formerly deaf and mute man – never forgot that day. Because he could hear? Sure. Because he could speak? Absolutely. But mostly because he could see – His Savior.
When you see someone in need of compassion, when you open your ears to listen to them and God gives you the courage to open your mouth and speak his love, may that be what they remember - their Savior. Amen.
Today’s topic is Race. I picked out this sermon series about three months ago and it is unfortunately very timely.
This past week an African American church in Charleston, SC was attacked during Bible study. 9 people were killed. Immediately my stomach churned. A peaceful place like the house of God – turned into a terrifying, madhouse of violence?
Since then facts have come out about the shooter. He is a 21 year old white male. About two years ago he began posting on a website that discussed all of the atrocities that African Americans had brought into America. According to the few who did survive he gave a speech mid gunfire to explain that “He needed to do this – to get back at African Americans and retake his country.”
Racism. Plain and simple.
But what’s scary is how the devil is using this terrible event. Because if you scroll through internet articles, blog posts, Facebook pages and Tweets , you’ll find anger. You’ll find fear. You’ll find deflection. You’ll find people more interested in defending themselves as some kind of representative of their race, than in defending and understanding those of another culture.
It’ easy to see the devil in this. He’s using these events to divide us! We cannot let him. Brothers and sisters, today we will reflect on race – our culture’s perspective and God’s perspective.
I. Our Culture on Race
The media is huge in forming our opinions on race. Consider this – in almost every violent attack over the past couple of years – what is one of the first details to be released? Not the victim’s family name. Not the shooter's job.
“Black Male Kills White Cop.”
“White Male Kills Black Cop”
“Latino Man Attacks Asian Family”
“Middle Eastern Terrorist at Large”
This has worn on our society. We have stopped seeing each other as individuals and instead see each other as our race.
Hispanic. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Native American. Indian.
Think you’re not infected?
Pretend you’re walking into a coffee shop. As you enter – you see a room filled with African American men with the faint beat of hip hop in the background. What did you think?
Now imagine the same coffee shop. This time you a bunch of white men in business suits talking about the latest Bloomberg report? Did you have the same thoughts?
Or what if you saw a group of men speaking in a Middle Eastern dialect with turbans on their heads and prayer shawls attached to their waist? Grab a coffee, sit down next to them and engage in conversation?
If there’s a difference to you, then you’ve been infected. You’ve stopped identifying people as individuals, and started identifying them as their race. Sadly, this has unintended consequences.
Jesus Loves the Little Children was written by C. Herbert Woolson during the American Civil War when racial tensions were very high – Woolson meant the song to reflect God’s perspective. We usually sing just the refrain but the verses add to it a special focus on God’s love for his children.
Did you hear how it went? Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
But is that really how we view it? Tell me if this doesn’t sound more like how Americans like to think of it:
Jesus loves the Little Children…
All the children who look like me.
Brown hair, tall and German,
Accent gruff and Northern
Jesus loves the little children just like me!
Wait….That’s not how it goes, is it?
Here’s the problem when you find a person’s identify in their race only – you will develop a superiority complex. This is part natural and part defensive. We are sinful human beings who have done sinful things – and if we can’t placate God’s wrath with our own actions – at the very least it’s soothing to think that I’ve got a better chance at appeasing God because he loves my culture best.
Our Culture views our race as what defines us and uses it as a way to divide us.
II. God on Race
The Jewish people struggled with that exact thought. (I can understand why). God had promised to them that he would send a Savior through them. Because of that promise, God protected them throughout their history with incredible miracles. They were very blessed. But many had taken this too far. Viewing it far more than God’s merciful blessing, they began to think of it as something they themselves had done by simply ‘being’ Jewish. Many became convinced that God only loved their kind of people.
Take a look at the first passage you’ve got listed in your bulletin from Romans 10:12-13, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile" (and Gentile means “not a Jew” so here we could include “European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Australian Americans – even Antarctican Americans --- if that’s’ even a thing) There is no difference --because the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Do you want some visible proof that God loves all people just the same? Dive into that last verse with me.
“The same Lord is Lord of all.” This means that God created all of us. He spent careful time, thoughts, and planning (and he had eternities of time) to make and create you the exact way that he did. He placed you into the perfect culture. He dyed your skin a beautiful color. He made your hair just the way he wanted it.
And look around. God did the same for the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person to your side. God created all and loves all.
“God richly blesses all.” Think about the different foods of this world. Isn’t it amazing how BBQ pork is drastically different from sushi which is drastically different from a burrito which is extremely different from a peanut butter sandwich? God has given people different foods, sure. But God still gives food. He gives clothing. He gives blessings to all of his people
Different blessings sure, but blessings all the same. Blessings that come from the same gracious hand of our loving Lord.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Because as different as the shades of brown our skins might be, God looks beyond our skin. He looks into our souls. As he looks at our souls, he sees something eerily similar.
God sees people who are dying because of sin. He sees people who are lost because of sin. He sees people in danger of hell because of sin.
He sees people who need a Savior because of sin.
God sent a Savior. He sent his Son Jesus for all people. Jn. 3:16 well known verse of the Bible says just that, “God so loved the world – not Irish people, not Mexican people, not everyone north of the equator –nope. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life."
Did you see that? God loves people – all people – even the one who hate him – so much that he died for them.
He died for you. He died for people like you. He died for people who looked totally different than.
And he loves you all just the same.
Did some of you ever grow up watching black and white TV? It’s nice for what it did. It brought live action picture and sound into people’s homes. But compare that to what they have now! Beautiful colors – reds, yellows, greens and high definition. You can see the crystal blue of the ocean. You can watch the golden corn kernels pop in Midwestern field. You can see gorgeous array of purples and blues off the feathers of a peacock.
God’s world is a lot like that. He doesn’t see his people in drab grayscale. God sees a beautiful, HD colored world AND loves it.
III. A New View on Race
If God views us all the same, how should that affect the way we interact with one another? James 3:1 tells us, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” That starts as a matter of the heart. When you see how much Jesus loves you, his love will motivate you to love others in the same way.
But after that, how do you make such a countercultural statement visible to a world that divides by race, sticks us into our own little box and says, “That’s where you belong?”
The answer? Radical love.
There was a Jewish man who was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road goes through the desert. That means it was pretty quiet. It’s not 440. It’s not Capital Blvd. It’s not even Falls of Neuse. It was a lonesome road…similar to walking down a dark alley in the middle of the city.
Suddenly, the man was mugged. The raiders stripped him of his clothes, beat him silly, left him bloodied and bruised, and left him in a heap on the hot desert sand.
Thankfully help wasn’t too far off. It just so happened that a priest, the head of the Jewish religious community, was passing through. He was well trained in the things of God and trained to help the people. Surely, he’d help the man!
But he didn’t. When he saw the man he passed by on the other side.
Then a Levite approached. Levites were the ones who helped the priest. In fact, while the priests might have focused more on the ceremonious aspect of their religious, the Levites would have been useful in connected with the people in need. Here was a chance for him to do his job.
But he didn’t. He too passed by on the other side.
Then, a Samaritan approached. Now this is a big deal. Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other. They were different races. They were races that didn’t get along. At best they didn’t trust each other. At worst they hated each other. It’s probably similar to how our own sad American history has pitted blacks and whites against each other. But maybe worse – picture a card carrying member of ISIS getting off his donkey and approaching you.
What do you expect him to do? If this were America, the options are too familiar. A few swift blows to his head to get him back for how his people hurt you in the past. A quick selfie with the body in the background, a degrading caption on it, and post it all over social media. A few muttered words: “It’s his people. It’s his problem. If only they worked harder, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” The man passes by and makes his way into town, tells everyone passionately about what he saw, and says, “The government should do something about this.’
But that’s not what happens. Note what does.
1) The Man Offers His Resources
The man pours olive oil – expensive stuff – all over his wounds as a salve. He takes wine –maybe the wine he had saved for the party he was heading to – and rubs its on his bruises to kill infection. He creates makeshift bandages from whatever linens he had available in his donkey’s sack and covered the man up. Then, he puts the man on his donkey. Remember they’re in the desert! Yet he decides to literally get off of his high horse and allow this stranger the luxury of riding into town. Then he takes him to a hotel and puts him to rest.
Do you have resources you can use to help? Has God gifted you with wealth? Has God gifted you with time? Has God gifted you with talents? Start thinking how can you use them to show love to those of another culture. How can you use your resources –God given resources – to reach out with the love of Jesus?
2) The Man Helps Immediately
I imagine that was a frightening situation for the Samaritan man. Here was a stranger lying in his blood. That’s something that might have given him pause just like the priest and the Levite that he’d resolve – I can’t help now, but maybe I can come back with some friends later.
But that wasn’t what the man did, was it? He dropped what his plans were and immediately helped this victim.
It will be tempting after this sermon to think – I like some of the ideas. I’ll put them into practice…someday. Someday when I have enough courage and when things settle down.
Number one, things won’t settle down. The devil’s on a roll and he’ll keep trying to divide us. Number two, you’ve got Jesus on your side. The Lord Almighty is with you. As those kids sang back in May, "Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Why be afraid? Go outside your comfort zone to share God’s love…and do it now!
3) The Man Doesn’t Forget His New Friend
In the story, reality catches up the Samaritan. He has to leave. But notice that though he physically leaves, he doesn’t abandon his friend. He finds the manager. He says to the manager “Take care of him.” He offers to pay all of his medical expenses – whatever the hotel manager tells him it costs – just as long as the man is taken care of.
This was probably an inconvenience for him! I’m sure he had stuff of his own to take care of. Whatever business he had in Jericho he needed to tend to it. But now this man was his business. It was his brother -- of a different culture, sure, but his brother all the same. His brother was his business and he wasn’t going to forget about him.
May I advise you to do the same. Check back in with those you are reaching out to. Don’t just do it once, wipe the sweat off your brow, sigh and say, “There, I did what pastor asked and boy was it hard.” Instead – make them your business. Keep learning about them. Keep listening to them. Put them on your prayer list. Think of ways to reach out to them. Invite them for dinner. Ask them for coffee. Do something to say that I still care about you.
Would you start thinking like the Samaritan? Start think of ways you can put your love into practice with those who are of a different culture. In the midst of a terrible tragedy, you’ve got an opportunity. I want you to intentionalize this. You’ll naturally be friendly and loving towards those who are similar. That’s easy. Go out of your way to improve your relations with those different than you. Do the Jesus thing – He went out of his way (out of heaven to the cross) in order to show his love to us.
Let’s intentionalize our love!
That’s what one of the church members from Charleston did. Ethel Lance was her mom’s name. Ethel died in the shooting.
Her daughter had a chance to talk to the shooter. Her words were striking in the CounterCulture love.
She said this, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but…I forgive you."
May God give us all this unifying, Christlike love. Amen.