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.