Tag Archives: Immanuel

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

The Savior’s Triumph

22 Dec

TriumphYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the mission of the Savior in part 3 of our Christmas series in Isaiah. The Savior’s mission can be summed by saying He came to do the will of the Father and that included saving people from sin by acting as the substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve seen the sign, character, and mission of the Savior. This morning we’ll finish up by examining the triumph of the Savior.

I encourage you to take the time and read Isaiah 11.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, America was introduced to a man many people believed would be the savior of America. He became our 44th president with promises of hope and change for America. We see athletes and Hollywood stars elevated to a position of greatness and their incredible wisdom is sought over such far reaching issues as global warming, national security, America’s place in the world, civil unrest, and world peace. These people have been elevated by us to a position of worship. Like America today, the nation of Judah in Isaiah’s time was looking for a Messiah. They were faced with desperate circumstances the likes of which no one had ever faced. Their king had rejected God’s clear instruction and firm promises by forming political and military alliances with the Assyrians, only to see them backfire in the worst possible way. Now, it was either going to be death or deportation.  It was only a matter of time. In such desperate times, people look for a way to escape; they look for deliverance, they look for a way out. Sometimes those desires cause us to cry out, is there anybody out there who cares? Will somebody deliver me, will somebody rescue us?  That was the thinking of the people in 700 B.C. Judah and that was the feeling last month in the elections as the American people grew tired of unfulfilled promises. Isaiah’s message gives us the final answer to those desperate cries. He emphatically declared that God would send a true Messiah. His name is Immanuel – God with us. Although in appearance He is a child, His true nature is as a wonderful Counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of peace. His mission is to heal the wounds of the brokenhearted, to release those enslaved by sin, and to restore what has been lost in the years wasting away without Him. All this we now know was fulfilled by Christ Jesus.

In Isaiah 11, the prophet takes us back to the future. Centuries melt away as Isaiah takes us past the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior. We are taken beyond his time and ours and come to a day in the future when this same Messiah who came 2000 years ago will reign over the entire earth. Isaiah tells us what it will be like when His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. You have to wonder why the Holy Spirit wants us to see this vision of the future. Maybe it’s because we need to understand what kind of king was found in the manger of Bethlehem. During this Christmas week, will you come and worship with the shepherds and Magi, or will you dismiss the significance of this incredible birth? Jesus came from a very humble background.  He did not come from a family of incredible wealth, but from a family that was desperate to find some place just for Him to be born. The opening verse in Isaiah 11 tells us, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” God is always faithful and I don’t want you to miss the significance of this. When a living tree is cut down, a shoot springs forth bringing new life. The shoot Isaiah is talking about is from the stem of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, Israel’s greatest king. Isaiah mentions Jesse, but not David.  I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s because God magnifies His grace in ways that we don’t. 1 Cor. 1:27-29 says, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” You see, we tend to elevate the beautiful, the strong, those that are wealthy and powerful. God tends to elevate the meek, the faithful, the willing, those that seek His will. The One that would deliver the world from sin came in a very unpretentious and unpredictable manner. The Messiah would not be born into privilege. Jesse was never king so Jesus is not being born into the royal family and won’t grow up in a palace. He will not start out as royalty; He will inherit His kingdom. But Jesus will be more than an equal to King David. This baby born in Bethlehem will rise to do what no one has ever done.

Jesus will have God’s Spirit on Him in unlimited measure. Verse 2: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” We have never experienced a leader like this. The people in Isaiah’s day hadn’t either. This shoot from Jesse’s family will have the power of God on Him. He won’t try to accomplish the goals of His Father by human power – He will be controlled by the Spirit of God. The result is perfect wisdom and understanding. He will be unlike any leader in the history of the world. He doesn’t need a Cabinet of advisors. He will appoint no czars. He doesn’t need legislators or judges to help Him. He knows what needs to be done and He has the counsel and strength of the Spirit upon Him. The reign of Christ will bring every person face to face with the King. Look again at Is. 11:3-5. Christ’s rule can be summed up in three words: righteousness, fairness, and faithfulness. Each of these words is about conforming to a standard. From this passage we see that the benchmark for this final King doesn’t come from the people that are around Him. It doesn’t come from the latest research, seminar, or book. There was no election. He reigns by the authority of God and judges by the standards of God. I think the idea of these verses is not how He is going to judge mankind, but how He is going to judge each of our lives. You will be judged by reality, not by perception. He will not be swayed by emotion.  He will see you for who you really are. He will deal with you with precise justice, evaluating your life in accordance with the holiness of God. And when He pronounces His judgment, it is final. All who are made righteous by faith in Christ will be exalted.  All others, He will wipe from the face of the earth.

Nature will be turned upside down. Look at vs. 6-8. Wolf and the lamb – together. Cows and bears grazing; lion’s eating straw. Little kids will play with what used to be deadly snakes. Life becomes as it was in the Garden of Eden. The labor pains that the earth groans and suffers that Paul mentions in Romans 8:22 is over. The rest of the story is found in vs. 9-10.  All that is evil, all that is bad, all that causes pain is gone. All that caused decay and ruin is over. On that day, all crime will cease. Everybody on earth will know God. “The nations will resort to the root of Jesse” (that’s Jesus) Who will stand as a signal for the peoples” (a rallying point). “And His resting place will be glorious.”

Do you know who is born of a virgin in Bethlehem? Do you realize who you’re dealing with this Christmas? The world is divided over this child, for at His birth, God drew a line in the sand. You cannot be neutral about this baby who is called Immanuel – God with us because there is coming a day in which He will not be neutral about you. His first coming was marked by humility because He loved us so much that, though completely innocent, He willingly took the guilt of our sin and the wrath of God on the cross for our sakes. He shed His precious blood, died and was buried. But three days later, He rose from the dead by the same power of God that is available to you.  He later ascended to heaven where He patiently waits for the Father to say, “It’s time.” And then, He will come again to this earth, only it will not be in humility because the next time God, “Bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Christmas Perfection

26 Nov

Check out the podcast here.

Last week we were reminded that Immanuel is God with us. We were challenged to tear down the idolatry of commercialism and consumerism and to expect a miracle. This morning we’ll get a reality check as we seek out perfection at Christmas.

The great gospel of Luke 1:30-31, 34 says, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’”

In the classic Christmas movie “Jingle all the Way”, Howard Langston attempted to make the season just right for his son. Howard, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a procrastinator and tended to put his job ahead of his family. All his son Jaime wanted for Christmas was the Turbo Man action figure and Howard promised him there would be one under the tree. Turbo Man was the hottest gift of the year and every kid wanted one too. Of course it was Christmas Eve before Howard thought about the gift. Howard was trying to make Christmas perfect for his son. To make things worse, his neighbor Tim played by Phil Hartman looked like he had planned for the perfect Christmas. He had a picturesque house filled with decorations and all the presents neatly wrapped beneath the tree. The search for that perfect gift – that perfect Christmas – led to a frenzied search mission to find Turbo Man that included fights, deception, theft, burglary, racketeering, assault, police obstruction, as well as numerous violations of traffic laws. And of course, what Christmas movie would be complete without the perfect neighbor making a play for our main character’s wife? Howard tried to make Christmas perfect, but the reality is there is no such thing. For many people, Christmas is a reminder of heartache, tragedy, and suffering. Clever marketing and Victorian Christmas traditions have replaced the biblical principle of Immanuel – God with us.

Today we have a sanitized nativity scene. Our nativity scenes often portray the parents lovingly looking down over the holy Child lying in a hay lined cradle, not a manger. In our pursuit of the perfect Christmas, we forget that Mary and Joseph were spending the night in barn – a place where animals live. Where there are animals, there’s poop. Where there’s poop, there’s insects, and smell. There was no medical treatment available and Joseph was the only support Mary had and if he’s like most of us first time dads, he didn’t have a single clue. We want this clean, picture perfect nativity with no complications, no heartache, and no trouble. We have this idea that if we sincerely love God then He will grant us serenity now. No fuss, no muss in our dainty, clean, sanitized, Christian lives.

Luke tells us it was anything but perfect, anything but simple. Lu. 1:26 tells us it was the sixth month of Mary’s pregnancy before any answer to her dilemma was made evident. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel tells her in Lu. 1:30. Easy for the angel to say. Mary faces an unwanted teen pregnancy. This was different from pregnancies today. She had never been with a man. It’s easier for us to understand because we know how it ends. How easy would it have been for her parents? Joseph? The town’s people? Put yourself in Mary’s shoes; she knew the truth that no one else knew. The angel says, “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” This is where it starts for all of us. We are favored because of God’s great love; His unconditional sacrificial love. This is where Christmas begins. Not just that Christ came, but that He is still here.

Mary was favored, not perfect. It’s hard for us to comprehend unconditional love. God wants a relationship with you even if you’ve been naughty or nice. Why? Because you are highly favored. It’s easy to understand when you consider your children. You favor your kids over someone else’s kids simply because they’re yours. It doesn’t have to do with their abilities, or their aptitude, or what they look like. You favor them because they’re yours. It’s the same way with God. The favor He shows you is because of Him, not you. Being favored does not mean bad things won’t happen. Look at Mary again. As far as relationships, she had done right; had kept herself pure and she finds herself with child. Interestingly enough, nothing is mentioned of Mary’s righteousness. Even after the angel’s explanation, Mary is left asking, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lu. 1:34) I’m pretty certain the theological implications of the baby she carried were not fully realized for some time. How many of us have been in similar situations of uncertainty where we are called on to exercise our faith? You have done all you can to remain true and pure and faithful to God and then that suddenly hits.

Think about Mary’s emotional frame of mind. God’s favor would bring a significant measure of pain and suffering to her life. We read about this miracle of life knowing that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. We look at this event through the sanitized lens of knowledge. Mary didn’t have the luxury of knowing. She shares the story with her fiancé who would obviously put her away certain she is lying after all; he had never seen or heard of any virgin becoming pregnant. She faces death by stoning for the sin of adultery. The walk of faith provides no guarantees for a neat and orderly life free from life’s suddenlies. Nowhere in Scripture does it say everything that happens to us will make sense. As a result of Jesus’ birth, King Herod ordered the execution of all male babies under two. Hebrews 11 is known as the hall of faith. Stories of great faith abound in this chapter.      What are the results of this great faith? Abel was murdered. Noah suffered 120 years of ridicule and the earth was destroyed by a flood. Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his only son. In fact, I encourage you to take the time and read Heb 11:35-12:2. How about Paul? Surely he escaped problems. Look at 2 Cor. 11:24-27 and you’ll see what he endured for the cause of Christ. Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly will bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12)

Do any of us really count the cost of an authentic relationship with Christ when we choose Him? In his book The Present Future Reggie McNeal concluded that, “church culture in North America is now a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs.” We have rewritten the original Christmas story of pain, suffering, and loneliness to one of unrealistic perfection with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. Mary asked, “How can this be?” The angel provides the answer in Lu. 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” After that triumphant declaration – silence. No bells and whistles, no warm gooey feeling, just silence. In that silence, I wonder if doubt crept in? We can face the same thing. The Holy Spirit is with you always and particularly in life’s suddenly moments.

When we seek perfection where it does not exist, we’ll be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. We want a “G” rated Christian life in an “R” rated world. Why did God choose Mary? Look at what she said in 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” When faced with this seemingly impossible situation, Mary chose to trust and obey. May it be the same for us.

Expect a Miracle

19 Nov

You can listen to the podcast here.

And so it is Christmas. We begin our Christmas series for this year. Every year seems Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. American retailers capitalize on our materialism, our over spending, our overeating, and our overwhelming urge for self indulgence. I hope it will be a Christmas like no other for you and your family as we cut through all the distractions of the season.

Is. 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” What does God look like?

We know from Genesis that we are created in His image. We know he has hands and he hears and sees. Would we know God if He walked in or when He showed up? Over the years artists have sculpted God, have painted God, have drawn images of what they think God looks like. Would we recognize God or would be like people in the old west that asked, “Who was that masked man?” Centuries before the Messiah came, prophets proclaimed, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Is. 9:6-7) This soon coming king would suffer, would be rejected by his own people; He would know heartache and pain. This King would hang out with the ones society deemed low class and poor. People had been told about this King and they had different expectations about what he would look like, what he would act like, what he would be like. Some thought this king would be a political leader that would turn the world upside down; someone that would return the world to the time of King David.

When we talk to loved ones or friends on the phone, you have the mental picture of what they look like. When you pray, what mental picture of God do you formulate? Is it the condemning judge that sits on His mighty throne waiting to drop the hammer on you? Is He like that parent that never says no? That never provides guidance or discipline that lets you do whatever you like? Is He a God that rewards obedience with material wealth or physical health? Or is He a God that is present with you regardless of your circumstances? Immanuel – God with us.

When describing God we use adjectives like all-mighty, all powerful, majestic, consuming, liberating, rich, and infinite. And yet, not one of these words would describe Jesus. Jesus was not at all what people expected. His life is a contradiction of worldly values and ideals. He was not born in power in strength, but in weakness. He was born to a poor family in a poor town filled with marginalized people. He spent his early years as a refugee in Africa where He escaped political genocide. He spent his childhood in a blue-collar, working class family. As He grew into a man, he faced opposition from religious leaders. He resisted the world’s obsession with money, power, and recognition. He had compassion and empathy for the weak, the orphans, and the destitute of society. What does God look like? He looks like Jesus – God with us!

Is this today’s Jesus? We often view Jesus as the genie in the bottle. He exists to grant our every wish. We have redefined Jesus into our own image who promises to give us everything we want. He has become an idol of consumption, materialism, and self indulgence. He has become Santa Claus Jesus. We know the familiar song . . . He knows when you are sleeping, he knows if you’d been good or bad. In this same way, we have reduced God to a heavenly watchdog that judges what we do or don’t do and then grants punishment or reward. This is not the God we see in Jesus. He doesn’t come bearing gifts to give to good boys and girls. God’s gift of Jesus cannot be neatly wrapped in a box with a pretty bow on it. If you’re picture of God is distorted, your view of life will be distorted. We have this commercialized idea of Jesus as the magical gift giver sent from above and as a result, we have certain expectations for Christmas, but Jesus doesn’t do magic. Magic is trickery, sleight of hand, it’s an illusion, it’s for our entertainment; our enjoyment not for our transformation. God doesn’t do magic; He does miracles. That magical, wonderful, ideal, storybook Christmas is unattainable. We get all the new and improved decorations, holiday recipes, and latest gifts to create a warm, fuzzy experience and we’re left wanting. The fuzzy feelings pass and we’re left exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed at the shopping, spending, school programs, cooking, entertaining, and wrapping of gifts we don’t need or will never use. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday festivities, we miss Immanuel – the gift of God with us. The idolatry of consumerism is tough to knock down. John Wesley said the wallet is the last thing converted in a person’s life. Jesus said it Himself in Matt. 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Get ready for a miracle. Christmas is the celebration of a miracle. A young girl conceived a child without the participation of a man and yet we push the miracle worker out of the celebration. Merriam Webster defines miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Every salvation is a miracle of God’s love, of God’s involvement, of God’s desire for an intimate relationship with His ultimate creation. Do you feel like you’re not worth it? In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The same Holy Spirit that conceived the Miracle that Mary carried within her lives inside of every ordinary believer. Our Messiah was ordinary too. Is. 53:2-3 says of Jesus, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Not quite the leader the world was looking for. He would not have been one of the cool kids at school. He was from the wrong side of the tracks of an insignificant little town where one person asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jo. 1:46) He was ordinary looking, probably plain, nothing that would draw people to Him. That’s the way most of us are yet God chooses to use us, to work in us and work through us.

Scripture is filled with ordinary people that God used in extraordinary ways. Moses was not eloquent in speech and had anger issues. Jonah was disobedient.    David was an adulterer, a conspirator, and a murderer. Peter spoke without thinking. Thomas was a doubter. Paul was a persecutor of Christians, but God had plans for each of them and He has plans for you. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Are you willing to pay the price? The angel greeted Mary and said, “You have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30) Mary faced certain rejection, criticism, and ostracism because of her unwed pregnancy. While grace is free, it’s not cheap. It was not culturally acceptable to be pregnant out of wedlock and Mary had to be thinking, “Wow, if this is God’s favor, I don’t want to be on His wrong side.” What about Joseph? I’m sure life was tough for him too. His wife was pregnant and he wasn’t the father.

Jesus came to this earth not just to die sacrificially on our behalf, but also to demonstrate sacrificial living. How far has our modern Christmas diverted from the original Christmas? We want to be warm and fuzzy surrounded by family and friends with the gentle sound of Christmas carols playing softly in the background. Mary and Joseph were alone in a strange place and of that night we sing, “The cattle are lowing the poor Baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Their Christmas was full of poverty and anxiety, not mulled cider, turkey, ham, and peppermint sticks. And let’s not forget the reason Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt was to escape government sanctioned genocide. I’m not sure how Mary and Joseph would describe their memories of Christmas, but it was probably not a silent night where all was calm and all was bright.

Christmas is about the sacrificial gift of Jesus that we want to leave in the manger. But you cannot separate the child in the manger from the message of Christ on the cross. The meaning of life is not found in material possessions or personal comfort. The meaning of Christmas is not found in endless debt and getting gifts not needed. I agree with Paul is saying the meaning of life in found in, “know[ing] Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Phil 3:10) Expect God to perform the same miracles in your life that He performed in Mary and Joseph’s lives.

How Nazareth Missed Christmas

20 Dec

You can listen to the podcast here.

Several years ago a fad in Christmas decorations swept across America.  It is an artificial tree that is upside down.  Hammecher Schlemmer offered a 7 foot prelit tree for 599.95.  If you didn’t get one, it’s too late, they no longer offer the tree.  Who wouldn’t want one?  In their ad, the company says there is more room for presents than a traditional tree. You can still find these trees ranging from $200-400. Most people don’t need a tree to be turned upside down at Christmas.

Left unchecked, Christmas can be turned upside down in a hurry. Our gift buying can leave months of extra debt to pay off, our holiday schedules can leave us exhausted, and our materialism can leave someone searching for Christmas blind to the true meaning and spirit of the holiday. Americans will spend almost $22 billion this Christmas on toys alone. We used to talk about cars being upside down and now we’re upside down on our houses. So here’s the question, “Wouldn’t you like to trade your upside down Christmas for something better?” From Nazareth to Bethlehem, there were countless opportunities to celebrate Christmas, but few people managed to do so. In the case of Nazareth, missing Christmas led to something far more troubling because this community managed to miss life-changing faith, even with Jesus living in their midst. As it turns out, in the 12th Century, Christians hung fir trees upside down in their homes at Christmas to remind them of the Trinity. Back to Nazareth. The story started there, when Mary got the word that she would carry the long-awaited Christ child.

Take a look at the familiar passage in Luke 1:26-38.

Mary’s had a dream and in that dream, she found Christmas. It’s not just that the angel of the Lord found her, but it was Mary’s willingness to be used. Mary called herself a bond slave in verse 38. A bond slave is one who gives himself up to another’s will and whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men. It also means someone devoted to another to the point of disregarding your own interests. There was a period of time when Mary was the only person to believe God was at work in a new way. It took a miraculous dream for Joseph to get on board.  Check out Joseph’s dream in Matt. 1:18-24. Mary would spend her pregnancy and her labor away from her village, her friends, and her family. The lesson for us today is more important than you might think. Yes, we’d like to reclaim the rest of the holiday. Yes, we’d like to remember the real reason for the celebration. Yes, we’d like to spend less money on gifts, and realize what an incredible gift God has given to us. But if we miss the meaning of this season of faith, we also might miss the opportunity for experiencing life-changing faith years later. It happened that way in Nazareth.

When Jesus began his teaching ministry, he went back to Nazareth and went to the synagogue. When Jesus delivered the same message that was already being accepted in other villages, the people of Nazareth refused to believe. The story is found in Mark 6:1-6a. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Nazareth had been told through Mary and Joseph that angels were delivering important messages from God, but the people of the village refused to believe. Perhaps they knew Mary and Joseph too well to believe God might be using them. Nazareth had seen evidence of Mary’s pregnancy and evidence of Joseph’s decision to believe a miracle had taken place. Nazareth had access to the Scripture in its synagogue, and had surely read the promise in Is. 7:14 that said “a virgin will be with child” and that he would be called a Nazarene according to Matt. 2:23 where Matthew quotes what the prophets said. Even with the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth had been born of a virgin, that His birth was a miracle, Nazareth refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They were too familiar with Jesus.  He’d grown up among them.  He’d lived among them every day for decades. No one could remember Jesus doing anything wrong. No one could even remember Mary or Joseph getting frustrated with Jesus. They knew Him. Even though miracles were happening in other places because of Jesus, in His hometown, people with diseases, pain, and disabilities returned home lacking the faith necessary to be healed. This faith would have changed their lives and shown them the truth of Christmas.

So what’s the impact of this story? Most of us are as familiar with Jesus as the people of Nazareth. If you’ve been in church very long, you know the stories, you’ve sung the songs, and you’ve even memorized scripture. But there’s still a huge gulf of faith and trust that needs to be bridged and only you can build that bridge. This Christmas, would Jesus be amazed at your faith, or at your lack of faith? Will it be another Christmas filled with too much to do, too much food, and too many expenses? Could this be the Christmas when faith finally grabs hold of you and like Mary you say, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

This is the right time for the right message. What’s the right message? As people are consumed with shopping, decorating, and buying, most of our culture misses the reason for all the activity. His name is Jesus, and He is called Immanuel. Immanuel means God with us. There is no better time of the year than Christmas to share who Jesus is and why He came. It’s not about spending more, it’s about spending less, doing less, and enjoying Christmas more. How can we share the right message, right now? Take a stand and let others take notice that you want to make Christmas what it should be. Relax, take time with God and reflect upon what He did to make it all possible. Make a family tradition of giving a major gift to missions. That’ll make a bigger impact on the world than giving your child the latest gaming system.

It’s the right time for the right message and this is the right place for the right message. Nazareth was not the right place for the home of the Messiah. The character of Nazareth was proverbially bad.  To be a Galilean or a Nazarene was an expression of decided contempt. The village did not have the best reputation. In John 1:46, Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet Isaiah promised that the Messiah would be despised, even contemptible. Few people grow up thinking their hometown has the chance to produce greatness. With 820 people living there, Tampico, IL produced Ronald Reagan. John Wayne was born in Winterset, IA – 4805. Andy Griffith was born in Mt. Airy NC – 8484. Dick van Dyke was born in Crawfordsville, IN – 15,243. Tiger Woods was born in Cypress, CA – 49,000. Bush 43 was born in New Haven, CT – 124,000. Tim Tebow was born to missionary parents in Makati City, Philippines, just one kid trying to find his way among the 510,000 people living around him.

Any place, at any time, can produce a great leader or athlete or an unforgettable entertainer. This place, our place, happens to be the right place for the right message of Christmas. Who else is going to bring the Good News to our community? Everyone else is too busy at Christmas. We all need to realize that the best person to reach our family, friends, and neighbors is us. It’s not someone else’s responsibility.  It’s not even someone else’s opportunity. You are there, inside the circle, armed with years of relationships and trust. Find a way to get the message to your sphere influence this year. Include a spiritual side to your family celebrations. Pray before you open gifts. Read the Christmas story from Luke. Think about what your family or community might be like without your contributions. George Bailey had an opportunity to see what his community would be like without his positive influence. You can make a difference.

It’s the right time for the right message.  This is the right place for the right message, and you are the right person for the right message. You may have doubts about your ability to deliver the good news or you may be very comfortable sharing your faith. Each of us, in our own ways, with our own skills, has been gifted and charged by God to deliver the life changing news of Christmas. Mary and Joseph accepted the challenge, trusted God, and found the miracle. They paid a price for accepting the task God gave them. They endured shame and scorn and traveled hundreds of miles. The rest of Nazareth endured none of the discomfort or pain that Mary and Joseph did because they did not accept the challenge of faith. They missed Christmas. What a person does with the right message, given in the right time, at the right place, is completely up to him or her. Life-changing faith – Christmas-finding faith – is the kind of faith that puts your faith in action. The decision belongs to you. Take the journey of faith that Mary and Joseph took, and you’ll find the miracle. If you have a hard time trusting and believing, you’ll suffer the same fate as people in Nazareth who never overcame their lack of faith. If you can trust, if you can come to faith in Christ, then you’ll find the same truth that Mary found as she took one step after another in her walk of faith. Remember the words the angel spoke to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

The right place, the right time, the right person and most importantly, the right message. Christmas started in Nazareth, went to Bethlehem, and then back to Nazareth. Both villages were filled with people who missed what God was doing in their midst. It’s the same way people in our culture can celebrate a huge holiday without ever comprehending what God has done, and continues to do, in our midst. And yet God is at work, changing lives one at a time, and getting the message out in some surprising ways. Don’t miss Christmas this year because you’re too caught up in Christmas.

The Sign of the Savior

30 Nov

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the N.T. than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4). This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. His name is Isaiah. He is a prophet.

We’re going to look at Isaiah 7:10-17 today. I hope you have your Bible and can turn there too. You can listen to the accompanying podcast here.

You’ve heard the saying desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. Check it out. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. All kinds of circumstances can occur that may bring us to the edge of despair where we see few options are and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Ahaz, the King of Judah, on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man.  He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world. I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” It’s not that he is in a “wilderness” period as some would say or that he was “lukewarm.”

Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he faces a very serious national crisis and he doesn’t possess the spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Syria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from the war machine of Assyria. Assyria had this habit of invading and conquering surrounding countries and taking the people prisoner. The goal was to invade Judah and get rid of King Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”

So what’s a king to do? Well, Ahaz was foolish.  2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Syria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. He’s thinking, “If I pay tribute to Assyria, I’ll be okay. Oh and Judah too.” Not a smart move. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to King Ahaz in v. 3. Look at vs. 3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Remember Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men.

God is always bigger than your fear. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He will. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a King.

Finally, look at the miracle God provided. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 tell us what happened. Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t listen, all he can see is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. Ahaz tells Isaiah,“I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all religious on Isaiah. I suppose he is forgetting about his past. His idolatry, his human sacrifices (including those of his children), how he worshipped at the asheroth pole, oh yea, and he was a Baal worshipper. The real deal is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. Vs. 13-14 record what Isaiah says. It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it. So what is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained. When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory.

700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you?