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Living Water March 19, 2017

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John 4:5-26

Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves the world in and through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers see themselves in God’s family, worship Him, and tell others!

Structure:  Before and After.

 

Living Water

 

The reading we had today from the Gospel according to John is a familiar event in Jesus’ ministry.  You know it, your children know it if they go to Sunday School, and it’s part of our regular rotation of Scripture readings in the lectionary.  And as I preached on this text here a few years ago, we focused on all the details of this event.  Why Jesus bridged the gap of Jews and Samaritans, the woman’s adultery, of having had numerous husbands, and now living with a man she isn’t married to.

So, I don’t want to just redo that sermon this morning, but rather, instead look at what Christ is calling the Samaritan woman to do.  A before and after picture of not just this woman’s life, but also of our lives.  Before the gospel, and then with the gospel.

But before we can do that, we do need to review one piece.  We need to understand specifically one key thing Christ speaks, because it refers to the whole account.  And that’s verse 14: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  What is Jesus talking about here?  What is that water?  Not only baptism, but baptism by the Spirit.

That’s the key.  Christ comes promising to us tremendous gifts, gifts of forgiveness, of life, of being part of His family.  And all of these gifts come to us according to His promise.  In baptism, the Spirit grants the gift of faith.  And we go from being enemies of God, to being children of God.  That’s the before and after picture that we’re looking at today.

And it takes three forms in this account alone.  The first before and after that we see with the Samaritan woman is without a doubt about who her family is.  Look at how she speaks in the first several verses.  She’s focused on her nationality.  She’s focused on her ancestors, men like Jacob, and the history of the family well.

But Christ calls her to see beyond her definition of family, of an earthly lineage.  He calls her to think of herself now as a part of an enduring lineage.  Part of God’s family.  After hearing the woman’s testimony, her neighbors, her community comes to Jesus and asks Him to stay with them, to teach them.  And He does.  And after a couple of days spent in their town, the people proclaim faith.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (v. 42)

We do this, too.  It’s part of our sinfulness to divide ourselves by the same things she was.  We divide ourselves by nationality, by socio-economic status, by race, by differing levels of morality.  I wish I could say you have to go into the cafeteria of a school to see this, but you don’t.  You can see it in your office, in your neighborhood, just about anywhere.

But Christ calls us into one family.  All of those who are in Christ, who have been baptized by the Spirit into the family of God.  The wealthy and poorest in Stewartville alike.  Americans and Africans alike.  We could make the point that we all descend from Adam and Eve, but that’s not what Jesus is getting at.  It’s not about past lineage.  It’s about a future, everlasting family.  Those little kids we help feed with Feed My Starving Children, through the proclamation of the gospel in their communities, we get to spend forever with them.  As the family of God.

The second before and after picture the text presents to us is one of location.  She is very wrapped up in the idea of space.  And for good reason.  God instructed His people to live this way.  Worship happened in the temple.  If you want to worship God or offer sacrifices, you had to go there.

She’s tied not just to that well in Sychar, but to that mountain.  We know from sources apart from Scripture what mountain this is, and what she’s talking about when saying her fathers worshipped on that mountain.  The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Samaritans had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim around 400 BC.  And more recent archaeology of that site, has unearthed a ruin that is 66 feet wide by 66 feet long, with an adjoining courtyard.  It may not have been the Biblical temple, but they had a temple that they were using for worship.

And it’s her concern now that her temple wasn’t good enough.  That the Jews were saying you had to go to theirs, to Jerusalem.  Christ overturns that, too.  It’s neither here on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.  From verse 23-24 He says,

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

Jesus is the temple of God, and He is in our midst.  It is through Him and through Him alone that we have access to our Father.  That’s the phrase “worship in spirit and truth.”  That’s our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as we confess that faith, and rely not on ourselves or our own works, but on His promises, and the gifts that He gives to us.

We don’t have as clear a before picture on this one.  Catholics pilgrimage to Rome, Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca.  But we don’t have a centralized place of worship. We are more prone to fall into sin in the complete opposite direction.  We error by thinking we can worship God in nature, or in some other place that we enjoy rather than the place that God has promised.  He has promised to work in His church, through the Word being proclaimed, the sacraments administered, and forgiveness preached.  And while we certainly hope that occurs in Jerusalem, we know it occurs in various places all around the world.

The final before and after picture of this text is about who this woman is and what she’s done.  The disciples looked down on her, wondered what Jesus would have been doing even talking to her.  She even thought that of herself.  Her life was a life full of failures, disappointments, rejection.  It was a life full of sin.

And yet, Christ forgives her.  And more than that, He invites her into the work of the kingdom.  She goes back into her community, to the people she knows, and she starts talking about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah they’d been waiting for.  And the word spreads, and the Samaritans are brought to faith through the Spirit and the Word of God.

This is the way we normally talk about the woman at the well.  And it’s valid.  While our sins may not be adultery like hers was, we are all sinners.  And if we’re honest, most of us, maybe all of us are even adulterers, too.  But in this meeting with her, Jesus isn’t Law heavy.  He doesn’t use it to crush her.  He pretty much goes straight to the gospel, because this woman was already in a place of shame.  She already knew her guilt, and she was looking for a Savior.

Like you and I, she knew of the depths of her sin, she knew her guilt.  She didn’t know what her Savior would do for her.  She didn’t know about the cross, of Christ’s love for her in which He pours out even His own blood for her, shed for the forgiveness of her sins.  She didn’t know about the resurrection, that three days later He would leave an empty tomb behind and that people would start proclaiming a risen Lord who grants life to all people in His name.  But she knew she needed a Savior.

And that’s how our text today ended.  The statement from Jesus is so profound, it speaks for itself.

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver October 9, 2016

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Luke 17:11-19

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

October 9th, 2016

 

Focus:  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ as their Savior.

Structure:  Connecting the dots from the Old Testament to the New.

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver

 

Today we want to take a look at our reading from the gospel according to Luke.  On its surface, it looks like any other healing miracle Jesus performed.  Here’s ten men, each of whom is sick, and Christ shows mercy upon them, and heals them.  But there’s a lot more to it, and it has great significance for us in our daily lives.

But first, we have to dig into the context.  Verse eleven says, “On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” This doesn’t give us His exact position on a map, but it is helpful.  He’s traveling south, He’s moving from the region of Galilee into the region of Samaria as He makes His way toward Jerusalem.  We’ll get to that.

But on the way, He’s stopped at one of the local villages by a group shouting at Him from a distance.  Ten men, each of them lepers.  And to truly understand their plight, as they cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” to truly understand their pain, we open our Old Testaments, specifically, we look to the book of Leviticus, which laid out all of their cultural laws and regulations about how to govern themselves, how to deal with various things like worship, conflict, and disease.

The entirety of chapters thirteen and fourteen cover the skin disease we call leprosy.  There are numerous rules, and you’re welcome to read them, and they get a little gross.  But for a better understanding of our reading at hand, there’s a few verses we want to look at in particular.

Leviticus 13:45-46 – 45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Leviticus 14:1-3, 8 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, […] And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days.

 

This is what befell these ten men.  Leprousy, a skin disease which was contagious and potentially deadly.  But it’s more than that.  It’s like being quarantined.  If you’re a leper, you’re removed from society.  You’re declared unclean, and you’re forced to live outside of the camp.  There might even be a small group of lepers living together, waiting to be healed.  But in the meantime, you can’t see your family or friends.  You can’t go to work, can’t care for your relatives.  It’s a tough condition to have.

And so these ten men cry out to the Christ, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Lord, help us.  And Jesus does, He hears their cry for mercy and He provides mercy.  He looks at the ten men and rather than simply healing them, He skips ahead.  He tells them to go and see the priests.  You were only supposed to do this if you were clean again, if you were already healed.

But nevertheless, they trusted Him, they turned away and started the trip to see the priests.  We don’t know how long it took, we’re not even told how long into the journey it was before it happened.  But somewhere along the way, between Jesus and their priests, Luke records this: “And as they went they were cleansed.”

Do you realize the repercussions?  These men have not just had their sickness removed, they’re clean again.  They get to return to their families, their friends, their communities, their jobs.  Everything they know about life gets to go back to normal.  This is wonderful!  And so they keep going, heading for the priests who will declare them clean and let them go home.

Except one.  One man stops.  And he turns around.  We don’t know much about him, other than that he was a Samaritan, not a Jew, so not necessarily part of the kingdom of God, and yet, he stopped.  Instead of going with the other nine to see the local priests, this man returned to Jesus.

The other nine go back home.  They see the priests, the priests mark them as clean, and they return to the life they had left, to everything they had known before.

This text is often misapplied as saying we don’t give thanks enough.  But that’s not the issue here.  The issue is confusing the gift with the giver of the gift.  The issue is to whom we give thanks, not how often we do it.  God in the flesh came into the lives of these nine men, delivered them, redeemed them, cleansed them, and nothing.  Life was no different now than it had been in the past.

That’s what this text ends up being about.  We confuse the giver of the gifts with the gifts themselves. And it’s not just the unbelieving who sometimes rejoice in the gift of life, the gift of food, the gift of second and third and billionth chances.  The gift of families and jobs.

It’s about us, too, confusing gift and giver.  Sometimes we make the gift itself god.  We give thanks to our earthly things, be they jobs, homes, transportation, family, even stuff.  We look to these things to save us.  Just look at this election.  How many, even Christians, are convinced that the government will save them?  Even in the church, that either Hillary or Donald is somehow capable of preserving the life we love, of saving of world?

We enjoy liberty in this nation, and then begin to think that liberty is the goal of life.  We enjoy our rights and our freedoms and think that these must be preserved, even expanded, at all costs.  We get so caught up in being comfortable and happy and liked that we won’t tell someone else of who God is for fear that we might lose everything.

But we compare this to the one man, to this Samaritan, who rather than going to the priests has a profound insight.  You see, we learn in Scripture that Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  This man sees it.  He returns to show his Priest, that is Christ, that he is healed.  And he rejoices, he worships at the feet of his Redeemer, of his Savior.  And Jesus says something to him that is extraordinary. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Or in some translations, “Your faith has saved you.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says this a few other times.  But it’s a mark of contrast.  The woman who anointed Christ’s feet in the midst of the Pharisees in chapter 7.  The blind beggar who also cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” in the midst of a rebuking crowd in Luke chapter 18.  These few have faith.  They have seen the Christ and acknowledge Him for who He is: their Lord and Savior.

And for all of them this connection is even deeper.  Because as we remember from the beginning of our text, Jesus is headed where? Jerusalem.  And what’s He going there to do?  To die on the cross.  Why is He going to do that? For the forgiveness of our sins.  Who’s sins are forgiven on that cross? Everyone.

Christ died on the cross, shedding His blood as a one-time sacrifice, good once and for all.  Every sinner everywhere of all time.  Every sin ever committed, every sin yet to be committed.  Covered, by the blood of the Lamb.  You see those other nine lepers were still healed.  But they rejected the giver of that gift.  We are all forgiven, but many reject the giver of the gift.

And we’re not immune to this, even as Christ’s people.  This is why the cry of the lepers, the cry of the blind beggar, sounds out from our lips, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Whether that’s in the Kyrie or the Agnus Dei, we join these men crying out for the mercy of God.  And more specifically, we join the few men and women declaring that Christ is our Lord and Savior.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And it is in Him alone that we look for our life and salvation.

Prophet vs. People February 21, 2016

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Jeremiah 26:8-15

Second Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2016

 

Focus:  God provides grace through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament Comparison.

 

Prophet vs. People

 

Our texts for today, our theme for today, is really the ultimate display of the clashing between prophets and people.  And if we want to be even more specific, it’s the clash of God and man.  In this battle, we see the depths of God’s love pitted against the depths of our sin.

As we look at our Old Testament reading we have one of the major prophets, Jeremiah.  If you don’t know much about his background, God called Jeremiah to serve Him when he was only a boy.  And Jeremiah would then spend the rest of his days delivering messages to the nation of Judah, both prior to their defeat and exile, and also during their exile.  That’s why the book of Lamentations that he wrote is filled with, well, lamenting, mourning the loss of a nation.

We see one example of his work in the text today.  At the beginning of chapter 26 God calls to Jeremiah and instructs him to go to the leaders and the people of Judah, bringing a familiar message for a prophet.  You’re stuck in your sins and God is going to judge you.  But if you turn away from your evil, if you repent, He will spare you from destruction.

The response of the religious leaders is arrogant and puffed up with their own pride.  How dare you say God is judging us?  How dare you say we’re doing anything wrong?  How dare you say God will destroy this masterful city and artistic wonder that is our temple.

Those weren’t their exact words.  It was a paraphrase, but maybe their exact words were worse: “You shall die!”  How dare you say that?  Now we’re going to kill you.  Certainly, prideful.

And so they drag Jeremiah off to hold a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in his death.

There’s so many parallels to our New Testament reading, to our Gospel from Luke.  Here we are somewhere in the middle of Christ’s ministry prior to His final trip to Jerusalem.  He’s in the middle of a series of teaching when some Pharisees tell Him to leave because Herod wants Him dead.  It’s hard to know their intent, if these were some faithful men trying to save Him from death, or if they just wanted Him gone for the trouble He was causing them.

Regardless of their intent Jesus’ response is strong and telling.

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

 

In other words, if even the demons couldn’t stand against Christ, why on earth would He fear Herod?  Jesus’ face is already pointed towards Jerusalem.  He knows the path that is before Him.  He’s been transfigured.  He’s come down from that mountain to go to Jerusalem and to die.  And He knows it.

He knows all about our sins.  Their sins, that is the people of Judah and Jerusalem.  And our sins.  He knows the depths of it all and He knows there’s only one response.  That our sin, the punishment for our guilt must be laid upon His shoulders.

But that doesn’t stop Him from saying what He says next.

34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

 

It is Him who is going to die, and yet He weeps for them.  He mourns for them.  He wishes that they had heeded the words of prophets, indeed even the words He Himself just spoke at the beginning of this same chapter when two separate times Jesus said, “Repent or perish.”  He’s downtrodden that their destruction is upon them.

And not unlike Jeremiah, the time was short before the religious leaders would drag Jesus off for a quick and decisive trial before their officials that they hoped would result in His death.

That’s what this really is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.

Jeremiah lived it.  Jesus lived it.  That the very nation that was once faithful to God and the crown of His creation had now abandoned Him and sought to kill any messenger He sent them.

We live it.  How many times have you heard a Christian accused of being judgmental?  How many times have you been accused of hatred?  How many times has Matthew 7 been quoted to you that you should take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of theirs?  Their wrong, but that’s another sermon.

That’s what this is.  That we would love our own sins so much that we would even kill the one who speaks of forgiveness.  That our pride would be so powerful that we reject the Word of God spoken to us.  That we reject the idea that we are sinners, that we’re broken and in need of a Savior.

That indeed the master would send messengers to his vineyard, to his workers, and time and again they would beat them.  And ultimately that he would finally send his own son, for they surely won’t harm him.  Hmmm…that’s starting to sound like one of Jesus’ parables.  That no matter how much God works through His prophets and even through His Son, many will love their sin and reject their Savior.  To the point where we would kill Him, by nailing Him to the cross.

It’s the depth of our sin against the depth of God’s love.  That the Judahites could be told that their idol worship was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That the Pharisees could be told their love of themselves, their pride was a sin and they would laugh it off.  That I could tell you that your speeding habit is a sin and you might laugh it off as though it didn’t matter.

And God would still love us so much to offer us grace.  That in the midst of our rejection and pride He would continue to offer a way out, a way to have a relationship with Him, a way to live, through the very body and blood of His own dear precious Son Jesus Christ.  If only we might heed the words of Jeremiah, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you.”

This is the part of the conversation I wanted to be sure to have today.  Jesus, multiple times in His ministry, says “Repent or perish.”  The prophets often said it.  But, salvation is not our doing right?  We can’t earn it, we can’t do it?  So why are we being told, do this thing, repent, or you won’t be saved?  It makes repentance sound like a work we do to save ourselves.

But let me give you an illustration.  Let’s imagine that every day for the rest of Lent I am going to break into your home, steal something, and then auction it off on eBay to the highest bidder.  Destruction, theft, false gain, harming my neighbor.  Lots of sin.  I’m sinning against you, I’m damaging our relationship without a doubt.  And for a while, I just don’t care.  And then come Easter, the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead stirs me.  He works within me to cause me to realize my sin, that I’ve harmed you.

And that leads me to your doorstep.  But this time, instead of with a lock pick or bat in the cover of darkness, this time, with repentance.  Asking you to forgive me for what I’ve done.

I’ve stopped.  I’ve repented.  I’ve turned away from my sin.  I’ve turned myself in.  But have I earned anything?  Have I gained anything?  Has my apology earned back your trust?  Has my repentance repaid the cost of damages to your home and to our friendship?  Has my ceasing to steal from you restored the possessions lost?  Have I made restitution for the wrong I’ve done?  The answer’s no.  I can’t.  There’s no power in me to fix this.  I can only stop and ask forgiveness, and even that is a gift that God has worked in me.

In that example, you have the power to restore, to choose to trust me again, to waive off claims of vengeance against me, to ignore damages.  Those would be gifts, and only you can give them.  And in the greater picture, taking away our sins from us is a thing of grace.  We can’t earn it.  We don’t even participate.  God does it.  It’s by His grace alone.

Each of our texts had gospel, good news.  Sure, Jeremiah came with the message that they were sinners and they were bringing about their own damnation.  But he also came with the promise of God, the very grace of God, that if they would turn away from their wickedness, God would restore their relationship and remove their sins and destruction.

And even Christ wept for Jerusalem.  And if they had only repented, He would have gathered them as a hen does her chicks.  He longed to call them family.  And in the end, whether they wanted Him to or not, He even paid the price, gave up His own life, that they, that we, might live.

Repentance can’t earn your salvation, but rejecting God’s grace will certainly lead to your own destruction.  And so we are thankful that God gives us the gift of repentance, that we can turn away from our sin.  We are so thankful that He sacrificed His Son to pay for our sins and to restore our relationship with Him.  We are so thankful that He continues to send us His Word, whether it’s in the form of the prophets of old, of pastors and elders, of daily reading the Scriptures, or the accountability we have as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are so thankful for the grace of God.

Gift Return December 25, 2015

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John 1:10-11

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us the gift we needed most.

Function:  That the hearers humbly rejoice in the gift they so desperately needed.

Structure:  Sermon outline by Phill Tague as part of his Socks and Underwear Advent series.

 

Gift Return

 

I want to begin tonight by sharing with you the story of a king.  This story was first told by the nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  The king had everything.  An exquisite palace, immeasurable wealth, a vast kingdom.  In kingly terms, he had it all.  But something was missing.  He wanted someone with whom he could share it.  He wanted a queen, a woman he could love and share his kingdom with, share his life with.

Now, on the surface, this wasn’t a problem.  He was a good man, with a reputation for being just and kind.  And there was certainly no lack of suitors, no lack of women willing to be his queen.  But therein lies the problem.  How could he know what these women were after?  How could he know if they really sought to share life with him, or if they were just after his stuff, his power, his wealth, the crown?

This troubled the king for some time, until one day as he wandered around the villages of his kingdom, he spotted her.  Just a young, simple peasant girl.  There was nothing remarkable about her, nothing that should have made her stand out.  But for whatever reason, she caught more than his eye that day, she captured his heart.

The king went to his advisors and told them of his situation.  “Shower her with gifts, my lord.  She is stuck in poverty, her needs are numerous.  With the snap of your finger, you could remove it all, you could change her life and win her affections.”  The king knew they were right.  But he still had that fear.  If I do all of this, how will I know that she loves me, and not my stuff?  And again, the question ate at him.

Then he had an idea of his own.  The king took off his crown.  He took off his royal robes.  He dressed himself as a servant and left the palace.  He went down into the village where she lived, to be a simple peasant.  To get to know her and to give her a chance to get to know him.  He gave up his rights, he gave up his throne.

Now maybe you would like to know how that story ends.  But it doesn’t.  Kierkegaard never wrote an ending.  The ending wasn’t the point.  The point of the story was the king’s unconditional love.  That he loved her so much he was willing to give up everything for her.  That’s why you’re here tonight.  That’s why we’re celebrating tonight.

John begins his gospel by telling us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus, the King, was in His kingdom, but He gave it all up.  He laid aside His crown and His throne and He came down to us.  He came down to the one He loved.  We heard from Luke earlier, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The King, the Lord of the universe, became one of us.  Became as ragged as us as He was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.  Immanuel, God with us.  But despite being such an incredible gift, it wasn’t always well received.

At the 6 o’clock service here tonight we looked at gifts, specifically the difference between the gifts that we want, and the gifts we need, like socks and underwear.  But let’s face it, sometimes we get gifts that we don’t want at all.  I’m not sure who tracks this stuff or how, but American Express reported that we return on average, one gift per person per year.  I want you to take a moment now, turn to someone sitting near you and share with them one gift that you’ve either returned or regifted to someone else.  And be careful not to mention something they gave you!

Pause

Masses of people rejected Him because He wasn’t the Savior they wanted.  He wasn’t what they were expecting.  He’s sacrificed heaven for them, but He’s just not what they want.

John also wrote, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.”  Christ, the King, the Savior came to His own people, to the children of God, but they rejected Him.  It is as N.T. Wright once said, “This is the central problem which dominates the whole gospel story.  Jesus comes to God’s people, and God’s people do what the rest of the world do: they prefer darkness to light.”

But John’s very next verse says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  It’s a free gift.  Just like those you unwrap from family tomorrow.  They’re gifts.  They’re free, they’ve been given to you.  Just like when you were born, and your parents lifted you up and said “You are my child, I love you, and I will care for you.”  You didn’t have to do anything.  It was a free gift.  And yet, just like any gift, we can reject it, we can return it.

Today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  Every man who’s procrastinated buying a gift for the special woman in his life will hit the stores, looking for something to get her.  And probably a few ladies were hitting those last minute sales as well.  But if you went shopping today, what did you hear?  The radios playing Christmas music, and I mean, real Christmas music.  Not just “Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” not, “Christmas Shoes,” but real Christ-centered songs and hymns like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”

Our culture which continues to drift away from the good news of a Savior, our culture is for the most part still okay with the story of this little baby boy.  It’s a cute story, it hits home, it reminds them of warm feelings from their childhood, traditions, celebrations.  It brings them some happiness.  You’ll hear Christmas music because most people like the Christmas Jesus.  But for many it’s only because it’s a baby.  This Jesus is non-confrontational, this Jesus is non-demanding.

People like cute babies.  But this baby grows up.  This same Christmas baby boy is the man who cleansed the temple with whip in hand.  He’s the same man who said multiple times “repent or perish.”  This is the same man of whom Isaiah prophesied:

But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

 

The baby boy whom we celebrate tonight is the same crucified man.  This is Jesus, whose own people did not receive Him.  Instead, they beat Him.  And come Good Friday, you won’t see that in stores.

Many Romans hated Jesus because they hated His followers.  They hated the Jews.  These soldiers had to live away from their families to patrol and police an unruly bunch.  Get rid of the Jews, we get to go home.  They rejected the Son of God because they hated the children of God.

We see this still today.  Many people even in our own community won’t give Jesus a chance because they hate Christians.  They reject Jesus’ free gift because of His kids.  Dan Kimball wrote a book a few years ago called “They like Jesus, But Not the Church.”  It’s on my shelf downstairs, you can borrow it if you’d like.  But here are two real quotes from people he surveyed:

Before my friend became a Christian, you could talk to him.  It was normal…but after his conversion, you couldn’t talk to him anymore.  Every conversation was about condemning something about my lifestyle.  All he did was keep telling me the things I was doing wrong…you ask why I don’t go to church?  Why would I want to become a negative person like most Christians are? – Maya

 

The church is a group of judgmental mudslingers.  They seem to really like picking fights with others.  Whether it is homosexuals, or other religions, or even with each other.  That’s the weirdest part.  Jesus said to love one another, but you’re always hearing how the church even fights among themselves and with other denominations.  But this isn’t anything new.  Look at the Crusades.  The church has always been an angry bunch. – Gary

 

These are bitter words, angry words coming from angry people.  But where are they getting their opinion of Christ?  From us.  From Christians, even if it’s often only based on one person.  Their opinion has nothing to do with Christ or what we find in His Word.  They want nothing to do with the church because it’s full of hypocrites and annoying, judgmental people.  Maybe you’ve seen that reaction, maybe you’ve felt it.  And you know what?  In some ways it’s true.  Because the church is full of sinners.  Sinners desperately in need of an unexpected gift, a needed gift.  We’re imperfect, but don’t let the poor wrapping job keep you from the greatest gift ever.

Then there were many of the Jews, God’s own chosen people.  They rejected Christ and His gift of salvation because He wasn’t what they were expecting, He wasn’t what they wanted.  They wanted deliverance now.  Save us from the Romans, save us from oppression.  One day they’re cheering His arrival in Jerusalem and just a week later they join the masses chanting “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

Many today fall into this trap.  They think “If I just follow Him, if I just do what He says, He’ll fix my life.  My life will be good, and easy.”  So when they start trying to follow Him, they run into issues.  “Why is my life still hard?  Why isn’t He working in my life?”  And so they dismiss Him.  Just like the Jews did, even though they had Isaiah 53 telling them what He’d look like, what He’d do for them.

What kind of Savior would allow me to lose my house to foreclosure?  What kind of King would let cancer attack my body?  What kind of Lord would let divorce tear up my family?  Why isn’t He saving me?

But He is.  Just not in the way we always want it to be.  Theologian D.S. Carson once said:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist.   If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.  If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician.  If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.  But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

 

God knows what we need even when we don’t.  God knows of our sin, of the depths of our despair and corruption.  And He knows what it takes to overcome it.  Not to deliver us from temporary pain, although sometimes He does, but to deliver us from permanent destruction.  He says in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Let me give you an illustration.  You’re staying in a nice hotel.  When, in the middle of the night, the fire alarm goes off.  You’re annoyed, agitated, groggy.  But you get out of bed anyway, and you do smell smoke.  This time, it’s not just an alarm, it’s an emergency.  And so you grab what you can, including that ridiculously expensive bottle of water on the counter.  You know, the one they bill you $4 for if you even so much as look at it.

You’re making your way towards the fire exit when you hear a little girl screaming.  Instinct takes over, and you head for the voice.  You find her, alone, afraid, in a room where flames have already begun to eat away the wall.  Surely, this is as good a reason as any to pay $4 for that bottle of water.  So you hand it to the child, and then you leave.

What good would that be?  Sure, she’s not thirsty anymore, but what good is that if she’s left there to die?  See, Matthew tells us “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Christ didn’t come to make us comfortable.  He didn’t come to make life easy for us, to take away our pains and our temporary trials.  He came to save us from ourselves, from sin, from death, and from the devil.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel he mentions that Christ’s own did not receive Him.  He doesn’t use that same Greek word again, the word “receive,” paralambanw, until chapter 14, when Jesus says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Christ will receive us unto Himself.  What will that look like?  What delight will there be that day?!  The next time He comes, as He’s promised, won’t be as a baby boy in Bethlehem, but as King, a King ready to claim what is His.

A King who has fallen in love with a simple peasant, who took off His crown, who took on the nature of a servant.  The story had no end because it’s our story.  And it’s not over.  The end isn’t mine to write.  It’s between God and the people He so dearly loves.  Merry Christmas!