HEAVEN HEARS — Eternal:Life Upon Life Upon Life John 3:16-21

HEAVEN HEARS — Eternal:Life Upon Life Upon Life  John 3:16-21

A few weeks ago I saw an advertisement for a movie that’s going to be released on December 23rd.  The movie is taken from a book that was written back in the 1960’s, entitled Silence.  The book is a novel about two Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century who travel all the way around Africa, India and finally get to Japan to share the gospel with the Japanese people.  Japan had just gotten out of a season where missionaries were readily welcomed, and they were entering into a season where they wanted absolutely nothing to do with Christianity.  The Japanese, during this time, persecuted Christians with a vigor and passion that was really unprecedented other than by the Roman Empire up until this point.  The story’s about these two priests, these two Fathers, who go to share the good news of the gospel with these Japanese people and end up stepping into this tension of feeling like “God, we’re serving you and doing your work and yet we find ourselves being beat up for it.  On top of that, maybe even worse, is we see Japanese people responding to the gospel.  Because they respond to the gospel, they’re losing their lives for it.”  The entire novel is based around this tension — what do you do when you feel like you’re doing everything God wants you to do and He’s silent?

One of the priests, Father Rodriguez, writes a letter back to the church in Portugal.  I’m going to read a section from this book because I think it paints the picture that maybe many of us feel this morning.  He’s writing back to the church in Portugal.  He’s going to refer to a man by the name of Kichijiro, who was a part of the faith and then left.  Here’s what he writes:  “I do not believe that God has given us this trial to not purpose.  I know that the day will come when we will clearly understand why this persecution with all its sufferings has been bestowed upon us — for everything that Our Lord does is for our good.  And yet, even as I write these words I feel the oppressive weight in my heart of those last stammering words of Kichijiro in the morning of his departure: “Why has God imposed this suffering on us?” and then the resentment in those eyes that he turned upon me.  “Father,” he had said, “what evil have we done?”  (Rodriguez writes…) I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle?  Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants?  No, Kichijiro was trying to express something different, something even more sickening.  The silence of God.  Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians;  the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent.” — Shusaku Endo, Silence  

The novel invites us into this tension of what do we do when we can’t hear the voice of God.  Better yet, what do we do if we can’t hear the voice of God when we’re serving God?  Better yet, what do we do when we can’t hear the voice of God when we’re serving God AND we’re getting beaten up for it?  It only struck me halfway through this novel that I was preaching a series entitled “Heaven Hears” and reading a book about the silence of God!  That’s the tension we face, isn’t it?  We walk in these doors and we’ve walked through seasons in life where the job didn’t come through and we wondered where the next meal was going to come from and it seemed like God was silent.  Where we prayed fervently for the healing to take place and it just felt like our prayers echoed off of heaven’s doors and God seemed silent.  There’s some parents in this room today and you’ve trained your children up in the way of Lord and they walked away from the faith, and you’re begging, “God, will you move, will you work, will you do something that only you can do?” and it just seems like God is silent.  What do we do when the Almighty King of Creation doesn’t seem to hear?  Where do we go when it doesn’t seem like God cares or it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to reach out…..and we’re just asking for a little whisper, not even complete sentences, God, just the recognition that we know that you care.

It was that type of a situation that Nicodemus found himself in as he approached Jesus the Messiah.  We’ll be camping out in John 3 this morning.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee; he was a teacher of the law.  He knew the Scriptures, and yet, he had this question that was ringing around in his heart—the question you might have, too, this morning.  It’s God, how do we approach you?  God, how do we come to you?  God, how do we really hear your voice?  It’s to that situation, to that silence, that Jesus speaks.  John 3:16—It’s the silence-piercing declaration of love from heaven to you:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  I am praying that something happens in our soul this morning that allows this well-known passage of Scripture to somehow be fresh in the soil of our soul.  I think that if this were the first time that you ever heard that passage of Scripture, it would blow you away.  Just like Nicodemus, we might go wait just a second, because I thought what you said was that God LOVED this world, this broken world, this sinful world, this pain-stricken, death-stricken world….I thought you said He loved us.  If that was the first time you heard those words, it might shock you.  But, it’s not the first time you’ve heard it. My guess is you’ve probably seen, like me, the signs at football games and baseball games.  (Shows picture of a World Series game that has John 3:16 sign right behind the catcher.)  If you’ve gone to California, my guess is you’ve eaten at the mecca of fast food hamburgers called In ‘n Out burger.  You may not have known that on the bottom of the cup on the inside of it, you find out why those burgers are so good.   On the bottom of every cup is printed John 3:16.  Or maybe you’ve missed both of those and you saw it in 2009; Tim Tebow had it on his eye black during a national championship game.  Did you know that after THAT game, 90+ million people googled “What is John 3:16?”  Wow!  Pretty amazing!

This known verse, this known passage:  For God so loved….   Don’t you just love that John just can’t say, “For God loved the world…”  We might miss how emphatically he loved it if John would have just said, “Well, which brings me to my next point: God loves the world.”  No.  He emphasizes this idea, this phrase, this word:  that God SO loved the world.  You want to know how much God loves this world?  You don’t have to look any further than the face of Jesus.  That’s how much God loves this world.  What John doesn’t say is you know what, for God so loved everybody who would love him back.  Which, by the way, is what every other religion says.  Their god loves people who love him, or her.  Christianity is the only religion that posits that God loves ALL of creation, even if they antagonistically hate him.  What John wants to emphasize as he records the words of Jesus is both the scope and the magnitude of how much {Will you look up at me just a second?} God loves his creation.  In the beautiful hymn The Love of God is Greater Far,the hymn-writer writes this:  Could we with ink the ocean fill, / And were the skies of parchment made, / Were every stalk on earth a quill, / And every man a scribe by trade, / To write the love of God above / Would drain the ocean dry. / Nor could the scroll contain the whole, / Though stretched from sky to sky.   Here’s what he’s saying — If ALL the ocean were ink and every blade of grass a pen and every person an author and we tried our best to write about how grand and how beautiful and how great and how breathtaking the love of God was, we could NEVER, EVER, EVER describe it in its fullness.  We’d run out of ink.  We’d run out of paper.  We’d run out of energy before we ran out of things to say.  That’s good! That is…..Merry Christmas!!

Here’s the problem with love though.  The problem with love is….I love burritos.  I love the Broncos.  I love books.  Some people love cars.  I love coffee.  I love my wife.  I love my kids.  It’s a hard word though, isn’t it? It’s so multidimensional, multi-faceted, so deep that it’s hard to pull back the layers and actually figure out what this beautiful, complex word actually means.  I think that this most popular verse in the entire Bible actually tells us what this word means.  Look at it with me.  For God so loved the world, that he gave….  You will never find a selfish love.  Love, by its very definition, is ‘others-centered.’  Because of that, love is sacrificial.  It doesn’t calculate the less or the more.  It doesn’t try to figure out how little it could give.  Love wants to give everything it has.  I can remember when I went to Jared’s Galleria of Fine Jewelry to make two months’ salary last for the rest of my life.  I went in there and I was looking at the ring that I would eventually buy for my now-wife Kelly.  I went in and looked at the ring and thought, “That ring’s beautiful.”  I looked at the number next to it and thought, “Oh dear God!”  I actually did the math and thought, “It’s going to cost me somewhere around 250 hours of opening at Starbucks at 4 o’clock A.M. in order to pay for this ring.”  Then I picked one that was cheaper……no, no, I didn’t!!  I paid it gladly.  Why?  Because Kelly Hesser had captured my heart.  And that’s the way love is.  It’s sacrificial.  It’s willing to give of itself.

Here’s the other thing love is:  it’s personal.  Did you notice at Christmas that we don’t celebrate the fact that God gave us a message?  God gave us a messenger.  Why?  Because just delivering the message from heaven….hey, even if it fell out of heaven, crashed into earth on gold tablets, it would not be enough.  Love is distinctly personal.  For us to understand God’s love, it had to be clothed in humanity.  It had to be clothed in skin.  It had to live and breathe, because to send a message isn’t enough, it had to be a messenger.  Because of that, we can know that God’s love for us is not just for us universal.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?} God’s love is distinctly, personally, uniquely for YOU!   Here’s the way the great fourth century theologian, St. Augustine, put it:  “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

So if you’re anything like me, you have absolutely no problem believing God loves the world.  It’s believing that God loves us uniquely that’s the problem.  We could generalize the world and think, “Well, God loves his world. He has to, he created it.”  God made us all.  God loves us all.  But to think and know and believe that He actually loves us, in all of our brokenness, in all of our shame, in all of our sin…..He looks down on us with a divine, holy, passionate, reckless passion and says, “I love you and if there were only one of you, I’d love you just the same.”  In my heart I thought there was going to be (a footnote), so I looked and when it says, “For God so loved the world,” there’s an ‘8’ next to it.  What it DOESN’T say is ‘except Paulson.’  But that’s the way we read it sometimes.  We have no problem believing God loves everybody else.  But we know ourselves well enough to know there’s times where we’re just not lovable.  And God says, “Merry Christmas!”

Love is generous.  Love is giving.  Love is personal.  And then love is…..creative.  Have you ever noticed that love has this creative element to it?  It’s why so many songs are written about love.  Not a lot of songs being written about hate.  But love….oh, man!  I mean Meatloaf, in a beautiful ’80’s ballad, went so far as to say that he would do anything for love.  But after eight-and-a-half minutes he said, “I won’t do that,” but didn’t define what ‘that’ is!  That’s why there’s so many movies about love, because love has this creative element to it.

Did you know that love creates Christmas?  Last week we said destruction is the reason for the season.  I want to remind us today that the reason for the season—the reason that the season even exists—is because of love. Love is the most powerful force in the universe and God has set his affectionate on YOU!  Listen to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ephesians 1:4 from The Message:  Long before he (God) laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, {Can you just soak that in for a second?  Before he speaks it all into existence—makes it all out of nothing—he has YOU in mind.)  …had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.  What an absolutely beautiful statement!

So, John says this love is giving, this love is personal and this love is creative.  Listen to what this divine love at Christmas creates.  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  At Christmas, extravagant, reckless, beautiful, gracious love gives birth to eternal life.  That’s great news!!  The motivation behind the incarnation is affection.  God’s affection for you. That’s what drives him to clothe himself in skin, to step into humanity, to become a part of the story that he is telling.  Do not believe anybody that tells you any other motive that God has for stepping into humanity in the person and work of Jesus.  His motive is LOVE!  Giving, personal, sacrificial and creative love.  Christmas isn’t just about a baby being born.  Christmas is about life being given.  It isn’t just about life in the manger, it’s about the life in your neighborhood, in your workplace, in your home that’s being renewed, restored.  It’s about the life that you and I will live forever.  Christmas answers the cry of our heart.  The cry that says:  O come, Thou Key of David, come,/And open wide our heavenly home; {God, make a way where there is no way.  God, open the door that’s locked that no one else can open.  Key of David, turn and open the door of eternity that you’ve purchased on our behalf.}/Make safe the way that leads on high,/And close the path to misery./Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Solomon, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, makes this very comprehensive statement that God has put eternity into man’s heart. (Eccl. 3:11)  You’ve never met somebody who walked the face of God’s good earth who didn’t long for immortality; who didn’t long to drink deeply of life.  That’s why, regardless of how sick or how old somebody is when they pass away, there’s something in us that goes, “I think we were made for more.” God designed us for more; He designed us for eternity and He put eternity into our hearts to testify, to scream out “We were made for more!”  Oftentimes, when we think of eternal life we think of heaven.  Our understanding of heaven is pretty simplistic sometimes.  We live a life a certain amount of years.  We die.  Then we go to heaven.  Heaven is eternal life.  If you were to have a more nuanced reading of the Scriptures, you would find that eternal life is NOT something that starts when you die.  In fact, this whole chart would be a little bit different if we read it through the lens of what Scripture actually says.  According to Scripture:  We live.  We die.  We go to heaven.  Then as N.T. Wright so poignantly states:  “Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.”  We will be resurrected one day.  Someday God will speak life into our dead bones, we’ll be called up from the grave in the same way that He was called up from the grave.  We will be clothed in immortality.  At that point, we will live in the new heaven and the new earth.  Do you know how much of that’s eternal life? ALL. OF. IT.

So wait, Paulson, you’re saying that when Jesus talks about eternal life, He’s not talking about something that happens or starts when we die?  That’s awesome and that’s true and that’s good, but that’s only part of the story.  The eternal life that Jesus talks about, that Jesus invites us to, that God gives his us in order to purchase for us is the kind of life that lasts forever.  It’s the kind of life that we’d want to last forever and it starts the moment we start walking with the God who says ‘I am forever.’  Eternal life is every day we spend walking with the One who purchased eternal life for us.  It’s eternal in both quality—where we taste it and go YES!—and in duration. So in John 10:10, Jesus says the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.  But he says, “I have come that they may have life when they die.”  NO!  …..that they may have life and have it abundantly.    Life upon life upon life….starting today.

So if your question is Paulson, what does that life really look like and how do we step into that eternal life, that’s both heaven—-no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind could come close to describing what God has in store for His people. Yes and Amen!—-and life that starts today.  Ryan, what does that look like and how do we step into it?  I thought you’d never ask.  Here’s what it looks like in John 3:17, where Jesus is speaking into the darkness and silence that Nicodemus is living in:  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,  {Which literally translated could be ‘judge.’  He didn’t come to judge.  You may be thinking, “Wait. Doesn’t the Bible talk about God being the judge.  Yes, hold off, we’ll get there.} ….but in order that the world might be saved through him.  The declaration of the angels is not ‘Behold, I bring you terrible news of great condemnation!’  You go to some churches and that’s the way you leave feeling, right?  “I know this is suppose to be good news, but it sounds terrible!”  No, Christmas is about a God who says, “I set my affection on you before all of eternity and I am going to execute my saving plan in your life because I am passionately for you!” Christmas is not about bringing guilt and shame, it’s about bringing GREAT JOY!  What John is saying is that God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger at humanity telling them how bad they were.  He came to help put the world to rights.

As we step into this eternal life now, one of the things we have to keep in mind is a renewed confidence in God’s desire to save.  And not just to same some, but to save {Will you look up at me for a second?} YOU! You! That’s what this story’s about. That’s what God’s overflowing love says to us.  The Scriptures are really clear. God says, “I don’t want ANYBODY to fall away; I want ALL to be saved.”  That’s the desire of our Father’s heart and that’s great news.  Here’s what John is saying in verse 17 — He didn’t come to condemn, but to save.  He’s saying, “God’s not mad at the world; he’s mad ABOUT the world!”  He is so for us that He is coming to be the light.  I’ll tell you what, man, I grew up in church and somehow I missed that this was at the very nature of God. You may have too.  But the book of 1 John (4:16) makes it all the more clear.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.    That may be the most powerful thing that could happen in your life! That you come not just to hear about, not just to believe, but in your very bones KNOW the King who created it all has an affection for and over me.  If you hear THAT voice of love breaking the silence in your life, I’ll propose to you, you can walk through anything.

He goes on to say (in 1 John 4:16) — God is love, {It’s who he is.  He never operates outside of that.} ..and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  The Scriptures say you’re fearfully and wonderfully made, that before you were ever a thought in your parents’ mind, you were a thought in God’s.  He wove you together in your mother’s womb; He knows how many hairs are on your head and he loves you passionately (Psalm 139).

A number of years ago, when my son Ethan was one-and-a-half, we lived in California.  In our house there, his crib was right against the wall.  If he were to lean out of his crib (which of course he never did), he could open the door and look down the hall at us.  One day he reached over and instead of opening the door, he accidentally locked the door.  The locks on that door actually needed a key, which we didn’t have.  I called my friend and told him my son was locked in his room.  My friend is my ‘one-call guy.’   I asked if he knew how to pick a lock. He didn’t but he knew a guy.  “We’ll be there in five minutes.  I’m right around the corner.” MacGyver and his friend come in and try to open it with two paper clips, then try to drill it open.  At this point, my son is bawling his head off.  We know he’s crying so he must be fine.  We keep working on trying to break into his room.  A few minutes into this chaos, he stops crying.  My father’s heart started beating faster.  My friend looks at me and says, “You want me to break down this door?”  I looked back at him and said, “Break that bad boy down!”  We take the crowbar, pop a hole in the door, reach through and turn the knob, and find my son as fast asleep as I’ve ever seen him in his whole life!  But I’m going, “I’m coming for you!  Even if I have to break down this door, I’m coming for you!”  What God says to us at Christmas is even if I have to cloth myself in humanity, even if I have to come and live a perfect life on your behalf, die and give my life on the cross, I’m coming for you!  Because I love you and I’m for you!  This love creates Christmas.  Will you remind yourself today that the God of heaven speaks over you and he calls you the ‘Beloved.’  Here’s the way Henri Nouwen says it:  “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.”  Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”  It expresses the core reason Jesus came.

Here’s the way John continues in John 3:18 — Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  Here’s the dividing line of every single person that’s ever walked the face of the planet.  Are you ready for this?  It’s not how many good works you’ve done.  It’s not how nice you are to your neighbor, although those things are really, really important.  It’s not how much you’ve given to the church.  None of those things are the dividing line that stands between you and anybody else.  Here’s the one dividing line — What do you do with Jesus?  That’s it! In all of history, there’s two categories of people.  There’s belief.  There’s unbelief.  That’s it.

Belief is one of those slippery words, too.  Here are two other words you could use to replace it, because we can say we believe things and have it not change us at all.  Belief, according to the Scriptures, could be substituted with ‘trust.’  God, I believe you, therefore I trust you.  I trust you with my life.  I trust that your grace is enough, that it’s sufficient for me.  God, I trust that your message of belief alone is all that I need to stand right before your throne.  Second, it’s this disposition, not of just ‘I believe cognitively,’ but I surrender. That’s belief.  You can’t believe in Jesus without surrendering to Jesus.  He refuses to be a nice hood ornament on your already nice car that you drive around.  He’s not going to be an addendum to anybody’s life.  He’s the God of the universe.  This is the dividing line.  What Jesus says is people who believe, they step into, what He calls, salvation.  It’s a complete restoring and rescuing of the human condition.  It’s not just going to heaven, it’s being woven back together, to have the Shalom (peace) that God created you to always live in. Then this perishing is:  You want to hold onto your own sin and your own darkness, well, you’re going to hold onto it for all of eternity.  That’s the dividing line of every single person that’s ever walked the face of the globe.  Maybe this morning, the invitation from Jesus is to remember His desire to save and secondly, to remind ourselves that because of grace, God’s SOLE requirement for salvation is faith.  Trust and surrender.

If you’re saying Paulson, you didn’t keep reading, and not only that, Ryan, but if we could ask questions here, I would ask…Jesus says I came to save and not to condemn, but if you were to go over to John 9:39, what you’d read, Ryan, if you’d done your study is:  Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world…”    What do you do with that?  Is Jesus contradicting himself?  In John 3, he says I came to save, and in John 9, he says judgment has come.  It’s a contradiction that’s only apparent, it’s not real.  When Jesus says, “I came to save, that was my intention,” He is absolutely 100% telling you the truth.  But in coming to be the light, he also exposes that there are people who continue, even though they know the light has come, to live in darkness.  “For judgment I came into the world,” He says.  He means that as I save people by truth and love and righteousness, a division happens between those who say, “Yes, I believe,” and those who refuse to say, “I surrender at your throne.”  So this morning, we remind ourselves of the truth of the matter that God’s sole requirement for salvation is faith.

Listen to what Jesus says as he continues:   And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light…  You know what’s interesting?  This is the picture of what Jesus is saying:  Ryan opens an umbrella and puts it over himself.   The light of all humanity stepped into history and that light shines.  Some people have chosen to say, “I’d rather hold onto my own darkness.”  He said, “People loved the darkness.”  Did you know your affection will always determine your direction?  The things that you love, the things that you worship will always determine the course of your life.  What Jesus says in this passage is I came to be the light, but in coming to be the light, what it exposed is that some people want nothing to do with light because they are so entrenched in darkness.  So the question for us today is: Are we willing to step into this marvelous, beautiful, piercing light?  Or will we cling to our sin, will we cling to our shame, will we cling to our guilt, instead of stepping into the light that is shining whether you want it or not? That’s the message of Christmas — The Light shines!  There is not a corner or a cavern on the face of the planet that the glory of his light does not shine.  The question is….will you give up your own self-salvation projects, will you give up your own darkness, will you surrender the evils of your own heart to the glory of his marvelous light, and so be purified by the light that came and the love that came to save you?

Earlier this week, I read that somewhere around 39-40% of us will buy a gift card for somebody over this holiday season.  I also read that in our households individually, most of us have somewhere around $300 in unused gift cards.  They did this total between 2005 to 2011 and said there was over $41 billion worth of unused gift cards floating around.  Faith is that same way.  It’s there.  The invitation’s on the table.  Will you receive it??  Or will, for all of eternity, you’ll hold on to your own darkness while the light shines all around?

Jesus ends this passage of Scripture by saying:  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light, {Isn’t that true? If you grown accustomed to the darkness and then you step into the light, it hurts your eyes a little bit, doesn’t it?}  lest his works should be exposed.   {That’s the core of the issue….if I step into the light I’ll be known.  If I step into the light, my evil will be seen.  If I step into the light, the only thing that’s going to save me then is mercy.}  But whoever does what is true {I would have expected Jesus to say, “Whoever does what is GOOD, whoever does what is RIGHT, whoever changes the way that they live…then they can be my disciple…   He doesn’t say that.  He says whoever does what is true, as if to say, WHOEVER is willing enough to be honest to say, “I need the light, because in myself I am dark.”} comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.  Both the evil ones and the good ones.  Even those who perversely choose to love darkness, they are standing in the light.  They just refuse to receive it.  But for you and I, here’s the invitation this morning.  The invitation from this passage is to do what is true.  To say God, will you search me and will you know me.  To say God, there are some things in me that are evil and I want you to shine your light on those.  I want to receive the grace that I stand in, the mercy that’s mine because of the work of Jesus.  I want to, for all of eternity, stare at your marvelous light, the light of your love that says I love you enough to come to give my life and to die.  I want to look at THAT light for all of eternity.  I don’t want to go into eternity carrying my own darkness and my own shame and my own guilt and clinging to it for all of non-time.  That’s not what I want.  I want your marvelous, beautiful, glorious light to shine on me!  Friends, this is confession. Confession isn’t telling God something he doesn’t know.  It’s bringing our dark deeds into the light to see that they’ve been there the whole time.  It’s just simply getting honest.  That’s Jesus’ invitation to you and to me.

So as the Apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 9:15) — Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Friends, at Christmas, what we celebrate is that extravagant love stepped into space and time, clothed Himself in humanity, that you and I might step into timeless relationship with Him.  I pray not just that you will experience eternal life when you die…I pray that that’s a decision that by faith you have made.  Trust and surrender to Jesus.  But I also pray that you’d recognize that that beautiful journey doesn’t have to start when you take your last breath, but that as we remember that God longs to and loves to save, and as we remember that the only thing He requires of us is faith and as we get honest with him and us, we walk into that eternal life today.  So the only question on the table is–Will you accept or reject his gracious gift?  Let’s pray.

I just want to give you a minute before we all go rushing out of here.  Trust and surrender.  That’s the invitation in front of us this morning.  If that’s a decision you’ve never made and you sense the light shining on you this morning, on a new and fresh way, and you want to give your life to Jesus, He would absolutely love to enter your life.  It’s just saying back to him, “Jesus, I step into the light, confessing that I’ve loved the darkness.  I believe that you came to my rescue and that you love me.  I surrender my life to you.”  What a beautiful story we gather around this time of year.  What God asks of us is simply that we would believe, trust and surrender at his throne.

So, Father, this morning we would ask that we would see your light shining all around us.  That there’d be this renewed confidence in our soul that you long to save.  Thank you!  And that our response to your indescribable gift would be, “I receive it and thank you!”  Father, for all my friends in here, I pray, would the story of Christmas, this extravagant love that gives birth to eternal life….may it well up in our souls, Jesus.  For the glory of your name, for the good of your world, and for the joy of us, your people, we pray.  In Jesus’ name. And all God’s people said……Amen!

HEAVEN HEARS — Eternal:Life Upon Life Upon Life John 3:16-212023-06-27T13:01:13-06:00

HEAVEN HEARS — Enemy: Cosmic Christmas 1 John 3:8

HEAVEN HEARS — Enemy: Cosmic Christmas  1 John 3:8

Have you ever looked at a picture and thought, “There’s something wrong with that picture!”  I heard about this ad that Dillard’s placed in the newspaper and it said:  Dillard’s 60% Off Sale; December 14-21; Dillard’s will be having the largest sale of the year just in time for Christmas.  There will be a special appearance by Satan between the hours of 5 pm – 9 pm for your kids!!      We wouldn’t want to scare you with Satan!  Just your kids.  Come sit on Satan’s lap!   I’ve been known to make a few spelling errors in my day.  As a youth pastor, I did a series on relationships and dating for high school students.  I called it “The Urge to Merge.”  I printed all these promos and I transposed (some letters) and it was “The Uger to Merge.”  I can relate.  I’ve never invited anybody to sit on Satan’s lap though.

You look at some pictures and you go, “There’s something off with that picture.”  (Ryan displays picture of ladies sitting on a “bench” with no seat.  Shows a picture of a man on the moon with the moon in the background. Shows a picture of men rescuing babies from rubble of war-torn Syria.)  I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this picture (Syria).   Places like this actually exist.  What’s wrong is you have men running out of a war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria that’s been in war zone since 2012.  They’re trying to get these babies to safety.  You don’t have to look too closely, turn on the news and listen too intently to figure out that it’s not just problems “out there,” but it turns out that there’s a problem here.  You look at our world and you’ll recognize that there’s something wrong and broken with the world we live in.  If you live in this area, you heard earlier this week that there was a mom in Highlands Ranch who felt live was too hard to go on.  She went and bought a gun and she killed herself and her two kids.  You look at things like the racial divide in our country.  You look at issues like homelessness and social injustice; there’s something in us that goes man, there’s something wrong with this picture.  There’s something wrong with our world.  There’s something off, there’s something broken.  There isn’t a person in this room that doesn’t look at those things that we see on the news or hear or read on our app and have this deep longing in your soul that things are off.  We’re designed for more than what we often experience.  There’s something wrong with this picture.

There was this newspaper that posed the question “What’s Wrong with our World?”  The great Catholic thinker G.K. Chesterton supposedly wrote in and said, “Dear Sirs:  I am.  Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.”   It’s true.  At a very fundamental level, what’s wrong with the world is…..people!!  That’s what’s wrong with the world.  We don’t have to look too much further to think people are the source of the problems.  Evil in the heart of humanity is why we look at pictures like what’s going on in Aleppo or Mosul or around the globe and go, man, I just have the sense that we were designed for something different, for something more.  What’s wrong with the world is people, but what’s wrong with people?  The Scriptures would say that there is something distinctly wrong with us, with the world we live in….    Listen to the way that John would say it to the group of believers that he’s writing to:  We know that we are from God, {He’s talking about those who follow the way of Jesus. He’s talking about those who by faith have stepped into a reconciliatory relationship with the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He’s talking about if you’re a follower of Christ then he’s talking about you!}  …and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)   He draws out these two categories you can be in in this world.  You can either be a child of the Most High God, redeemed by the blood of the Messiah Jesus, OR you can be under the power of the evil one.  No in-between!  We would love to think that there’s a third category, but John would say no, you’re either of God or you’re of his enemy, Satan.  There’s just two categories.  So what’s wrong with the world?

What’s wrong with the world is simply this….we live in a war zone!  That’s what’s wrong with the world.  The world is under siege!  Here’s the meta-narrative of Scripture.  Meta-narrative would be the story that stands above every story in the Bible.  The meta-narrative of Scripture is that in Genesis 1 and 2, God designs, creates, and speaks the world into existence.   In this poem in Genesis 1 & 2, God says it’s good, it’s good, it’s good and when he gets to humanity he goes, “They’re REALLY good.”  It’s like God pats himself on the back when he creates you and goes, “I’m pretty good.  I’m God.”  It’s “really good” for two chapters.  Then in chapter 3, the enemy, the Satan, steps onto to scene, onto the pages of history, and mars God’s good and beautiful creation. Genesis 3–it happens that early in the Bible.  Here’s what you have to know this morning!  I know that we have people that follow Jesus in here and we have people who aren’t yet followers of Jesus in here.  Regardless of where you stand with God, you need to know where you stand with your enemy.  You have an enemy!  He hates you!  He wants to destroy you and his goal is that you would experience the same type of death that he does. For some people in this room, you are living out that storyline.  Here’s the way Jesus says it in John 10:10 — The thief {This is also Satan or the devil.} comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  {But Jesus says something different.  He says that’s the enemy’s intent with your life.  He wants to drag you down with him.  Jesus says…}  I came {He’s saying that this is what Christmas is about.} ..that they may have life and have it abundantly.   Not just life where you exist and breathe, but the type of life where you breathe deeply and go that’s what I was designed for, that’s what I was created for.

So, God is good.  There is an enemy.  He hates you.  Every square inch of God’s globe is bathed in His glory. Every square inch of it is contested by His enemy.  Here’s the Satan’s tactic.  You’ll notice if you read cover to cover the Scriptures, Satan never goes head-to-head with God.  He knows he loses.  So here’s what he does. He goes after God’s most prized possession.  He goes after the crowning jewel of everything that He’s created.  It’s the way that the enemy attacks God’s good and perfect creation.  He goes after……YOU and he goes after me. He knows if he can get the thing that’s most important to God, if he can destroy you…..if he can destroy you physically, if he can destroy you emotionally, if he can destroy you spiritually…..he knows that eventually (or he thinks eventually) that he will win.  So the Scriptures will describe in 1 Peter 5:8 that you have an enemy of your soul that prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

You may be going, Paulson, what does this have to do with Christmas?  EVERYTHING!  We sing songs at Christmas like: O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free/ Thine own from Satan’s tyranny/ From depths of Hell Thy people save/ And give them victory o’er the grave/ Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/ Shall come to thee, O Israel.  We have so over-sentimentalized Christmas that I wonder if we realize what it’s actually all about.  Here’s the way John will describe the reason for the season (1 John 3:8):  Whoever makes a practice of sinning {In case you’re wondering if John meant whoever sins.  John means is whoever continually sins without running back to the Father and saying, “I repent.  I confess. I’m broken and I’m in need.”  In 1 John 1:8, he’s already said that anyone who claims to be without sin is a liar.  He’s not talking that we need to be sinless.  He’s talking about being the type of people who do not let sin rule and reign and become slaves to it.}  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, {Just a quick timeout.  As Westerners, we struggle with this, don’t we?  If we lived anywhere other than the United States and western Europe, we’d go sure, there’s a spiritual battle that goes on right beneath the surface of everything that we can see.  But in our very materialistic western world, for us to propose that there’s an enemy, a spiritual enemy of our soul that wants to destroy us, many of us don’t buy that.  Then all I say to that is that you disagree with the Bible!}  ….for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared {The reason for the season….} ..was to destroy the works of the devil.   We think that Christmas is this sentimental gathering around a tree and giving presents and joining together with family and exchanging gifts and pleasantries.  That’s all good and that’s all fine as long as we recognize that underneath all the tinsel and all the songs and all the presents is the waging of a war.  The incarnation is a declaration from the God of the universe that He refuses to leave humanity bound, captured, in their sin.  He will and has come to our rescue.  So…..Merry Christmas!  Destruction is the reason for the season! {How’d you like to have a Christmas card that said that, right?}

John does say (in this passage) the reason the Son of God came and the reason that he appeared was to destroy. In the Greek, the root word is luó.  It has two meanings.  One is sort of more metaphorical and that’s the one that we have translated here.  It’s destruction to annul, to completely take down.  So I think you could sing at Christmas time……(Ryan sings) Jesus came in like a wrecking ball!  The more literal definition is to loose, to untie.  Jesus with his divine, masterful, beautiful grace steps into humanity’s issue….our issue is that we are tied up in the lies, in the deceit, in the hopelessness, in the fear, that the enemy of our soul would love for us to live in.  Quite literally what the passage says is that the Son of God came to untie you.  The Son of God came to free you.  The Son of God came to speak hope into your despair.  To speak joy into your pain.  The Son of God came to un-do and untie every single evil work of the enemy in your life.  That’s what the Scriptures say Christmas is all about!  That’s the reason for the season! 

Here’s my question…was He successful?  If that’s what Jesus came to do….and the Scriptures are really clear in saying the reason he came was to untie humanity from the work of the Satan, from the work of the devil. Did he succeed?  I see some heads nodding.  And to that I would say yes and amen, and yet, we must be astute enough and culturally aware enough that we know the next question from people on the outside looking in will be…then why in the world does the world look the way it looks?  If Jesus, the Messiah, has untied humanity, why in the world does the world look the way that it looks?  To that I say, you’re going to have to hold on for a few minutes.  I’m going to answer that question.  But first I want to talk through what John has in mind when he says your chains are gone, you’ve been set free.  What does he have in mind when he says that?

If you look at just this one passage, here’s what you’re going to see — Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, {So this is the devil’s main tactic.  It’s to entice, instigate, draw you towards sin.}  ..for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  That’s who he is.  That’s what he does.  It’s in his very nature.  John wants to point us back to the very beginning of the story.  To point us back to the meta-narrative.  To say okay, well how did this whole thing get started?  {That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked it.}  Genesis 3.  Let’s talk about the beginning.  Now the serpent {That’s the devil John was referring to.} was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” {Anecdotally, God never said, “Don’t touch it,” but she’s adding to the commands of God, which sounds eerily familiar.}  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  

I want to lay out the lies of the enemy and the way that Christmas breaks those chains.  Here’s the first lie of the enemy — from the ‘beginning.’  His main tactic, his main tool….{Will you look up at me a second?}….not just in Adam and Eve’s life, but in your life and in my life, follower of Jesus, not follower of Jesus….his main tool is the same.  He wants to lie to you!  That’s what he’s going after.  If he can get your bearing of reality and truth and design off, he can win in your life.  But when Jesus comes in like a wrecking ball, when he comes and unties the chains of humanity, He, by truth, frees us from the bondage of Satan’s deceit.  He frees us from the bondage of deceit.  Jesus will echo these same sentiments in John 8:44-45.  Listen to His words; speaking to the Pharisees He says: You are of your father the devil, {Just a quick timeout. It’s things like this that got Jesus killed.  It’s times like this that raised people’s blood pressure when it came to Jesus, because He didn’t let people ride the fence.  In fact, He pushed them off the fence.}  ….and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  {What he’s saying is that when there’s words coming out of Satan’s mouth they are lies, because that’s who he is.}  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  

There’s two ways the enemy wants to lie to you.  First, the enemy wants to lie to you about God.  You can see this in Genesis 3:1.  The enemy asked, “Did God actually say that to you?”  He wants to distort your understanding of what God actually commands of you and what God invites you into.  Later on he says, “You surely will not die.”  In fact, if you disobey God, you’ll start to be like God.  What’s underneath it all is the Satan wants Adam and Eve and you and I to start to have this thought in the back of our mind, “Oh, maybe God is holding out on me.”  “Maybe there’s something better outside of God’s will than there is inside of God’s will.” “Maybe my life will be more joyful, more hopeful, more happy, if I make this decision that I know is against what God would command.”  If I take this relationship with my boyfriend or girlfriend to that level, well then maybe we’ll be happy and maybe we’ll be fulfilled.  We start to buy the lie.  Maybe if I live my life and I hold onto that grudge…..I know God says forgive however many times somebody wrongs you, but sometimes it feels good to say no.  I’m right to hold onto all my stuff and to say, “I know, God, that your ethic and the kingdom ethic and heaven’s ethic is generosity, but, man, I’ve got to look out for me.”  So we start to look back at God and we start to go God, I’m not sure I believe your motives.  I’m not sure I believe that you’re really actually good.  And that you’re actually for me.  If I follow you, where’s my life going to end up?  So we start to doubt God and we start to believe man, it would be way better—this is what Adam and Eve believed—to be like God than it is to be with God.  That’s at the core.  If I could just elevate myself then I would be okay.

So that’s the lie about God.  The second is the lie that we start to believe about ourselves.  Here’s where the enemy gets to work in your life and mine.  He will point out, “I can’t believe you did that.  I can’t believe you went there again.  I can’t believe you’re in that same pattern of sin and you’re such a moron.  There’s no way God could actually love you and be for you.”  So we start to believe man, I know the passage says there’s no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, but there’s got to be a foot note with my name on it.  Except. For. Paulson.  We start to believe that in order to be okay we have got to hide who we really are.  Here’s the way the great existential Danish philosopher, follower of Jesus, Soren Kierkegaard put it: “Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself before God.  Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God.”  

How does Jesus come in like a wrecking ball?  How does He untie the lies of the enemy—the lies about God and the lies about ourselves?  Let’s first tackle the lies about God.  He (Jesus) reveals what God is like.  Jesus doesn’t appease God; Jesus reveals God.  He pulls the curtain back (and reveals) this is what your great God is like.  He would rather chase you down in your sin than leave you in it.  He’d rather step into humanity than have you die apart from divinity.  He loves you.  He’s good and He’s for you.  He comes in and He takes our sin and He takes our shame.  So we can no longer live in one of the two lies that most of humanity live in:  Either “I’m doing good and I’m okay.”  Have you ever heard somebody say that?  I’m good enough.  Man, the enemy loves that lie.  He’ll just keep whispering in their ear, “Absolutely, you are.  You’re awesome.  In fact, let’s build a pedestal for you to stand on.”  The other side of the lie is:  I’m worthless.  Garbage.  How could I ever be in relationship with a perfect God with sin in my life.  Into both of those lies, Tim Keller beautifully speaks the gospel:  “The gospel is this:  We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  When we can hold both of those things as true at the same time, we walk in the untied, relentless freedom that the gospel purchases for us.

Along with the Apostle Paul encouraging the church in Corinth, we get to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corin. 10:3-5)  As we look at truth and lies, that’s part of the challenge — Alright, God, am I believing truth or am I believing lies here?   Do you know the best lens to look at that through?  The gospel. Am I believing God’s grace over my life in this situation?  Is fear going to rule the day?  Is despair going to win? Is that thought about that person….am I going to let that seed be planted in my life or am I going to preach the freedom of the gospel over it?  That’s the question, friends, that stands in front of all of us.  If you hear nothing else today, will you hear this?  God’s invitation to you is to learn how to preach the gospel to your own soul.  To learn how to preach the untying, wrecking ball freedom of Jesus over your own life.  To identify the lies that you believe—either I’m good enough without God or I am crushed even with Him.  Both of them are from the pit of Hell and the Satan loves them both and will feed them both.  To preach the Christmas gospel over them that says, “Jesus came for something better, for something more.”  You’re deeply flawed.  Merry Christmas!  And you’re deeply loved.

What else, Paulson?  Here’s what John said leading up to Jesus coming in like a wrecking ball.  Here’s what he says in 1 John 3:4-5, more tools of the enemy — Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared {That’s Jesus. That’s Christmas.}  in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.    Notice, sin is lawlessness.  What he does not say, and he could have, is that sin is breaking the law.  Lawlessness and breaking of the law are two different things.  Breaking of the law or violating of the law is a form of sin, but ALL sin can be couched under the category of….it’s not that we’ve broken the law, it’s that we’ve completely disregarded that there was any sort of standard that God laid out for truth whatsoever.  It’s an active, rebellious heart against the King of kings and the Lord of lords and what John says is that that type of attitude ties you up.  The bad news is that sin is not a slip up.  It’s not a personality defect.  It’s not a little tiny missing of the mark — “Maybe next time I’ll get it right.”  It’s a complete disregard of the reality that God reigns above it all. {Look up at me for just a second.}  There is a God and you are NOT Him. That’s what John is saying.  We live otherwise; we live contrary to that and we make decisions contrary to that. The question is this lawlessness, this idea of the law of God.  Wouldn’t it be nice….613 laws….wouldn’t it be nice to know what it is we’re actually standing above?  If that’s what sin actually is.  Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody, at one point, asked Jesus, “Hey, could you just summarize the law for us, Jesus?”  Okay, so those who’ve been around the story know…..they did and He did!  Here’s his answer, here’s the law summed up:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.  Jesus goes, “Hey, if I could add another one, just a close second.  One that flows out of the first.”  Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)  Follow me on this:  If the law of God is summarized in love of God and others, and sin is rebellion against the law, then sin is actually, at its very core, a lack of, a refusal to, or an inability to love both God and the people around us.  And that’s what the enemy wants.  So from the very beginning, this lawlessness is an inability to love the things of God, to love the people of God, to love God Himself and instead, we start to love……ourselves.  That’s lawlessness.  That’s an inability to live by the ethic that rules and reigns above every other command.  So lawlessness is actually lovelessness (if that were a word).

When Jesus comes he lives, dies, resurrects, and ascends in such a way to where love now replaces the pride of lawlessness.  Instead of saying, “God, we need to stand above you,” we say, “God, we stand WITH you because we are good.”  Here’s the deal — None of us would probably ever say, “We are lawless.”  We’d say, “We’re RIGHT!”  That’s what it sounds like.  That’s what it sounds like on Facebook, right?  With the grenades that get lobbed back and forth….   No one admits to struggling with lawlessness!  We go, “I’m right!”  Politically, I’m right!  Socially, I’m right!  Relationally, why should I forgive?  I’m right!  That’s the way it plays out in our lives. It’s Adam and Eve deciding they know better than God.  And when that decision is made to look outside ourselves for direction, the direction of our lives turns IN on ourselves and starts to haunt us.

If I’m right about this, we should assume that in some way, shape or form, John is going to address the command to love.  Look a little bit further in chapter 3 (1 John 3:11) and here’s what you’ll see:  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.   Here’s what Jesus does when he comes in like a wrecking ball, when he unties us from the Satan….He releases us to love God and to love the people around us.  Question:  How does He do that?  The Scriptures say: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)   The untying nature of the incarnation is that Jesus comes to declare that you are loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  When you know that you are LOVED, you are FREED to love.  You show me someone who hates and I will show you someone who doubts that they are loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  But you show me someone who passionately, ruthlessly loves the people around them, forgives the people around them, pursues the people around them, and I will show you someone who’s CONVINCED that are loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  It’s the freedom that God wants you to live.  You can’t live in His freedom if you aren’t convinced of His love.  You can’t!  Christmas reminds us—we don’t know why—that we’re loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

One more tool of the enemy that Jesus destroys.  In 1 John 3:6 it says:  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Follow the reasoning that John unpacks here.  Therefore, sin, at its core, is the inability, or the failure, to abide in Christ.  If you could abide perfectly, you could live purely.  That’s what he’s saying.  Jesus comes and he starts to speak into that gap—the gap between what we’re designed to live in (relationship with God) and what sin has caused or purchased for us (division).  Because of the work of Jesus, abiding displaces the death of division.  It displaces it by grace.  It displaces it by instilling in you….  {Will you look up at me a second?}  If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit of God lives in you!  We talk a lot about keeping Christ in Christmas.  I’m all for that, so long as we first decide that we are going to abide with Christ IN us.  Who cares if we keep Christ in Christmas but have no awareness that God lives in us!  That’s what Christmas is all about.  It’s God, by His Spirit, clothing himself in humanity first, then leaving His Spirit that we can live in abiding relationship with Him.  Which, friends, is why what we do on a Sunday morning is not trivial.  It’s so important to gather around the story every single week to remind ourselves that our chains are gone, that we’ve been set free.  That the King of love has stepped into humanity by the way of grace and is showering people with His love.  I don’t know about you, but I start to believe the Satan’s lies.  Every single week I get a little bit tied up.  I preach the gospel to myself and I preach it to my own soul, but sometimes I need YOU to remind me as we sing songs like ‘O Holy Night’ that the chains are broken and it’s gone.  We are Spirit-empowered but we’re ritually-sustained.  It’s why we gather together, to remind ourselves of the story and to invite one another back into the relentless love of the Father that says, “Your chains are gone.  I came in like a wrecking ball and you’re set free!”

There’s this interesting sociologically phenomenon that’s called Stockholm Syndrome.  Stockholm Syndrome is when someone who’s been captured or kidnapped starts to associate with their kidnapper, and even grows to have an affection towards them.  The most famous Stockholm Syndrome case is a woman by the name of Patty Hearst.  She’s the granddaughter of the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.  She was kidnapped and held for a year, then started to have an affection for her captor and even went so far as to participate in bank robberies and theft. So back to the question if our chains are gone and we’ve been set free, why does the world look the way that it looks?  Stockholm Syndrome.  The majority of humanity unfortunately looks at their captor instead of their Savior and has an affection for him.  He (the enemy) says, “You can stand on your own pedestal. You can be the master of your own domain.  This can be all about you and you deserve it.”  We start to go, “Okay, I’m in!”  The King of kings and the Lord of lords has a better invitation for you, friends.  Most of humanity falls into this category that John clearly lays out.  This is what’s wrong with the world.  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  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.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13) THIS is the invitation that is put out in front of all of humanity.  John succinctly summarizes how we live in this victory.  Here’s how he says it in 1 John 5:4-5 — For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—-our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  Friends, it is faith in the victor, instead of associating with the enemy and giving him our heart and allowing him to define truth and law and abiding, we say back to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, “You came to destroy lies and bring truth.  Bring it to me.”  “You came to destroy pride and lawlessness and invite us into love.  Shower me in your love and set me in it!”  “You came to bridge the gap of division and invite me into abiding.  Allow me to abide in you.”

So, according to the great words of John Lennon:  A very Merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / Let’s hope it’s a good one / Without any fear / War is over, if you want it / War is over now.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here today, I just want to invite you to take a deep breath and ask your King, Jesus, if you’re a follower of His today, are there ways you’re buying the lies of the enemy.  Are there ways he’s stealing, killing and destroying life in you, where Jesus the Messiah is saying, “The chains are gone, you’ve been set free.  Come home.”  Are there ways that you feel divided from Him?  In some ways the voice of the enemy and the voice of Jesus sound similar.  Jesus says, “Confess your sin.  Repent.  Come home.”  The enemy says, “Dwell on your sin.  Let it define you.”  He speaks condemnation into your sin, but Jesus speaks repentance and invitation.  Will you surrender to Jesus this morning?  Then reaffirm to Him that your life is in his hands.  If that’s for you this morning, will you just raise your hand?  I want to pray for you.  (Keep it up in the air.  It’s a declaration to God that you want Him to speak over you.)  Jesus, we do this morning.  We believe that you are a Good Father and that you do good.  This morning, we’re just saying back to you that we want the freedom that you’ve purchased by your incarnation, resurrection, and ascension.  We want that freedom.  We want that life. We want that goodness.  So this morning, Jesus, I pray that you would stir in us, that you would invite us, that you’d speak loudly into the situations in our life that are causing us to walk in bondage and not the freedom that you have for us.  We’ll say back to you this morning that we surrender to you, to your love, to your goodness. Then by faith that we would overcome the world.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

HEAVEN HEARS — Enemy: Cosmic Christmas 1 John 3:82023-06-27T13:01:00-06:00

Heaven Hears: Exile – Matthew 1

HEAVEN HEARS: Exile–Ups, Downs, and Inbetweens   Matthew 1:1-17

Please turn to Matthew 1:  The book of genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, {not a fish} and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.  And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.  

And after the deportation to Babylon:  Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of who Jesus was born, who is called Christ.  So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

Forty-one names.  Roughly 2000 years.  The time period we can read in roughly a minute-and-a-half, encompasses 400 years of slavery, 40 years of wandering.  Dynasties that rise and fall.  Hopes that are fulfilled and hopes that are taken to the grave.  Forty-one people included in this genealogy; they’re not just names, they’re stories.  They’re real people.  They’re real people who lived real lives; some of them were really, really great lives, some of them were absolute disasters.  I was struck as I read through this genealogy, once again, that this isn’t just a list of names, this is an invitation into a story.  Matthew, by the way, traces the genealogy of Jesus through his father Joseph.  Luke, on the other hand, traces his genealogy through Mary. That’s why they look a little bit different.

I was telling a friend of mine that I was studying these genealogies in Matthew.  He told me he hopped on ancestry.com a few weeks ago and started to research his family tree.  He shared with me that the act of doing that was fairly addicting.  I looked at him and said, “A genealogy addicting?  You need better hobbies!”  After teasing him, I went home and hopped on ancestry.com, signed up for a 14-day trial and went into an ancestry coma!!  Has anybody done this before?  So you know; we’ll start a recovery group after I trace my lineage back to Adam and Eve!  It’s like a puzzle though.  You pull this thread in ancestry.com and you start to see the other names that you’re attached to and it’s a little bit boring and monotonous at first, and then you start making these connections.  You’re like, “Oh my goodness, these are my great-great-great-great-grandfathers or grandmothers.”  I could trace my lineage back around to the 1500’s and it only took like 15 hours to do it!  And I started to recognize that we love doing this because 1) it’s sort of a puzzle we have to put together, and 2) it’s a part of who we are.  It’s a part of our story.  I don’t know a lot about the people who are in my family tree, but I do know that they influenced me.  I know that when my great-great-great-great-grandparents came over from England, or from Sweden, or from Germany, I know that somehow their story of getting on that ship and coming over here somehow impacts my life today.

I was reminded the zeitgeist of our day is individualism and we stand on our own two feet.  Our story—when you ask somebody to tell you about themself, they will tell you about themself.  They’ll tell you what their resumé looks like.  They’ll tell you the accomplishments that they’ve made.  But if you were to ask somebody back in Jesus’ day, “Tell me about yourself.”  They would tell you about their family.  They’d unpack for you their family tree.  If you were to ask Jesus who he was, he might say something to the affect of “I’m the son of Abraham the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah…”   It’s interesting because even back in Jesus’ day, if genealogy was sort of a resumé, people were lying on their resumés even back in Jesus’ day.  Herod the Great, who was alive and ruling at the same time as Jesus, went to great extent to amend his public genealogy so that people wouldn’t know that there were some shady characters in his family tree.  Some people who did some things that weren’t all that upstanding, which is ironic if you know anything about Herod.  He was trying to protect his reputation which wasn’t exactly squeaky-clean; he killed a few people here and there.  But he went to great extent to say this is who I am and amended his genealogy.  

What’s interesting is that Matthew does the exact opposite when he tells us who Jesus is.  It can just seem like a list of names, but Matthew has a purpose.  In writing this, in unpacking who Jesus is.  Look at the very first verse of Matthew with me.  In this verse, you’ll see what Matthew’s purpose is in writing this genealogy of Jesus’ life.  He says:  The book of the genealogy….   You could translate that word (genealogy) better.  You can say “genesis.”  He’s echoing back to Genesis 1.  He’s saying listen, I know that the beginning of the world is important, but the birth of the Messiah is a new beginning that is equally and arguably even MORE important than the creation of the world.  The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David and the son of Abraham.   Matthew wants to connect the story of Jesus’ birth to the two greatest promises that the people of Israel had.  The first promise was the promise given to Abraham.  It’s called the Abrahamic blessing.  It says this in Genesis 12:1-3 — Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”    This was the hope of Israel.  That in some way, some form their little nation was going to be a blessing to every family across the globe.

The second story that Jesus is connected to is the story of David.  David was also given a promise.  His promise was a little bit different.  David was one of the kings of Israel; we’ll talk about him in just a moment.  This is the promise God gives to David (2 Sam. 7:12-13) — When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offsprings after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.    Here’s the two promises that Jesus is connected to:  He’s connected to the promise that Israel would be a blessing to everyone.  And He’s connected to the promise that God, through his people, will reign forever.  For everyone and forever.  That’s what Matthew wants to do as he unpacks this list of forty-one names, forty-two generations, a few thousand years.  He wants you to know Jesus is for everyone and Jesus is forever.

Matthew is a little unique in the way he does his genealogy.  He does his genealogy in a way that many people in the ancient world would have created or would have presented a genealogy.  Matthew’s genealogy is done specifically so that you and I, or people in an oral culture, could remember what he was saying.  He divides it into parts.  Listen to the way he presents this in Matthew 1:17 — So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.  Matthew wants you to know that there’s a few turning points in the story.  There’s a few points where God steps in and where He recharts the course of Israel’s history.  He says first the story starts with Abraham and God calling him out of Ur and into the land that He would give him. And it goes up, up, up until we get to the promise that God would reign forever through his servant David. {Pastor Ryan is showing a graph of the genealogy that looks like an N.}  That was a good day for the nation of Israel.  That was a great season.  From there it went down, down, down, down to exile.  Notice (increments of) fourteen generations and fourteen generations.

If you have your own Bible, circle the word exile (deportation to Babylon) in Matthew 1:17.  Really, they’re carried off into exile in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians.  The nation of Israel is taken; the temple is destroyed.  The people are put in chains and walked to this new city, this new town, where everything is stripped away from them.  But really, exile is simply living in a land apart from God.  Exile is the motif that weaves its way throughout all of Scripture.  From the very first time Adam and Eve sin in the Garden, they are exiled.  There’s a distance between them and their Creator who designed them, who loved them, who calls them.  The Christmas story is a story about a God who sees people in exile.  A God who sees people in the pain of life.  A God who sees people in the hurt of life.  A God who sees people in their dryness, in their despair, in their hopelessness. The Christmas story is God who sees people here in exile, or in exile throughout as they’re separated from Him, and says, “I refuse to let you stay there.”  I want to win you back.  I want to woo you home.  This is the place that God meets us — in exile.

It’s interesting–there’s a number of ways people will say this, but the most popular way that I’ve heard it floating around is this (see if you’ve ever heard this):  “God is too holy to be in the presence of sin.”  You’ve heard that?  The only problem I have with that is the Bible.  If you go back and read Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sin and God is like oh man, I can’t be near you.  I couldn’t possibly…I’m Mr. Clean….I couldn’t possibly enter into this dirty situation.  No!  God is the one saying, “Where are you?  Come home!”  God is the one from the very beginning entering into the story of humanity’s sin, of humanity’s desperation, of humanity’s longing, of humanity’s exile and saying, “I am a God who will chase you down in the midst of any and every situation. Nothing is too dark for me.  Nothing is too dirty for me.”  Nothing is beyond my scope, God says, of entering into your story.  I think we’ve gotten it completely wrong and completely backwards.  God is NOT the one running from us!  We are the ones running from God.  My friend who wrote a book (Josh Butler) said it like this:  “The gospel proclaims that our core problem is not that God can’t stand to be in the presence of sin, it’s that sin can’t stand to be in the presence of God.”  

So, the story continues.   From exile, we see that God enters in.  Matthew 1:17 leads us from exile to Jesus. God is bringing humanity home through the work of the Messiah.  {Will you look up at me for just a second?}  All of history….these forty-one names and forty-two different stories….these generations upon generations….all of history is BATHED in God’s activity.  It’s more than just a list of names (Matthew 1:1-17).  It’s a list of an accounting of God’s pursuit of you and I in brokenness and pain, in exile and hurt.  That’s what it is.  This genealogy is not just the story of Jesus…catch this, catch this, catch this…it’s the heartbeat of God.  I will chase you down and I will love you in the midst of your disobedience and I will pursue you even when you run the other way.  He says I am entering into your story.  Christmas doesn’t just tell us the story of God, it informs us of what God is like.  Here’s what we see:  Christmas reminds us that history is the story of God’s pursuit by grace of the entire human race.  It’s not just a story of a baby being born, it’s a story of a God entering in.  It’s not just a story of a baby being born, it’s a God who’s saying I want you to come home.  As we pray throughout this season….O come, O come Emmanuel/ And ransom captive Israel/ That mourns in lonely exile here/ Until the Son of God appear/ Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/ Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Matthew wants you to know: Nations, here is your hope.  Israel, here is your Messiah.  But it’s an answer to the age-old question of how we have relationship with God.  It’s an answer to that question that very few people would have expected.  If Matthew 1:1-17 is Jesus’ resumé, he’s got some things on there that you would think would disqualify him from being the savior of the world.  If he was just laying it out there and going alright, here are my qualifications, here’s why I could be the savior of the world, you and I, in our great wisdom, would look back at God and say, “God, there’s no way you save the world like that!”  There’s some names in here and there’s some stories in here that would make you blush.  There’s some things you read and think that there’s no way that could be a part of the story of God.  That story can’t be in there!  There’s no way!  God has to keep his distance from stuff like that.  And yet….we see that Matthew goes out of his way to include some pretty shady characters.  There’s a lot of men that are shady characters in this story, but ladies, we’re going to treat the women this morning.  Matthew includes five women, if you include Mary, in his genealogy of Jesus.  Five women and four of them, for all intents and purposes, should have been left out.  Especially since in this day and age of writing a genealogy like Matthew did, you didn’t have to include women.  In fact, most genealogies didn’t. Luke’s doesn’t.  There’s a reason for that.  But Matthew wants you to know that there’s some women in Jesus’ family tree and there’s some stories in Jesus’ family tree.  The stories inform our view of the Messiah and his role in our life.  Let me just give you three of them this morning.

Originally, I presented this nice, clean, up and to the right sort of flow from Abraham to David and then down…it was nice and level and even and then back up to Jesus.  I just wanted to mention that life is never like that, is it?  Your life isn’t like that.  My life isn’t like that.  This story isn’t like that either.  There’s a lot of twists and turns.  It looks way more like a roller coaster than it does like a ramp.  Let me show you some of the twists and turns.  It says this in Matthew 1:3 — …and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.    Tamar is one of the women mentioned in this genealogy. If you have your own Bible, will you circle her name?  I want to give you the PG version of her story today.  If you’d like the rated R version, it’s in Genesis 38.  Tamar was married to one of the sons of Judah.  His name was Er.  Er was really evil, really bad and God killed him.  The tradition, in that day, was that you would marry your husband’s brother if your husband passed away.  So Tamar did.  She married Er’s brother, whose name was Onan.  Onan was also evil and while he would have relations with his wife Tamar, he refused to get her pregnant. That was an evil thing by Onan so God kills Onan, also.   {Merry Christmas, by the way!}  Judah says to Tamar, listen, you’re a little bit of a liability to my family tree.  I will give you my youngest, third, and last son for marriage, but I just need some time to breathe here.  I need some time to catch my breath and he needs to get a little bit older and I need to make sure you’re not going to kill him.  Tamar, because a woman gets her worth through her children, decides to take matters into her own hands and decides to get kids somehow and some way.  She dresses up like a prostitute.  She goes and stands at the city gates.  Her father-in-law, Judah, comes by and picks her up as a mistress.  He sleeps with her and gets her pregnant with not one, but two babies.  Their names are Perez and Zerah.  She has these two babies.

Not exactly the story you’d expect to find in the lineage of Jesus.  Genesis 38 has never been taught on a flannel-graph, I’m pretty sure!  And yet, when Matthew gives us Jesus’ resumé, he says this story is in that.  This story of deception, this story of prostitution, this story of deceit and incest and immorality includes Jesus.  I’m reading this going, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!  There has to be a different way other than Perez!”  God says, “No! That’s part of the way I work.  I enter in.”  I think we can relate to Tamar in the fact that she’s in this situation where her life is desperate.  Where she’s at the end of her rope and she doesn’t think there’s any other way out, so what does she do?  She takes the situation into her own hands.  In doing so, she actually turns her plight worse.  Anybody been there?  Where you’re in a terrible situation and tried to get yourself out of it, made a mistake and made it worse.  It’s the famous I Love Lucy clip where Lucy is working in the chocolate shop. She’s popping chocolates into her mouth and then into her hat.  Eventually, it’s just out of control!  That’s Tamar’s life.  And yet…..and yet, we see God NOT writing her off.  Ironically.  God doesn’t write Tamar off.  He writes her IN!  He writes her into His story.  As Martin Luther so beautifully put it:  “Oh, Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinner — in fact, He even puts them in his family tree!”  When he does that, he starts to bring meaning out of their mess.  

I don’t know if you can relate to Tamar this morning.  My guess is that you can’t relate to her directly, but my guess is that you’ve been in a situation where you thought, “God, I don’t know how you can continue to work in this.”  “God, I don’t know how you’re going to bring good out of this.”  “God, I’ve made this mistake, I’ve done this thing, I’m holding these kids and I’m not sure the way you’re going to work your good in the midst of my pain.” What the Christmas story tells us is that heaven hears.  Heaven hears when we cry out of the mess. Christmas doesn’t say that God is going to clean up every mess, just trust in Him.  The Christmas story DOES say that God is not afraid to enter into any mess.  There’s nothing that’s off of his charts.  There’s nothing he says that’s too bad.  There’s no mess so dirty that God doesn’t say I will enter in.  It doesn’t mean he’s going to make the bad business deal you made because you were nervous earn you a ton of money from it.  It doesn’t mean he’s going to heal every disease and every sickness this side of heaven.  It does mean, though, that when we find ourselves in those situations where we go, “God, I don’t get it,” from the inside out the King of kings and the Lord of lords says, “I will bring meaning from the mess.”    The Scriptures tell us really clearly that God declares: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  I used to read this and think that the things that have been done to me that are wrong God’s going to work in and the brokenness of his world He’s going to work in.  But what Tamar reminds us of is that even when it’s our fault, God is still at work.  That’s awesome!  Merry Christmas!  He enters into this story.

Tamar represents people we are so scared of, doesn’t she?  People that have done immoral things, people that have been to immoral places.  What if this Christmas, in the same way God enters in, we started to pray, “God, give us the eyes to see the way that you might call us to enter in.”  As Tim Keller puts it:  “The grace of God is so pervasive that even the begats of the Bible are dripping with God’s mercy.”  What if our lives started to reflect His?  How might that change the world?

Here’s the way it continues.  We’re going to sort of parachute in on the next woman named Ruth. ….and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.  The next woman that was included in Jesus’ line was Rahab and then we jump to Ruth.  Let me give you just the Cliff Notes version of Ruth’s life.  Ruth is a Moabite.  She’s part of a group of people who are antagonistic towards Israel and the people of God, and they are God’s enemies.  Ruth is living in the land and she meets a young man from Bethlehem.  His family fled Bethlehem because there was a great famine in the land.  Ruth and this man fall in love.  They’re married ten years and her husband dies.  Around the same time, her husband’s brother died too.  Remember that loophole about how to get kids–if you didn’t have any you could marry the brother.  Well, that’s off the table too.  Ruth is left with her sister-in-law and her mother-in-law.  She has this decision — am I going to stay with Naomi, my mother-in-law, in my land or am I going to go with her back to Bethlehem, the land that SHE’S from, and am I going to stay with her? Ruth, because of her devotion to Naomi, decides to stay with her and go with her and step into this place of unknown.  I’ve lost my husband and now I’m going to lose my home and I’m going to lose everything that I thought my life was going to be; I’m going to step into the unknown and try to follow this God that I’ve heard about.  It’s an amazing story!  But it’s a story that’s latent with brokenness and death and questions and uncertainties.  It’s a story where Ruth eventually comes to marry a man named Boaz and she has a son who becomes the grandfather of King David.  You could go back and read Ruth’s story and here’s what you would see — as the King of kings and the Lord of lords enters into our lives and enters into our loss, He starts to birth and bring about life.  It’s why Ruth’s story is in here.  It’s why Ruth matters.  In the in-between times in life and the exile times in life, she continues to work hard, she continues to pursue God, she continues to pray.  She doesn’t just sit in a room and pray, she gets out in the field and prays.  Ruth reminds us that in our loss and in our pain and in our disappointment heaven hears.  It hears the cry of every longing soul.

Ruth’s life declares to us that in the unthinkable situations in life, God is able to birth unimaginable joy.  Ruth also reminds us that God almost never works on our timeline.  {Anybody want to say amen?!}  She thinks she has her life figured out.  She thinks she knows exactly where she’s going and her life takes this massive, and it turns out to be, beautiful detour.  But her timeline, her plan, her dream, everything is thrown out the window.  I think the hard thing about reading 2000 years of history in one-and-a-half minutes is that we read history, but we live in the ordinary.  We live in days, but we read about decades and centuries and millennia, and it’s a lot harder to see God’s face in the day than it is to see God’s faithfulness in the decade.  So we read these stories and we see that God is weaving through these people and these failures and these hopes and these successes the message that while it may not be on our timeline, God will always keep his word.  He will be good on his promises.

I don’t know about you, but for me, as I think about the holidays coming up and the one that we just came out of, loss is a theme for me.  My guess is that it is for a lot of people in this room.  Many of you know, last week we celebrated the three year anniversary of losing my mom.  She passed away on December 1, 2013.  Every Thanksgiving and every Christmas, I’m reminded that there’s an open seat at our table and that there’s a vacant place in my heart.  I love that Ruth’s story is in here, you guys.  Because God didn’t do it in an instant for Ruth. He did it over the course of a decade, he did it over the course of centuries, he did it over the course of millennia, but eventually, here’s what He did.  He spoke into the loss, life and goodness.  One of the detours that Ruth’s life takes leads her to the destiny that God had designed her to live into.  I just want to throw out over your life that truth as well; that sometimes the detours lead to the destiny.  That God is at work even in those.  Even in the pain, even in the hardship. My dad wrote a song this week in memory of my mom.  The song is called “All That’s Missing Is You.”  I bet there were seasons that Ruth could’ve sung that song.  And yet, if you zoom out enough, you see God’s faithfulness. 

One last story and then we’ll land the plane.  And Jesse the father of David the king.  And David was {Notice that Matthew, in this genealogy, does not need to include the title of David, but he does so because one of Matthew’s main points in writing this genealogy is to link David, who was the king of Israel, and Jesus, who is the king of the world.}  And David was the Father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.    Now, she has a name. We know her name.  There’s multiple chapters in the Bible about the wife of Uriah.  So why in the world would Matthew not just say  “by Bathsheba,” that’s her name.  Most scholars think that Matthew is giving a not-so-subtle jab not to Bathsheba, but to David.  To David, reminding us that David stole another man’s wife.  You may or may not remember the story (2 Samuel 11 & 12).  Bathsheba is bathing on a rooftop while her husband is off at war.  Most people think Bathsheba is innocent in this.  I’d like to propose to you that maybe she knew that bathing on a rooftop might get her noticed by the king.  Just going to throw it out there.  BUT, I don’t think she’s an innocent observer, all that to say.  She’s bathing naked on a rooftop.  David, the king, sees her.  David sends for her; whether you want to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ your only option when the king sends for you is either to say ‘yes’ or to die.  She decides to say yes.  She comes and sleeps with David the king, gets impregnated by him. Her husband’s away at war and that’s an issue.  David calls her husband back from war to have relations with his wife.  He says, “I could never have relations with my wife while people are off at war.”  David says, “Why don’t you go back to war where you will die and I will then be vindicated.  This child that we have together will be mine.”  That’s the Cliff Notes version.  So you have, out of this dysfunctional family of a deeply flawed man, adultery, murder, deception, lies…..and Jesus.  It’s not the resumé we’d expect.  It’s not the story about God we sometimes think we know.  It’s God saying, “I’m so much bigger and I’m so much better and I’m at work in so many more places; and Bathsheba, even the shame that you carry, God can birth salvation out of.”  I say that over you this morning:  That the shame that you carry, God can birth salvation out of.  The consequences come in David and Bathsheba’s life, but please don’t mistake the consequences for God deserting them or God becoming silent in their life.  He IS at work and He IS bringing forth life and hope and meaning out of the mess! Here’s what we see:  God remains faithful even in the midst of our failure.

You guys, in the life of David and in almost every single life in this story, here’s what you can see:  Christmas, the story of the coming of the Messiah, is not a self-improvement plan.  It’s not hey, this is how you can better your life.  It’s not twelve steps to a great marriage.  It’s none of that.  It’s not about how WE can become better, it’s about how GOD pursues us in our junk, in our failures, in our loss, in our mess.  THAT’S what the story of Christmas is.  It’s God parachuting into the brokenness of His world as the angels declare “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news {Not good advice.} of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)   Christmas is not a story that tells us we should live better lives.  No!  Christmas is a story that declares to us:  Christ the Savior IS born!  And he’s born into messes.  He’s born into loss.  And He’s born into failure.  And He’s born into whatever situation you find yourself in today.  So along with the great, great hymn, we can pray o come, o come, Emmanuel and ransom (and bring back) the captives of Israel who mourn in lonely exile here.

And when Jesus the Messiah gathered his disciples around a table on the night that he was betrayed, he took bread and he said, “This is my body which I’m giving for you.”  He took wine and said, “This is my blood which I’m going to shed and give for you.”  In doing that, what he’s saying is Israel, I’m bringing you home.  I’m forgiving your sin.  I’m inviting you back in.  I’m parachuting into your story and I’m making a way by my own life given for you and my own blood shed for you.  As followers of Jesus, when we gather around this table, when we gather around THIS story, we’re reminded that no mess is too dirty, that no loss is too strong, and that no failure is terminal, but that Jesus the Messiah enters into it all!  And then the song we sing — Until….UNTIL the Son of God appear….    We come this morning to the table to celebrate….He has!  He has come!  Heaven has heard! By faith, our story now is woven into His and His story will never end.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, this morning as we approach your table, the cry of our heart is o come, o come, Emmanuel, would you ransom us?  Would you bring us back from wandering?  From slavery?  From the land?  Would you bring us back to yourself?  God, would you remind us today that you parachute into and that you insert yourself into any story and that by faith we’ll receive you.  As we come this morning, remind us of that King of kings and Lord of lords, we pray.  In your name, Jesus.  Amen.








Heaven Hears: Exile – Matthew 12023-06-27T13:00:28-06:00
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