O HOLY NIGHT:A Thrill of Hope

O HOLY NIGHT:A Thrill of Hope

We want to invite you into the Christmas story.  The story of Christmas involves some waiting.  It involves some anticipation.  Come Thou, long expected Jesus.  O come, o come, Emmanuel.  Come divine Messiah.  As we look at the story again from different angles, we wanted to invite you back into the tension of that waiting period.  I think it’s something we all can relate to and if we bypass it in the Christmas story, then I don’t know if we hear the story well.

I was that thinking about that idea of hope again this year.  I was reminded of a number of years ago when I went to visit my friend in southern California.  We went to Knott’s Berry Farm together.  At Knott’s Berry Farm back then, there was this ride called “Montezuma’s Revenge.”  Montezuma’s Revenge is a one-loop roller coaster.  That’s it.  When you get on the ride…..any roller coaster fans out there?…..so you know that click-click-click-click-click and your heart just starts pounding.  We are on Montezuma’s Revenge.  We lock in and it starts to click-click-click-click-click-click (Ryan is climbing a rung of a ladder on each “click”.)   At that point, I look at my friend and go oh, yeah!!!  I’m a little bit afraid of heights anyway, but I’m like here we go!  Montezuma’s Revenge!  At the very moment that that little lever was suppose to release to launch us into our destiny of….wheee!  Something happened.  The lever didn’t release.  A voice comes over the speaker and says, “We’re having some technical difficulties.  We’re going to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”  We yell back that would be nice!  Over an hour later they got it resolved!!  So we’re sitting up there and it’s just this tension of I know what I’m suppose to do and I know where this is suppose to go, but the waiting is just absolutely excruciating.

I thought about that and I think that’s a picture of hope.  If you were to look up “hope” in the dictionary, the way it’s defined is hope is a desire for, or expectation of good.  But implicit within the definition of hope is that you don’t currently have it.  Look at the way the Scriptures unpack hope.  In Romans 8:24, Paul writes to the church at Rome and says:  For in this hope we were saved. {He’s talking about Jesus and the hope of the gospel.}  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  

Here’s the problem, though.  We wish that God would just fulfill our every hope and our every dream.  Can I submit to you that while He doesn’t answer every hope, He answers the hope underneath everything.  And every hope that we have, He’s with us and He’s for us.  I love the way that John says it in his nativity account (John 1:4-5):  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. {Notice those verbs are both past tense.  He’s talking about creation.}  The light shines {That’s present tense.  The light shines as in it’s still shining.}  …in the darkness…  {And if anyone knew darkness, it was John.  The religion that he’d grown up around, being a Hebrew, being an Israelite, was almost decimated.  Most likely, at the time of his writing this, the Temple had been destroyed.  It had been leveled.  If there was anybody that could have said listen, hope is too hard to manage and hold onto, it would have been John.  But he says the light shines in the darkness.}  …and the darkness has not overcome it.  Somebody say amen.  That’s the hope of Christmas, friends.  Is that the King of kings and the Lord of lords steps into our darkness, steps into our need, steps into our despair and He breathes hope and as dark as the darkness gets, and it may be really, really dark in your life right now, the light will not be overcome.  I want to invite you….the gap in your life might be the size of the Grand Canyon, where you’re going God, my hopes were up here.  My expectations were up here and my reality is so far down I have a hard time seeing it.  Here’s what we tend to think.  What we tend to think is that the ladder of Christmas is for us to tie up our boots really tight and start hiking.  There is a ladder in the Christmas story.  But the ladder in the Christmas story isn’t for you to do good and for you to do better and for you to get your act together, because we’d be waiting a long time for that.  The ladder in the Christmas story is not for you to climb up.  The ladder in the Christmas story is for God to climb down and to enter into the brokenness and to enter into the pain and to enter into your story and declare over you it’s safe to hope.  You can let your heart go there, because the King of kings and the Lord of lords entered in.  He is God for you and He is God with you.  And if you don’t know Him, my guess is the gap between your reality and your expectations is almost unmanageable.  We’re celebrating Him.  This is His birthday party.  I’m glad you’re here to celebrate the birth of the King.  The One who comes not to receive gifts, but the One who comes to BE a gift.  Some of you have let go of hope because you’ve lost sight of the Messiah, I just want to point Him back out to you tonight.  He’s beautiful and He says listen, I know that hope is hard to hold onto, but it’s necessary to have and you can continue to have it because I’m a God who loves you and is for you and is in the mess of whatever you’re walking through….right in the middle of it.  Would you turn to Him and put your faith in Him?

Listen to the way that Paul invites us to this life in Romans 15:13—May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.. {So as we come to this God who’s a God that wants to shower us with hope—that’s what the Christmas story is all about..it’s safe to hope—we are filled with joy and peace.}  …so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound {That’s overflowing.  A tidal wave into a little drinking cup.  That’s what he’s talking about.}  ….you may abound in hope.   The King has come.  God with you.  God for you.  I don’t know what you’re waiting on tonight and I don’t know what you’re anticipating.  I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but I know that Christmas declares over you there’s a God who waits with you and who you can put your trust and confidence in.  He declared it in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  He gave His life to seal it and prove it and He walked out of the grave to make it yours.  Would you come to Him tonight?  He’s worthy of your hope. He’s worthy of your hope.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, we don’t want to be people that just stick our head in the sand and are ignorant of the present circumstances, the ones that are both beautiful and the ones that are ugly and painful.  The ones that are filled with joy and peace and the ones that we struggle to get through.  We don’t want to be ignorant of that, but we also don’t want to be ignorant of the fact that you are in this with us.  That you’re God for us and that you’re God with us.  Jesus, I thank you that this season….Christmas reminds us of the fact that the ladder isn’t there for us to climb up, but the ladder’s there for you to climb down and you enter in.  Because you enter in, it’s safe for us to hope.  I pray over my friends in this room tonight….for those that have let go of hope, maybe because they’ve lost sight of the Messiah or maybe because they’ve never had their eyes on Him long enough to see His beauty and to hear His love.  Lord, would you reawaken our hope tonight.  Would you remind us it’s safe to hope, because you’re a God who’s already answered the deepest longings of our soul.  Thank you for inviting us into Your story.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

O HOLY NIGHT:A Thrill of Hope2023-06-27T12:45:41-06:00


OH HOLY NIGHT: CHAINS SHALL HE BREAK  Isaiah 61 & Luke 4:16-21

Anybody have one of these (paper chain) things going on in their house right now?  I used to think this was a nice, cute art project that we allowed kids to do during Christmas time.  This is a Christmas chain.  Everyday you wake up and you rip one link of the chain off and you get closer and closer to Christmas and there’s one for every day, until you get up to Christmas morning.  I used to think it was a nice, cute art project, but really what this is is a representation of sanity for parents!  Here’s the question you’re hearing if you are a parent right now:  How many days until Christmas???  Instead of having to do quick math in your head, you get to say go check the chain.  Count the links on the chain.  We’ve got four days until Christmas.  This isn’t a cute art project.  This is sanity for every parent.

It’s a cute way to get ready for Christmas and a way to build anticipation as we see Christmas morning approaching.  But not every chain is all that cute, is it?  One of the things noticed in this great Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, was this phrase: And chains shall he (Jesus) break for the slave is our brother and in His name all oppression shall cease.  What a day that will be!  Even though he was born—this Christ child, this Messiah—2000 years ago, and he purchased freedom for humanity, you and I both know that this isn’t fully realized yet, is it? The poem was written in 1847 and in the mid-1800’s, a man by the name of John Sullivan Dwight got ahold of Placide Cappeau’s poem.  It was written in French and he (Dwight) translated it into English.  One of the things that stood out to Dwight was this line:  Chains shall He break.  John Sullivan Dwight was an abolitionist.  He was a freedom fighter in the North, preceding the Civil War.  He read these lines and they just exploded in his heart and soul and he translated this Christmas carol into English primarily because of that line.  And it started to blow up, not just in America, but world-wide as humanity grasped the dream of this day.  Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother.  What a day that will be.

We’ve come a long way here in the States, haven’t we?  Let’s be clear.  We have a long way to go.  But we’ve come a long way.  Slavery doesn’t look the same way that it did back in the 1850’s.  It’s starting to change.  It’s starting to develop.  It doesn’t look the same as it did here, but make no mistake about it, this is still an issue world-wide.  You may or may not be aware that world-wide, right now, there are (the best estimate we have) 27 million enslaved.  There’s two industries, primarily, that people who are in slavery find themselves in.  One is forced labor.  They’re sold, maybe by their parents, or they’re stolen by somebody and forced to work with either little pay or no pay at all.  The other industry is sex slavery. You have a family in a third world country that has no other way of making an income and if they have a daughter they’ll sell her into slavery.  Can we agree as a people of God that this is not okay.  Maybe God will continue to use this church in a new and fresh way to be a prophetic voice into this number — 27 million.  Only 1-2% of those 27 million slaves world wide today are rescued.  Maybe the most heartbreaking statistic of all is that the average age of these 27 million slaves is 12 years old.

Chains shall He break. And if we don’t get anything else from today, may be pray over 27 million, 1% and 12 years old and ask that God would start to move in an unprecedented way, as He has throughout history, to use His church as a prophetic voice into the wrong that this is. But here’s the thing, you’re not in those numbers and it’s easy to disassociate with that reality because we’re not in the numbers; we don’t see the faces; we don’t know a lot of the stories that go along with it.  The truth of the matter is, friend, is that my guess is if I were to be able to climb into your head and into your heart, that although you’re not one of the 27 million who’s either in forced labor or sex slavery, that there’s some chains that are wrapped around your heart, too.  There’s some things that you wish you could get loose from that are just holding you down.  I know there’s people that walk in every single week and we sing songs like “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God….” and we might as well be holding our chains above our head saying we’re singing it, but it’s not true for us.  There’s these cycles in our head and in our heart, where we’d go yeah, we’re not part of the 27 million….our slavery looks just a little bit different, but it’s no less true.  The Christmas story….the story of this little baby born in a corner of a house, 2000 years ago, laid in a manger because there was no room for them to find solace in an inn or hotel….this little baby doesn’t just declare it’s a time to give presents…..this baby, this king, declares it’s a time to step into freedom.  Christmas isn’t about giving or getting presents, it’s about breaking chains.  That’s the story we celebrate.  That’s the story we step into is this already not-yet reality.  Chains shall He (look up at me for just a second) and has He broken.  That’s the story we get to circle our hearts and minds around this morning.

If you have your Bible, turn to Luke 4:16.  We’re going to look at a famous teaching of Jesus.  It’s one of His first public teachings.  Jesus the Messiah steps onto the scene and says my birth isn’t about giving presents, but my birth is about walking in freedom.  Here’s how he says it: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. {Every Sabbath, the Jewish people would gather in synagogue.  Their order of service would be to open with Shema; they would pray “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  They would move into a time of prayer. They would read from the Old Testament law.  There would be a second reading from the prophets.  It’s during this second reading that Jesus stands up and he says I’ll take the scroll.}  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written…  {There’s a lot of debate about whether or not this was the normal liturgy for the day, that Jesus is going to read what’s given to him, or that Jesus intentionally goes and finds this prophetic section of Scripture in Isaiah 61 that definitively points to the work of the Messiah.  I take the latter view to say Jesus found it. I think that’s what Luke is saying when he says he found the place where it was written.  If it were the chosen section of Scripture, they would have handed it to him opened.  I think Jesus unrolls it and looks through it and finds Isaiah 61.  Here’s what he reads.}   ..”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me {This is king-type language here.  In the Old Testament, the anointing was for the coming Messiah.  It was for the Christ.  It was for the Savior.} ..he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”    At that point, everybody in the Jewish synagogue would have known, when they read this line  “the year of the Lord’s favor,” there was two things going on.  One, if you go back into Isaiah 61:2, what you’re going to find is that there was a second thing added on to that line.  Everybody in the audience would have known it. To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.   Only Jesus doesn’t read this part.  Jesus doesn’t read “the day of vengeance.”  He closes the scroll, rolls it up and sits down after He says it’s the year of the Lord’s favor.

The second thing everybody would have known is that when Jesus read “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” it would have been a declaration of jubilee.  All throughout the Old Testament, there’s a pointing to this day that happened once every 50 years where slaves would have been set free, where property would have been returned to the original owner, where the nation of Israel would have taken an entire year to sit and rest and watch their fields produce a bounty that they didn’t work to get.  Sound familiar.  It sounds a little bit like the gospel to me.  We receive without working.  That we’re blessed.  That God’s favor is on us regardless of what we’ve done, regardless of who we are, regardless of what our story says and the way that our lives have gone.  It was called the Year of Jubilee.  If you go to Leviticus 25:10-12, you can read all about the Year of Jubilee.  Ironically, the nation of Israel (most scholars would agree) never celebrated the Year of Jubilee.  Let’s be honest.  The people who owned the land at the time had the power and it’s hard to give up power, isn’t it? Jesus steps onto the scene and says no, no, no, no, no, the day that you’ve refused to celebrate for hundreds of thousands of years is here.  Ironically, the early Americans, on the Liberty Bell inscribed the words “Liberty Throughout the Land to All of Its Inhabitants.”  As if to say this is the place where the jubilee of God is walked in and where freedom is realized.  Jesus makes the claim that the year of jubilee is here.  On Tuesday, we had, what I would consider, a year of jubilee experience.  Especially if you are a kid who was going to go to school. For parents it may not have been a year of jubilee.  You woke up Tuesday morning to about a foot of snow, checked your phone and realized school’s out!  No school!  Snow day!  Let’s do this.  Here’s what you experienced: the Year of Jubilee!  This is a freedom moment.  You’re going to wake up and go oh no, it’s due today and what you recognized is I don’t have to go to school, praise God!  This is the feeling of jubilee.  Luke 4 takes a picture of jubilee—freedom for the slaves, release of the captives, lands being returned—to show what God is going to do (don’t miss this, please catch this) spiritually and physically through the anointed one, Jesus the Messiah.

So he declares the year of the Lord’s favor. Verse 20.  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.    {This word “fixed,” in the Greek, would carry with it this idea of emotion and intensity.  He sits down and every eye (vroooot!) right on Jesus going……well??  And???  Because there’s a time of teaching that would have come after this.  Not only that but he left out “the day of vengeance of our God,” which is really what Israel was hoping for in the Roman Empire.  He leaves it off.  He goes no, no, no, this is the day of favor.  This is a day of mercy.  This is a day of grace. This is a day of blessing that God isn’t angry, He’s coming to redeem and save, not destroy and punish. And he sits down and he looks around.  And after, what I imagine was a long, awkward pause……} …he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled… {Now the picture of this word “fulfilled” is if you take a cup and just pour the ocean into it.  Overflowing.}  ….has been fulfilled in your hearing.”     Wow!  He just sits back and says I’ve fulfilled this.  Thank you very much.  Can you imagine the angst of the people sitting in this synagogue waiting on this Messiah for 600 years and he finally comes and he shows up and he looks like a normal guy and he doesn’t dethrone the Roman Empire and he doesn’t purchase the political power and freedom that they were hoping and it sure looks like they’re still enslaved and he says I’ve fulfilled this today.  Jesus, out!  Mic drop, I’m gone.

Here’s the word I wrestle with most:  Today.  Here’s what Jesus is saying to every single person sitting in that room and every single person sitting in this room.  Is that it’s not someday that Jesus comes to redeem.  It’s not someday that Jesus comes to offer freedom.  As if to say, you don’t need to clean up your life in order to experience his freedom.  And you don’t need to solve all the problems that you have and you don’t need to resolve all the hurts that you have, in fact, it’s just the opposite.  The only way you can experience the freedom of God in your life is if you come TODAY.  You only receive the freedom of God in the present.  And typically it’s before you ever clean up your life and start to “work” on things.  A lot of us are waiting for a day somewhere off in the future where we resolve some of the things that have hurt us, resolve some of the wrongs that we’ve been a part of.  That we forgive some of the people that we need to forgive.  Maybe then, maybe, we’ll be able to walk in the freedom that he’s purchased for us.  He goes no, no, no, no, no, that’s not the way it works.  The freedom that I purchase, the breaking of chains that I bring happens today, happens right now.  I love the way Eugene Peterson, the great pastor and author, puts it when he says: “The refusal or the inability to fully experience the present, to receive into our lives by faith what is handed to us by God in the present, is a refusal to live freely.  For the present is the only time in which freedom can be exercised or experienced.”  Look up at me a second.  I understand you walked in with some chains.  I get that you have a past that’s shady and that it’s uncomfortable to come to God and have to say God, here’s who I am and I admit this is what I’ve been a part of….it’s a lot more comfortable to get a few of these things behind us first and then go have that conversation.  Let’s heal a few of the hurts.  Let’s break a few of the links on our chain and then we’ll come.  His invitation is listen, I only give freedom in the present.  You can only receive it right now.  In this moment.  To allow Him to break in and say I love you and I’m for you.  Chains shall I, and have broken.  Will you, by faith, step into my favor and walk in my freedom.  That’s his question for you.  Because Christmas is far more about breaking chains than it is about giving presents.  In this little sermonette, here is what Jesus says:  That God’s favor—the favor of the Lord, the jubilee of the Lord, the release of the Lord, the breaking of chains that only God brings—purchases your freedom, purchases my freedom, and it’s available when?  Now.  Today.  This is the Christmas story, friends.  This is what we celebrate when we celebrate Christmas.  I love seeing our culture celebrate this little baby born in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago, because what they’re subversively declaring is He is the King and the King has set us free!  Whether they know it or not.  That is the Christmas story.

Listen to the declaration of the angels: Glory to God in the highest.   {They’re giving weight and splendor and majesty back to the creator.}  Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…  {This is the idea of shalom.  This wholeness and healing, this favor of God.} …..peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14 NIV)   The question has to be then on whom does his favor rest?  You don’t have to go back all that far in the Gospel of Luke to read the declaration to the shepherds from the angels.  The angel said to the shepherds:  Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  On whom does His favor rest?  Well, on all people.  The people who receive His favor and walk in His freedom are those who by faith come to Him and say only You can break these chains.  Here’s the problem with freedom.  We’re used to fighting for our freedom, aren’t we?  We’re used to saying we’ve got to take our freedom.  We carry that over into our walk with Jesus, into our spiritual lives where we go listen, I’ve got to solve this problem on my own.  I can’t count on anybody else.  I’ve gotta work harder on being an impatient person.  I’d love to meet somebody that worked for.  I’ve gotta work harder on being humble.  Good luck!  I’ve gotta work harder on getting rid of my anger and bitterness and I’ve gotta work…I’ve gotta work…I’ve gotta work.  In gospel economy, what God says is you’ve got to receive, not work!  You’ve got to position your life to receive from the King of kings and Lord of lords who says my favor is on you.  You’ve got to hear His voice saying I love you and I’m for you and I’m with you and I’m in this.  The only way you walk in freedom is if you invite Jesus into your pain.  That’s why I have such a hard time with freedom, with walking in favor.  We want to work on it on our own and what the gospel declares and what the Christmas message is is you couldn’t do it on your own, if you could, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come.  Right?  The Christmas story is you needed somebody to come in, you couldn’t break the chains on your own, He had to step in and with His very body broken and blood shed said you have freedom.  I’m declaring it over you.  I fulfilled this today.  It’s available for you.  A lot of us are way more comfortable with the gospel being some good advice.  A good plan.  That at Christmas Jesus comes and makes a good plan and if you follow it you’re going to be set.  The gospel is not good advice.  It’s a good announcement.  Favor is on you, is over you, right now.  Today.  You’re invited to walk in it.  Praise God.

A number of years ago I read a story that just stuck with me.  It was a story about a man named Wilfredo Garza. Wilfredo Garza was born in Mexico and he spent the first 35 years of his life going from one side of the border to the other.  He worked a number of years in Texas as an undocumented worker and he would get sent back to Mexico.  He would try to get back across the border.  When he was 35 years old and crossed the border and in that moment decided to risk everything and go meet with an immigration lawyer to see how to live in the U.S. as a free person.  He went in and sat down with this lawyer.  The lawyer typed in his name and his mom’s name and his dad’s name.  This information about Wilfredo Garza popped up.  He’d been told his whole life that he was born in Mexico.  He was actually born in Texas.  He was a citizen of the United States and he was living as though he was an undocumented worker, there illegally.  What a moment!  I think a lot of us walk in here and we go “My chains are gone.  I’ve been set free.”  We walk in with this same idea where I’m here but if anybody knew my story and if anybody knew my pain and if anybody knew my hurt, they would kick me out in a second, because the favor of God is for somebody but it’s definitely not for me.  Until we understand that His blessing rests on us, we’ll never walk in the freedom he purchased for us.  So much of this takes place in your head and in your heart and today Jesus is declaring over you the Christmas story isn’t so much about the giving of presents as it is about the breaking of chains.  It’s for you!!!  There’s no footnote after “all” that says “except you.”  In every translation I looked there’s no footnote.  It’s for you!  Not someday.  It’s for you TOday!!  Merry Christmas to you!  I pray that we would be people who take good news seriously!

Flip back with me to Isaiah 61:1-2.  I want to spend the rest of our few minutes together unpacking this passage that Jesus read from and the way that Jesus breaks chains and the chains that Jesus breaks.   The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…  {The poor were people who lacked resources; they lacked money, but they were also people, in the Scriptures, that had this disposition towards God of saying we don’t bring anything in and of ourselves to you that would be valuable and able to save ourselves….we know we need you.  The poor was a declaration back to God….hey, we find ourselves in your story and we have sinned and we fractured relationship with you and we need you to step in. All of us are poor here today.  Welcome to the party.}  …he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,  {Does that resonate with anyone here today?  This is Jesus stepping on the scene and saying I’m fulfilling this.  If you’ll invite me into your pain, I’ll break your chains.  To bind up.  To care for….the brokenhearted.} …to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God. {We already discussed that He didn’t say that part.  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Good news for the poor.  Hope for the brokenhearted, because in the Messiah we find he takes on all of our sin and all of our shame, that by His wounds we are healed.}  ….to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion……and praise instead of a faint spirit. {Or heaviness.}  This release language is said to captives.  It’s said to people, depending on how you date the book of Isaiah, who either ARE in exile or are GOING into exile.  What God declares over them are the things that you’ve lost and the way that you’ve been confined.  I’m going to break in and I am going to set you free.  Here’s Jesus’ declaration.  The first chain that breaks; the first chain he says does not confine you any more because I’ve appeared on the scene, by personal work I’ve fulfilled what Isaiah promised was going to be true of the Messiah. He replaces your captivity with release.  He speaks into the places in your life where you’re going God, I can’t get beyond this.  This sin that so easily entangles has got me.  You know what He speaks into that?  He speaks into that the reality that you are no longer a slave to sin.  Listen to the way Romans 6:6,18 says it: We know that our old self (body) was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.    Friend, He set you free!  What I know about you and what I know about me is we will never walk in it until we believe it.  So much of the battle takes place in our head where we go listen, there’s no way I could ever get beyond that.  I have my past and I have my guilt and you have no idea, Paulson, who I am and you have no idea what I’ve done and I want to say as clearly as I can.  I have absolutely no clue who you are, what you’ve done and the past that you have, I ONLY know the Jesus who declares there’s freedom if you follow me.  That’s what I know.  That’s what I stand on.

I love the way that the great hymn writer, Horatio Spafford, put it: “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!  My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”  Jesus comes as the great chain-breaker as one who says the things that hold you captive, I’m speaking freedom into.  In a spiritual way and in a physical way, you see the gospel declared through the life of Jesus.  You don’t have to go down too far in Luke 4 to see Jesus driving out demons.  He heals the sick and the afflicted.  All of it is to declare your life has favor over it because of the work of Christ.  You are, friend…I am no longer a slave to sin!

And you are no longer a slave to fear as the great passage in Romans 8:15 says:  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…  {If that’s where you’re living this morning, I want to invite you to Jesus.  Because He says that’s not the spirit I giveth.  I break chains by the favor I declare over your life.} …But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…    Aww, come on, church, say amen!  That’s good news! Adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  YES!  The problem is we have a hard time learning to live in our freedom.  We have a hard time embracing it.  One of my favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie there’s this character whose name is Brooks.  Brooks has been incarcerated for decades.  He’s coming up on a time of parole.  Instead of being excited for this, he’s terrified of it, because he has no idea how to live on the outside anymore.  Instead of embracing it, he attacks a fellow prisoner so that he can stay in prison, because that’s the world he knows and that’s the life he’s used to.  Even once he gets out, he wrestles with how to live as a free person because it’s way more comfortable and he knows way more about life inside than he does about outside.  At one point, he takes his own life, because he doesn’t know how to live as a free person.  I think a lot of followers of Jesus keep going back, keep going back, keep going back, even when the chains are broken because we have no clue how to live under grace and mercy that declares you’re free.  Maybe today, your simple prayer is God, teach me how to walk in the freedom that you already purchased.

Here’s the way the prophet continues in Isaiah 61:3-4:  …to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes… {They put ashes on their face as a way to mourn a loss, typically.  These are people who’ve lost a loved one or a friend, and as a way to symbolically display “this stinks!” they would cover their face in ashes.  What Isaiah speaks into this prophetically is a day is coming when God himself is going to speak into our pain and into our brokenness.  Instead of ashes, there will be a beautiful headdress.} ….the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.   {Or a spirit of heaviness.  Anyone have that this morning?  He says I want to speak into that.}  …that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins… {So cities that lay desolate and had nobody living in them.  It’s this word picture of God bringing about restoration.  God bringing about transformation.  God speaking into death and raising new life.  This is resurrection imagery in Isaiah 61.}  …they  shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.   Here’s what Jesus wants to say.  One of the chains that often confines us is this way of thinking….the way it is today is the way it will always be.  It’s called fatalism.  We just assume that life is going to be terrible and that life is going to continue to be riddled with and filled with pain and heartache and hurt.  What Isaiah speaks into the people of God is that a day is coming when your ashes are going to turn into a beautiful headdress.  When your mourning is going to be met with comforting.  When the leaves that fell off your tree will come back to life and you’ll be an oak of righteousness.  He speaks into our fatalism with this reversal, with this renewal.  It’s not the end of the story.  Whatever you’re going through today where you go the darkness is so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face…..the declaration of Isaiah 61 over your life is God’s not done!  The story’s not over!  Transformation is possible.  Resurrection is on the way.  But in order for resurrection to happen, death has to precede it.  THAT’S the Christmas story Jesus is speaking into our world.  Entering into our world and saying listen, it’s not always going to be the way that you thought it was going to be.  It’s not always going to be pain.  It’s not always going to be sorrow.  It’s not always going to be heartache.  There’s a dawning of a new day on the horizon.  Amen!

In Genesis 50:20, I love this passage because it paints for us this picture of God’s reversal.  This God who says I’m able to do far more abundantly than all you could ever ask, think, dream or imagine as you walk with me.  Speaking about the story of Joseph, and this is Joseph speaking to his brothers:  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive,as they are today.    This is God working reversal in the midst of what felt like fatalism.  It’s the way it’s always going to be.  You know how long this took?  About 70 years.  And that’s the problem we have about the way God works, isn’t it?  That his time frame is often a lot longer than ours.  He says things and we go I know it’s a promise, God, and I know you’re working it, but it just feels like you’re taking your sweet time.  So we start to believe the marriage is always going to be the way the marriage is, there’s nothing that can change that.  He goes I’ll step into your pain.  The job situation is always going to be the way that it is, there’s nothing that’s going to change that.  He goes listen, I’ll take ancient ruins and build glorious cities if you’ll give them to me.  That the pain is always going to be so dark that I don’t feel like I can get out of it and what He says over your life today, if you’ll receive it, is I turn ashes into beauty.  Come to me!  Christmas isn’t about giving presents, it’s about walking in freedom.

He says (in Isaiah 61:5-7):  Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks…. {Not only are they not in exile anymore, but they’ve come back and people are working for them!  This is the great reversal.} ….foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.  Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion….. {This is speaking a blessing over the people of God, not just a little blessing, but Isaiah says a double portion.  It means just a tidal wave of grace.}  …instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.    The next chain that He breaks….the chain He wants to speak into every single life in this room today is the chain that we often carry around of shame.  It creeps up on us subtly, at least in my life.  It’s harder to identify.  Guilt is I feel bad about what I’ve done.  Shame is I feel bad about who I am.  When I carry that I’m unable to carry joy.  He says listen, I’m going to replace shame with joy, I’m not adding to it.  I’m not just speaking joy into your shame, I’m going to take away your shame and give you joy.  You know why?  Because you can’t hold onto shame and joy at the same time.  You’re going to hold one or the other.  One or the other is going to define your life.  The beauty of the Christmas story…the beauty of what Jesus does…the beauty of the favor of God that purchases our freedom is that rejoicing displaces shame.  Listen, friend.  Grace not only covers your sin, it also redeems your shame.  It speaks into the very core of who you are…..gospel…that Jesus is for you, that He loves you, that He’s come to your rescue, that He values your life. You don’t need to walk in shame anymore and because you don’t need to walk in shame, you can walk in joy. I just get this feeling today that God wants to do that in somebody’s life today.  That He wants to speak joy into your life but you’ve gotta first let go of your shame.  We can’t let go of our shame in ignorance.  We can’t just hope it goes away.  We have to stare our shame in the face.  Admit who we’ve been.  Admit where we’ve been.  Admit what we’ve done and what we believe about ourself and then, just as honestly, we have to look ourself in the mirror and say the King of kings and the Lord of lords has come to my rescue.  He’s redeemed me with His very life.  He speaks into my shame and allows me to walk in joy.  It’s not running away from it, it’s staring at it and preaching the gospel over your life.  I love the way the great author/researcher, Brene Brown, puts it when she says:  “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion.  It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”  You know what the gospel says?  You aren’t!!!  That’s why He came.  Because you aren’t and because He came, He speaks into you worth and value and joy, where you go I don’t have to define myself….that’s the chain we often carry. I’ve gotta achieve.  I’ve gotta make a way.  I’ve gotta make a name.  In the Christmas story, we find we couldn’t do it on our own and God came to our rescue.  He declares by my blood, by my grace, by my mercy that cover your life, you are good enough.  Redeemed.  Holy.  Made right.  Made righteous in the King of kings and Lord of lords and by His blood.  Merry Christmas!!  The Christmas story is filled with joy.  The angel said to them: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.  You can hold onto fear, you can hold onto joy, but you can’t hold onto both.  You can hold onto shame or you can hold onto joy, but you can’t hold onto both.  The invitation this year is a savior has been born.  Hold on to joy!!  His favor’s on your life.  Not tomorrow…TODAY.

Isaiah 61:10—I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.    Here’s the final chain He breaks…the Messiah breaks in coming, redeeming, declaring favor over us is our righteousness supersedes our wretchedness.  He’s clothed you.  He’s made a way where you couldn’t make one on your own.  Clothed with garments of salvation, covered in the robe of righteousness.  Thank you, Lord!  This is the Christmas story, friends, that Jesus enters into our story and enters into our pain and from the inside out, He spreads His light and His favor over your life.  You can hold on to captivity.  You can hold on to fatalism.  You can hold on to shame. You can hold on to your wretchedness.  You can give God a couple of reasons on top of this why you don’t deserve His favor.  I’ll say back to you I’ve got a hundred more than you.  But the Christmas story isn’t about whether you’ve earned His favor or not.  The Christmas story is whether or not he’s given it to you.  What we celebrate this time of year is that the God of the universe entered into our story…entered into your story and mine to declare favor and blessing over our lives and in doing so, by faith, allowing us to walk in freedom.  And that freedom is here and available today, right now.  He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

I’m not going to skip verses 8 and 9, because they’re this beautiful invitation and we’re going to land the plane here.  For I the Lord love justice {I’m a God who loves rightness.  I love equity.  I love when people aren’t taken advantage of.  I love when people aren’t abused.  I love when there are zero slaves instead of 27 million.  Your God loves that.}  ..I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.  Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.  Here’s what Isaiah’s saying.  Righteousness is not just a declaration over your life.  It’s a calling on your life.  We don’t just receive righteousness, we’re people who give it.  We’ll say it like this.  Here’s what Isaiah’s painting a picture of:  of release, of reversal, of rejoicing, of righteousness that frees us to be people who speak freedom into the lives of other people.  Because freed people free people.  In my study this week, I was reminded of the beautiful life of Harriet Tubman.  She was born in 1822 into a life of slavery, but in this really masterful way she escaped that life of slavery.  She became a freedom fighter.  She was a soldier in the Union Army and worked for a slave.  You probably recognize her name because she helped both develop and run the Underground Railroad.  She went on thirteen different missions on the Underground Railroad, mostly directed towards her own family and her friends, but thousands and thousands of people found their freedom because this lady was willing to stand up and say freed people free people.  She was interviewed towards the end of her life and what she said really stuck with me.  “I freed a thousand slaves.  I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  I think maybe the King of kings and the Lord of lords is saying to you and me today that unless we’re honest about the chains that shackle us, we’ll never walk in the freedom that’s been purchased for us.  Maybe today we ask the King of Kings and the Lord of lords to step in and once again say: It’s been fulfilled TODAY in your hearing.  Come, walk under my favor and receive my freedom.  Let’s pray.

I don’t know where you’re at this morning, but in the craziness of this time of year, I just want to invite you to pause.  Maybe there’s something you’re holding onto in your head and your heart that’s just got its claws in you and it’s causing you to walk in slavery that Jesus wants to set you free from.  Maybe it’s this declaration for the first time….God, by faith, I’m stepping into relationship and life with you.  I want your favor that would lead to my freedom.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe there’s just slavery to sin that you’re saying God, I am just caught in this mess and I can’t, on my own, break the cycle.  What I believe Jesus would say back to you is I don’t heal from a distance, I heal from within.  Invite me into your pain and I’ll break your chains.  Maybe you’re just caught in the lie “this is just the way it’s always going to be” and I just gotta get used to it.  Jesus loves to resurrect dead things.  The end of the story isn’t the end of the story.  Maybe today you carried chains in this door and I want to tell you that you can carry joy out.  He is not holding your sins against you.  He speaks grace over you.  You live under a waterfall of it every single day.  Wake up and receive.  Quit fighting for what’s being given to you freely.  Maybe you wrestle with your past going God, there’s no way you could love somebody like me.  And he says somebody like you?  Somebody like you who wears the garments of salvation?  Somebody like you who I’ve clothed in my righteousness?  That someone like you?  Because I’ve taken your sin and I’ve given you my righteousness.  Absolutely I can love someone like you because Jesus has purchased your redemption.  Walk in this freedom.  So, Lord, we come to you asking would you help us in a supernatural, mysterious, beautiful and real way to walk under the weight of the gospel.  That by your favor you’ve purchased our freedom.  So, Lord, we surrender to that freedom today, not to fight for it, but to walk in it…You’ve freely give it.  It’s in Jesus’ name that we say thank you.  We praise you for this season that isn’t about presents.  It’s about freedom.  We praise you for that, King of kings and Lord of lords.  Amen.

OH HOLY NIGHT: CHAINS SHALL HE BREAK Isaiah 61 & Luke 4:16-212023-06-27T12:45:27-06:00

OH HOLY NIGHT: His Law is Love – Luke 10:25-37

OH HOLY NIGHT:His Law is Love – Luke 10:25-37

I have a confession this morning.  I absolutely love Christmas carols!  Some crazy people start before Thanksgiving.  I have a normal affinity for Christmas carols and I start after Thanksgiving and every day I listen to them.  There are some songs that are a little bit silly, aren’t there?  Let’s just all agree together that some of the Christmas carols are a little bit silly.  For example, Jingle Bells:  Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…  I haven’t met anybody that just wants to jingle part of the way!  Then to say in a one-horse open sleigh.  Let’s all agree.  We’re on board.  Two horses is overboard!  There’s some other songs, too.  We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  The song starts off great.  You can imagine knocking on somebody’s door and wishing them a merry Christmas and then singing now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding…  As if every door you knock on is going to have meat pudding just sitting there ready to serve to carolers that come by. The next verse is we won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some….  So real quickly this turned from caroling into almost a hostage negotiation!  Like we’re not going anywhere until we get our figgy pudding! And it’s not just secular songs that have a little bit of strangeness to them.  The song Do You Hear What I Hear?  Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy. Do you hear what I hear?  No, I don’t!!!  I don’t hear that sheep speaking to me!  The fact that you do means we’ll find help for you!  You’ve been out in the fields WAY too long!  A child, a child shivering in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold….  How about a blanket?!  Who in their right mind sees a child shivering in the night and brings him a bar of gold?!  Yeah, he’s loaded but he has hypothermia!  There’s some of these songs we sing every year and they just become so rote they become part of the Christmas celebration.  They’re beautiful and they’re great.

Then there are some songs that just speak these little seeds of truth into the Christmas story.  The songs that I love the most and that I’m the most drawn to are the songs that just don’t retell the story, but they’re songs that invite you into the story.  That’s what O Holy Night does.  O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining. The world’s under this weightiness, this heaviness from the shackles of sin.  Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth.  We talked about that last week.  Christmas speaks worth to every soul in this room.  A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.  Because of the birth of Jesus, a new day is dawning.  A new freedom is possible.  Truly He taught us to love one another.  His law is love and His gospel is peace.    That’s where we’re going to hang out a little bit today.  His law is love and his gospel is peace.  So in 1847, when Placide Cappeau writes this poem, he invites you, not just to hear the Christmas story, but to step INTO the Christmas story. To sorta poke around a little bit and to allow the weightiness of what Jesus did in entering into humanity to sit on us afresh.

Here’s what he invites you to do:  he invites you to sing Scripture.  His law is love and his gospel, the good news, is peace, is shalom.  It’s this wholeness and this healing of the broken world that we live in. Listen to the way the Apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment as he writes to the church at Galatia: For you were called to freedom, brothers. {Isn’t that great news?}  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.. {We often think that’s what freedom is.  It’s a blank check, a clean slate, to do whatever we want.  A biblical freedom is NOT an invitation to do whatever you want; it’s an invitation to walk in the freedom to do so, to walk in the way of Jesus.}  …but through love serve one another.  {That’s what you’re freed in order to do.} For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13-14)    What a beautiful invitation and what a simple call.  I love that the way of Jesus isn’t all that complicated.  The Apostle Paul says that in all of the religious striving and all of things that you’ve been told and all of 613 different laws that you have, let me boil this down, not just to one law, but to one word: LOVE.  This is the way of Jesus.  His law is love.  Jesus says it himself in Matthew 22:37-40–“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments… {So Jesus says you want to take all of Torah and all of the Old Testament scriptures and hang them on one commandment and one word; it’s really simple, it’s not all that complicated.  It’s love your neighbor as yourself.}  ….depend all the Law and the Prophets.”   They all hang on that one thing.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  To take all of the Law and the Prophets and to just condense them down and to put them on that one thing.  But here’s the problem: I look around the world and I swipe through my news apps, right?  I think we need a little bit more love, don’t you?  You don’t have to look that far to see that the world is broken.  To see that there’s war going on in every corner of the globe.  To see that there’s hate crimes that are prolific.  To see that there’s abuse that happens.  To see that there’s depression that enslaves.  I don’t know about you, but the words of the great philosophers, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, still ring true: “All you need is love; Love is all you need.”  They’re just echoing the words of Jesus.  His law is love.  His way or his rule….that’s what that word law means, the way of Jesus, the rule of Jesus, the weightiness of Jesus is love and his gospel is peace.

Will you turn to Luke 10:25?  I want to show you that this wasn’t all that new of a concept.  Jesus isn’t breaking onto the scene with anything all that earth-shattering.  In fact, for many of us today, we go well, sure his law is love and his gospel is peace.  We’ve sung it a number of times and we know the Scriptures and so did this guy. And behold, a lawyer stood up {Don’t think trial attorney.  Think scribe.  Somebody who’s done his work studying the Hebrew scriptures.} .…stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   {Let’s all agree that it’s a fascinating question in and of itself.  What must I do to inherit?  Well, you must be born into the right family.  He’s closer than he thinks to the truth.}  He (Jesus) said to him, “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?”  {Jesus is going I have a question back for you.  Jesus often answers a question with another question.}   And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Here’s what he does.  He takes two prolific Old Testament scriptures.  One is called the Shema.  It was a section of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 that a Jewish person would read every single morning when they woke up, midday, and every single evening before they went to bed:  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.    It was the way they started every single synagogue, with this prayer.  So the lawyer says that’s what you should do and he adds onto that Leviticus 19:18–….but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: {God says definitively} I am the Lord. {As if to say this is a reflection of your good Father.}  Nailed it!  He sticks the dismount, as it were.

Here’s what Jesus says.  Look at this again with me.  You have answered correctly; do this and you will live. He says follow the law of love.  Live under the weightiness of love and you will live.  You’ll have eternal life.  We hear the word eternal life and we automatically think heaven.  For a first century Jewish mind, this would not have been the first thing in their mind.  They would have thought two things.  One, eternal life would be life that has a duration that lasts forever.  So think quantity, number of years.  So, yes, there’s an aspect of eternality, of the afterlife of heaven that was worked into this answer.  But it’s not only that.  There’s another side to that coin that was almost more important for a first century Jewish mind.  Not just quantity of life, but quality of life.  The kind of life that you’d want to last forever.  So Jesus says you want the type of life that you want to last forever?  You want that abundant, joy-filled life?  Live under the law of love.  Living under the law of love frees me, frees you to embrace the gift of life!  You know who would disagree with that?  Almost no one!  Let’s be honest.  If you go and read about world religions, most religions are going to say that love is a good thing.  The Buddhists will say it.  The Hindus will say it.  Muslims will say it.  Love is a good thing.  That we should love the people around us.  Jesus isn’t saying something all that unique.  But he asks the follow-up question because the invitation, or the law to love, is not all that unique, but how far Jesus takes it is the unique thing.  So listen to the follow-up question:  But he, desiring to justify himself, {So this lawyer wants to know I’m okay.  This is for free: If we don’t hear the overtures of love from the Father, we will have to find ways to prove ourselves lovable.  So in a very real way, loved people love people.  But people who doubt that they’re loved, they respond very similarly as this lawyer.} …..(he) said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  ‘Cause I want to put people in a box, because certainly, Jesus, you couldn’t be calling us to love everybody. ‘Cause that would just be insane!  Here’s what he’s saying.  I put people in boxes and Jesus, here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to tell me which people in which boxes I have to love.  How weighty is this law of love and how far does the law of love go?

We often wrestle with the same thing, don’t we?  We put people in boxes.  (Pastor Ryan has a bunch of “labeled” boxes behind him and during his sermon he pyramids them on the stage.)  One of the boxes we have is (Ethnicity)…..so God, do we have to love people that don’t look exactly like us?  That aren’t from the same place? That don’t talk like us?  That don’t eat like us?  Let’s sorta make our camp and put a circle around it and we can live within the law of love with the people in our camp.  This is the story of humanity from the get-go.  We start dividing based on what we look like, talk like, what our preferences are.  People that don’t fit the box…..maybe, I don’t have to love them!  OR maybe it’s people that don’t have as much as I have (dollar sign box).  So they’re in a socio-economic bracket that’s different from me.  They’re a little bit needy or they’re really wealthy and they have more than they need, and I don’t want anything to do with them.  We have our little camp that says really?!  Who I want to love?  They’re people who look like me.  Here’s another one (religion box).  I will love people who believe the same things I believe.  But when people don’t believe like I believe, well, then this law of love just doesn’t apply.  We often make boxes, don’t we?  We put people in boxes.  Some of it is the way they’re different than us, but other times it’s people that are threatening to us. (Threatening box)  People are scary to me.  Jesus, you couldn’t possibly mean that I’m suppose to love those people, right?  They don’t look the same way.  They don’t talk the same way.  All of that makes them a danger and I’m sure, Jesus, that you want us to protect ourselves.  It would just be silly, wouldn’t it, if we started to love people that are our enemies.  That would be crazy, wouldn’t it?  People that are threatening to me….I have a hard time loving them.  Oh, man.  (Picks up “Hurt” box)  People that have hurt me.  I’ve got a box for those people and the law of love doesn’t apply to those type of people.  ‘Cause they’ll stab you in the back and they’ll take advantage of you.  Certainly Jesus wants us to be wiser than that, right?  To not offer our hearts. To not be willing to invite people into our life and into our story who might hurt us.  He certainly wouldn’t want us to do that, would he?  There’s one other type of person I’ve identified that’s hard for me to love.  You might have somebody like this in your life, too.  (Shows “EGR” box)  Extra Grace Required.  You know them.  They’re coming over for dinner Christmas Eve!  If you don’t know them…..you ARE them!!!  That’s for free!  They’re the type of people where you look at and go you’re not worthy of my love.  You’re not worthy of my love and I’ve got a laundry list of reasons why.  You’re disrespectful.  You’re annoying.  You’re personality….they’re just the people that get under your skin.  We often go alright God, I’m willing to love everybody that looks and believes and talks and thinks like me, so let the law of love be weighty on me.   But if they fit into one of these boxes, I’m sure you want us to take love that far, because that would be crazy.  Right?  We’d end up loving people that were our enemies.  We’d end up being for people that were against us.  We’d offer a cold cup of water to people who really didn’t deserve it.  You see, the invitation to live under the law of love is not unique.  It’s in every single religion.  What’s unique about the way of Jesus is not that we’re called to live under the beautiful, weighty law of love.  What’s unique about the way of Jesus is how far this law extends.  That’s the difference.  Jesus, in wanting to draw this out, is going to tell a story.  He’s going to tell a story that starts to break down this age-old tendency that we have to read Scripture only through our lens.  And to be unable to see outside of our boxes.  That was an issue for the people back then in the first century hearing the words and teachings of Jesus and wrestling with them for the first time, and it’s an issue for us today.  But if we’re going to live under the weighty law of love and embrace the gift of life that Jesus has offered to us, and He’s offering it to you right now, we have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus doesn’t give us this option.  It’s not an option for those who follow Jesus.  You CANNOT be a follower of Christ and say I’ve got my boxes and some people don’t fit into them and so I’m not going to love them.

Here’s the way the story goes.  If you’ve been around church at all, you’ve probably heard the story.  My prayer is that you would hear it with fresh eyes.  Because the punchline of the good samaritan is not be nice.  It’s not. Listen and we’ll get there.  Jesus wants to invite us under this weighty, beautiful law of love.  Verse 30: Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  {Most scholars would say the road was so small that there really weren’t two sides to this road.  To walk by on the other side, you would simply have to avert your eyes. A priest, someone who works in the temple, somebody who’s commissioned by the church just passes by.  He sees him, but he just passes by.}  So likewise a Levite {another church worker} when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. {There’s a number of resources that I read this week that suggest that one of the things that both the priest and the Levite are doing are preserving their ceremonial cleanliness so that they could still serve in the temple.  If they were to touch either a dead body or a partially dead body or a bloodied body, they would have been rendered on the bench, unable to serve in the temple.  Here’s the thing.  Their religion causes them to create their boxes.  Man, I’m so glad we’re beyond that.  Their religion causes them to say well, I would step in there, but I couldn’t get dirty like that.  We have to preserve our holiness instead of trusting in the holiness of Christ given to us.  So they just pass by on the other side of the road.}  But a Samaritan… {Here’s where the story gets really awkward.  Jesus is going to make the “hated” a “hero.”  He’s going to make the most despicable person in the Jewish mind, at the time, the person who comes in on a white horse and saves the day.  Samaritans were hated for three reasons.  One, ethnicity. They were partially Jewish but not wholly Jewish.  They were sorta a mix between a Syrian and a Jew.  The second reason they were hated was because they didn’t worship rightly.  They didn’t have the right religion.  They worshipped on Mount Gerazim instead of in Jerusalem.  Finally, their theology was a little bit off, too.  They believed in Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but beyond that they didn’t believe, as the divinely inspired word of God, any of the writings or the prophets.  None of that.  They’re in a box.  Here’s what Jesus does in this remarkably beautiful way.  He says the person in the box is actually living in the way of love.  It’s a crazy turn of events.} But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 

Here’s where Jesus is going to start to invite us into you want to live under the law of love.  You want to embrace the gift of life and live under the law of love, here’s what it requires of you.  It requires that when you see pain it invites you, it propels you, to offer compassion.  See, the law of love demands that pain observed leads to compassion extended.  The other people saw the person along the side of the road.  The Levite did, the priest did, but they just walked by.  As if to say I’m not willing to step into that story.  This word compassion in the Greek literally means the turning of your bowels.  How’s that?!   The Samaritan is walking along the road and he sees and something inside of him just turns.  I’m convinced that you have something inside of you that turns when you see the pain of the world.  Frederick Buechner beautifully said: “Your calling is where the world’s pain and your passion intersect.”  Where is that?  This is the beautiful, beautiful way of Jesus.  Listen to the way that Charles Spurgeon puts it: “If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence: He was moved with compassion.”  You see it in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus saw that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  He saw them and he had compassion on them.  Is this not the Christmas story?  That Jesus sees the world in sin and error pining and He just doesn’t look from a distance, but He steps in.  Our pain and our need causes Him to step into his story.  The incarnation is God’s declaration of divine affection over you.  It’s him stepping into the story because he’s for you and because he loves you.  Can all of us say if we’re God that humanity would fit into one of these boxes?  Maybe this one (EGR) especially?  But when I really own it, I have to reciprocate it.

I ran across this story this week from World Venture’s website.  It was a blog they posted about a couple serving with World Venture in Lebanon.  Just listen to their perspective and I wonder how God might invite us to embrace the same.  It says:  Nicolette and her husband never set out to work with refugees when they first moved to Lebanon seven years ago. But in a place where one out of every four residents is a refugee, they soon found themselves helping in that very area.  They said, “The Church has an incredible opportunity.  We have people literally landing on our doorstep who have never heard the name of Jesus, asking us to help them.  And we’ve seen the Church at its very best—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least of these, all in the name of Jesus.  The Church is growing.  Many are coming to faith, being baptized, some even taking the gospel back to the war zones of Syria and Iraq.”  Many Muslims who are taught that Christianity and the West are evil are now disillusioned with Islam due to the recent violence they have experienced, and in many cases it’s been Christians who have helped them.  “It’s a terrible situation for these people to have to leave their homes and their loved ones.  And to lose many along the way.  Nobody would want that,”  they say.  “But at the same time they are having the chance to hear the gospel….and we don’t want to miss that window because that’s why we’re here.  God is allowing borders to be moved and people to be moved so they can hear the gospel.”  Wow!  What a perspective.  That pain, that people’s brokenness and neediness, wouldn’t cause us to put them into a box, but would cause us to offer and extend the same love that we’ve been extended.

The story goes on. Verse 34: He (the good Samaritan) went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  Here’s what I noticed in me: I would put him on your animal.  I love to outsource love.  It’s so much easier.  Circle “his animal” in your Bible because here’s what Jesus is saying:  If we’re going to live under the weight of divine love and receive the gift of life that He offers from it, we need to see opportunities presented overshadowing inconveniences that exist.  Let’s be honest, friends, especially during this season, we’ve got a lot of things on our calendar, don’t we?  And margin isn’t something we specialize in, is it?  And the less margin we have, the fewer opportunities we have to really love.  Because it costs us something.  We go listen, my iPhone is full.  I imagine this guy’s on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He’s not planning on stopping in between.  My guess is he has something on his mind and something on his schedule.  And he’s willing to ditch it, because that’s what love demands.

We had somebody call the office just this past Monday and asked to meet with somebody.  Their life was just in shambles and they needed somebody to talk to.  Our office manager, Eva, told this person that she could put them on Dan’s calendar, but it might be a few days because there was a lot going on around here.  The person said that’s fine, just get me on his calendar as soon as you can and hung up.  On Tuesday, she called back and said, “I can’t wait. I’ve gotta see somebody immediately.”  Eva told her if she’s able to get in to the office before 4 o’clock today, I’ll have a conversation with you.  This woman, from Mongolia, started to share, in her broken English, with Eva the curse that was over her household.  She shared the way that it had caused sickness, the way it had caused mental illness, the way that it was absolutely ravaging their life.  That Tuesday afternoon, Eva had the chance to introduce this woman to the great curse-breaker, whose name is Jesus.  Right there, that day, she put her faith in Jesus Christ and Eva said you could see this weight that just lifted off of her.  Praise the Lord!  If Eva had waited until it was convenient to meet with this person, she still would not have been met.  I wonder what opportunities God is presenting to you that are cloaked in man, they are a disruption to my day.

Finally, here’s what happens.  Verse 35: And the next day he took out two denarii {two days wages} and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Here’s a blank check.  Whatever he needs is on my account.  Here’s what we see.  If we’re going to live under this weightiness of love, we have to recognize that care must be provided even when a cost is incurred.  I would argue it’s impossible to truly love somebody if it costs you nothing.  Here’s what I typically do.  I typically make up a story in my mind.  If I were in the story, I’d probably be like the Levite or the priest and the story in my mind would be man, I’m sure they probably stole something and they got beat up along the side of the road.  They deserved it.  The stories in my mind that I make up about people are often to allow me to NOT love them and blame them.  Anybody relate to that?  Here’s what the good Samaritan does: he enters in, care is provided and a cost is incurred.  Listen to the way William Barclay, the great commentator, puts it: “If love is true, there must always be a certain extravagance in it.  It does not nicely calculate the less or more.  It is not concerned to see how little it can decently give.  If it gave all it had, the gift would still be too little.  There is a recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost.”  You know who I’m really willing to love though?  People who I feel have a good return on my love investment. There’s a great ROI on that person, I’m going to really jump in and I’m going to love them.  I don’t think the priest and the Levite saw a great ROI on the man along the side of the road, so they walked right by.  Who’s God bringing into your life this Christmas season?  And how might He invite us to partner with Him as He loves the world.  To say, we’re going to live under this beautiful, weighty law of love.

Verse 36.  Jesus sits back in his chair, touches his face, looks at the brilliant lawyer and says: Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?  {I’m sure the man was like this has to be a rhetorical question.  Scriptures say the man responded and said…}  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”   It’s interesting in verse 37, he’ll refer to the good Samaritan as “the one who showed mercy.”  It’s as though he can’t even say the word “Samaritan” as the hero.  It would be like a Palestinian saying that the Jew was the hero of the story.  It would be like a Republican saying that the Democrat just nailed it and they were right on.  It would be like a Bronco fan saying Tom Brady…what a great quarterback!  Jesus is just totally flipping the story upside down.  It’s not what you think.  Because these people were really tied up with this ethnicity box.  It’s really interesting, it’s really interesting…..we know the ethnicities of a lot of people in the story.  The priest is a Jew.  The Levite is Jewish.  The Samaritan is a Samaritan.  The man along the side of the road……what’s he?  Well, it says a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  So Jesus doesn’t tell us what that man is like, doesn’t tell us anything about his story, doesn’t tell us how he ended up along the side of the road.  You know why that’s important??  Because it’s not important!!!  That’s why it’s so important!  That’s the crux of the story.  Jesus is saying all you wanted to define what the law of love looks like and here’s what you want to do.  You want to put people in their boxes so you can decide if you want to love them or not.  Here’s what He says…He says I have ONE box. And the law of love applies to every single person in that box.  But I only have one.  Here’s my one.  (Ryan holds up “HUMAN” box.) Are they alive?  Do they carry the image of God?  That’s the point of the story.  The King of kings and the Lord of lords doesn’t put people in boxes and can we just affirm today praise God that He doesn’t!  That He has one box and that box is humanity and we are called as followers of the way of Jesus to not decide who we’re going to love, but to say we’re going to love all because we’ve been loved by the King of kings who owns it all!  That’s our calling as followers of the way of Jesus.  We don’t get to decide.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve given up the option to decide who you love.  The man who comes to Jesus wants to know who is my neighbor.  Jesus answers him with a bigger question.  To whom must I become a neighbor to?  And the answer is: Anyone who you see in need!

If you came this morning hoping to hear the Christmas story, I’m really sorry.  But I’d argue you heard it.  You just have to zoom out a little bit and maybe see yourself not as the victorious good Samaritan.  Maybe you don’t even see yourself as the failure of the priest or the Levite along the way.  Maybe you see yourself as the person beat up along the side of the road.  And maybe Jesus is the one who enters in.  Who clothes himself in humanity and says I see you.  (Look up at me for a moment.)  Whatever situation you find yourself in today, He sees you. He has compassion on you.  We were dead and broken, beat up along the side of the road, sin had rendered us unable to get to God and Jesus is the good Samaritan that enters into the story.  That picks you up.  That carries you.  That bandages you and doesn’t just pay a cost, but gives His life that you might be redeemed. That’s the Christmas story, friends. He enters in.  He sees.  His bowels are moved.  His compassion….and He enters in and He’s the redeemer and He’s the savior.  The Apostle John will say: Beloved, let us love one another…   {So know that you’re loved.  It starts there, friends, because loved people love people. But people who feel like they need to earn their love or defend their love, they need to justify themselves. You know what happens to those people?  They make boxes!  But the people that know they’re loved don’t need to justify themselves, they can just receive and live under this beautiful weight of the incarnation that says you’re objects of divine affection.}  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves {not in boxes, but in ridiculous, lavish, reckless ways like your Father loves..} …has been born of God and knows God. (I John 4:7)  

I love the way that Jesus ends this section of Scripture (Luke 10:37)–He (the lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”   When you live under the weight of the law of love, that beautiful weight of the law of love, you walk into the gift of life.  That’s what Jesus is inviting you to.  Not to make boxes and…hey, hey, not to be kind…anybody can do that.  And every religion agrees you should love the people around you, with a few exceptions.  But Jesus’ people…there’s no footnote.  There’s one box and we all fit into it and ever person you will ever lay eyes on, they fit into it, too.  The question is not who is my neighbor.  The question is who must become my neighbor and Jesus, who have you brought into my path that I can love.  We are adamant about keeping Christ in Christmas and I’m all for that.  But I think, more than just keeping Christ in Christmas, followers of Jesus need to be committed to reflecting Christ this Christmas. To love in the same way that we’ve been loved.  You were the broken, the beat up, the left along the side of the road and He does come and He carries you.  He pays the cost with His own life to redeem you and heal you and shower you.  His law is love and His gospel is peace.  Friends, I pray that you would not only receive it this year and maybe before you open any boxes or wrap any boxes, maybe you deconstruct some and live in the way that He invites you to live and take up the life that He purchased with His life.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, just between you and God….for me it’s not IF I have boxes of people in my life, it’s which ones do I have.  And which am I holding on to.  I’d just invite you right now, in the quietness of your heart, to bring those before the Lord.  To say Father, I’ve made different boxes.  I’ve chosen who I love and how I love and it hasn’t reflected you.  So we admit today, Jesus, because we follow you, we’ve given up the right to say we’re going to choose who we love.  The Christmas story declares that when we could have easily been put in a box, you shattered every single category and stepped into humanity.  Your incarnation declares divine affection over us.  We say thank you, thank you, thank you.  We love you.  And we pray that as we live under this weight of the law of love, that we claim our name as “beloved.”  That we would in turn love the people around us.   And where we struggle to love, would you remind us that we’re deeply loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, because we really believe that loved people love people.  Help us reflect you during this Christmas season.  Jesus, it’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said….Amen!

OH HOLY NIGHT: His Law is Love – Luke 10:25-372023-06-27T12:45:09-06:00

Oh Holy Night: The Soul Felt Its Worth Matthew 6:25-34


The year was 1847.  A priest in a small town in France went to his friend whose name was Placide Cappeau.  He asked him to write a song for Christmas Eve mass.  So, in 1847, in a horse-drawn carriage on his way to Paris, Placide Cappeau composed the poem that we now know as O Holy Night.  He had the words, but didn’t have a melody, so he approached his friend who was a composer.  He happened to be a Jewish man.  He asked him to write a melody for that great hymn we now sing every Christmas.  So in 1847 at Christmas Eve mass, this little church in France, for the very first time, sings this great, epic hymn O Holy Night.  Shortly thereafter, Placide Cappeau decided he was going to leave the church and joined the socialist movement in France.  The church had this wrestling, this tension, that they had to enter into.  What are we going to do with this great hymn that this now apostate man has written?  So they outlawed the hymn.  They refused to let it be sung in their liturgy.  For a decade the hymn was kept alive by the French common folk, but it wasn’t sung in liturgy until 1857 when a man named John Sullivan Dwight got ahold of this song.  John Sullivan Dwight was an abolitionist in America, in the United States, in the North.  He heard the line in that hymn: “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.”  He grabbed onto this hymn and the church, especially in the northern part of the United States, started to sing this hymn.  Their declaration was if Jesus has come and He’s freed humanity, who are we to keep people enslaved.  The hymn was used to slowly, but surely, break down the chains that we’d grown so fond of as a country.

Fast forward a few more years to 1906.  There’s a man named Reginald Fessenden, a former colleague of Thomas Edison.  He was in his office one evening experimenting with a microphone and a telegraph.  He didn’t know if anything was coming through, but he decided to give it a try.  What he did was begin reading his Bible from Luke chapter 2.  He started to read: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…..  It goes on to talk about the birth of Christ and glory to God and peace on earth to whom His favor rests.  For the very first time, voices were heard over the radio waves.  Can you imagine, ships in the open sea that were used to hearing only dot-dot-dash-dash-dash now hear in those days a decree went out…..  Reginald Fessenden decided that was good, but he pulled back from reading Luke 2 and he picked up his violin and he started to play.  Any guesses what the first song EVER played over the radio waves was??  Jingle Bells, of course!  No, O Holy Night.   Can you imagine, on your ship in the open sea, hearing for the very first time, not just voice, but music coming through?!  It was this song, at that point now famous song, that declared the worth of humanity.  That declared the value of people that said chains shall He break.  Listen to the words of this beautiful Christmas hymn: O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.  Long lay the world in sin and error pining {Just trapped. That’s what he wants to communicate.} Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.  A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn {This is the dawning of a new day.  Not just a baby being born, but a redefinition, a re-invitation of what it means to be human.} Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices…..Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, With all our hearts we praise His holy name.  

What a rich hymn!  We were singing this hymn last Christmastime and I thought to myself, “That would make a great Christmas series!”  Today I want to wrestle with, dwell on, and think through this reality that when He appeared the soul felt its worth.  Next week, we’ll wrestle with the idea that His law is love.  The following week we’ll work through what it means that in His name all oppression shall cease.  And finally on Christmas Eve, we’re just going to soak in the thrill of hope that the Savior brings.  So today, the soul felt its worth.  My guess is you had some sort of response to that line in that song.  Your response was either Thank you, Lord or it was well, some other people have worth, but it’s certainly not me?  Anybody there?  I vacillate between thank you, Lord and I wish that were true for me.  The more people I talk to, the more I’m convinced that as humanity we struggle with this idea of worth.  I’ve sorta boiled it down to….we have two roadblocks to believing the words of this song and the truth of the gospel that we indeed are people that have worth. The first is what I’ll call a faulty narrative.  You do know that you have a tape that plays in your mind.  You have ideas.  You have thoughts.  You have things that people have said to you that just play.  It could be something that your mom or dad said to you from a very early age.  “You’re never going to amount to anything.”  “You’re ugly.”  “You’re not smart.”  We have these narratives we carry with us.  And so when we hear something like and the soul felt its worth and we go I’m wrestling with that because that’s not what I’ve been told and that’s not what I’ve been telling myself.  A lot of us when we hear that go I just don’t know if that can be true for me.  That might be where you’re at this morning.  A faulty narrative, a tape that plays in our mind, something we’ve been told and we believe on a heart level.  On a head level we know it’s not true, but on a heart level it is the background music to everything we do.  So we find ourselves trying to achieve in order to say here’s my resume.  Can you validate me?  Am I okay?

The first roadblock is a faulty narrative.  The second is false theology.  Our view of God sometimes reflects back on us to where we say people don’t have worth.  Here’s how we get there.  There’s a difference between having worth and being worthy.  So the Scriptures are really clear: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)  Right?  In Romans 3:10 it says:  None is righteous, no, not one.  So you are unworthy.  Worthy simply means that you’re deserving.  So you’re undeserving.  But worthy is not the same as worth, because as clear as the Scriptures tell us that we are unworthy, that we’ve fallen short of the glory of God, that we are not undeserving, the other side of the coin is that God declares clearly and unequivocally that humanity has worth.  Deep and abiding worth.  What happens theologically is we tie those two things together.  We equate being worthy with having worth.  We say we’re not worthy so we don’t have worth and I just want to tell you…..it’s a lie from the pit of hell!!  The Enemy would love, love, love to keep you confined to this way of thinking and being and to the tape that plays in your mind I have no worth because I am not worthy.  But luckily you’re here this morning.  The message of the gospel is the message that although you are unworthy, He (God) deems you as having unending value and worth and He proves it in the season of Christmas that we celebrate and His life given to us, entering into our story.  Living and dying and taking our sin upon Himself and conquering death through the resurrection.  You cannot read the Christmas story and not come to the conclusion that in the eyes of God humanity has deep, deep worth and value.  Here’s the thing.  My guess is you’re going to give a lot of presents this year and you’re going to get some.  My hope is that this is the first one you get all year.  My hope is that you’re able to receive it!  Instead of going I’m unworthy….let’s just admit it, we’re unworthy!…then go alright God, in light of that, tell me who I am in Your eyes.  You can only give out what you have in.  So a lot of us are trying to love the people around us, but we don’t believe that we are loved.

When Placide Cappeau writes: …and the soul felt its worth, he’s inviting us into a whole new Narnia-esque world of being, where we go oh, so that’s what it feels like to know that the one who sits on the throne says you have value in my eyes.  Listen to the way the Apostle John invites us into his version of the Christmas story.  His version is from heaven’s perspective.  Listen to the way that he talks about the coming of the King, of the Christ, of the Messiah.  He says:  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  {He said not everybody received Him.  Not everybody welcomed Him with opened arms.  That’s an understatement. But he goes on to write….} But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  {That’s who you are.  So when we sing a song I’m no longer a slave to fear, I’m a child of God, we’re singing Scripture to each other.  We’re reminding ourselves of the story that we live in that He deems us as being valuable enough to give His life for and make us not orphans anymore but children.  That’s huge!} …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, 12-14)  In the book of Ephesians, Paul is going to pick up this idea and say He did it because of His good pleasure.  He wanted to!  I love that!  The Christmas story reflects the heart and the desire of God to welcome you home.  Man, this is not just a story about a baby being born.  This is a story about God making a declaration.  That He loves you.  That you have value and worth.  John goes on to say: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us {Literally, in the Greek, it’s this idea of Jesus came and he sorta just set up shop in your neighborhood.  He’s present in your life.} …and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So, light.  Adopted as children?  And a God who says I’m not just leaving you on your own, I’m coming to dwell in your midst?  Now you tell me humanity doesn’t have value to God.  Did He need to do this?  No! Absolutely not! He did this out of His good pleasure, out of His desire, out of His heart, it overflowed to humanity.  So what if this Christmas we allowed ourselves to hear the voice of God singing over us and speaking worth into our souls. What if this Christmas, we heard the Christmas story not so much about a baby born in a manger in this small town 2000+ years ago.  But what if we heard the story of God speaking worth over humanity, declaring it as clearly as He could, by entering into our world.  What if this season, first and foremost wasn’t about giving gifts, but about, maybe for the first time, allowing ourselves to receive one, without thinking there’s a footnote in our Bible that goes except for you.  Do you ever read the Bible that way?  This is true for everybody else except me.  He goes no, no, no, no, no.  The soul…your soul…allow it to feel worth.  It’s in Jesus’ birth that He declares humanity’s worth.  It’s in His life and His teaching that He tells us how to walk in this, because you and I both know we can hear it, but not really implement it on a heart level.  Right?  So Jesus wants to teach us how to walk in our worth.  He wants to teach us how walking in our worth changes the entire world that we see and the life that we live.

Turn to Matthew 6:25-27 as we jump into what I would consider Jesus’ most complete teaching on the value He places on humanity and the implications of that value.  Listen to what he says:  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?    Do not be anxious.  Here’s the thing, Jesus.  Are we suppose to make a task list?  Box number one — Don’t be anxious.  Check.  Has that worked for anyone? EVER?  Jesus makes this brazen commandment, don’t be anxious and we go that’s a great idea.  I really wish we could walk in that.  I really wish it could be true.  But the more I think about not being anxious, the more I find things to be anxious about.  Who’s with me?  The more I think about the things in my life that I could worry about, the longer the list seems to get.  Worry, just like humility, is not something you can combat head on, because the more you think about worry and trying not to be anxious, the more you’re thinking about the things you’re anxious about.  Like a merry-go-round, it keeps going around, doesn’t it?  Like a hamster wheel.  Some of you are on it.  The word anxious literally means “to divide.”  It’s this division of thought.  So you’re sorta thinking about two things at once.  I know some of you, in the Christmas season especially, have flipped over (the bulletin) and are saying Paulson, you’re not even at point one yet.  You took the outline, flipped it over and are making your to-do list.  You’re thinking you have so much to do.  I have to go buy that…I’ve gotta do laundry…I’ve gotta go clean this…..   Right?  You’re making your list and here’s what happens:  We’re not only not here, but we’re also not really there.  It’s this hamster wheel effect of being divided or being drawn and quartered, where when you’re anxious you’re not actually present anywhere.  Have you ever noticed that?  Jesus says don’t do that!  We look back at Jesus and go that’s really nice!  That’s a great idea, thank you very much!  Could you maybe unpack for us a little bit how we walk in that?  Just in case you think that this is a problem for people 2000 years ago….I don’t think you do, but….   Here’s a list of the things people are anxious about.  This is a number of lists compiled and I’m going to give you my top six.  1) Money.  God, are you going to provide?  Are we going to have enough?  My goal isn’t to make you anxious, but just to say let’s enter into this.  2) Relationships or family.  Are we going to be able to mend that fence?  Is that actually going to work out when THEY come this year?  What’s it going to be like?  3) Am I going to find purpose? How do I contribute to the world that we live in in a way that promotes the common good?  I want my life to matter.  4) Aging.  You look in the mirror and you don’t look quite like you used to.  Your body’s breaking down a little bit.  There’s no rewind button on that.  5) Physical health is diminishing.  Here’s one I see a lot and feel a lot lately: 6) Safety.    Seems like the world’s getting more dangerous.  What does it look like to protect our family, etc., etc.

The more we try not to worry, the more we find things to worry about.  Listen to the way Jesus instructs us: Look {Quick timeout.  Circle that it in your Bible.  Star it.  Highlight it.  His active “this is how we walk in a freedom from anxiety” is look around!  God’s proving His faithfulness all over creation.  His point is do you think you’re outside of God’s provisional, gracious hand.  LOOK.}  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. {See, when I’m anxious, I’m really just unaware.  When I walk in worry, I’m really just not seeing the world around me and everything that has to go right in order for the world to continue to move.  I’m losing sight of the fact that every breath is a miracle.  So Jesus says just zoom out a little bit.  Get outside of yourself a little bit and look.  And then he’s going to make this point….} Are you not of more value than they?  You do know, don’t you, that you matter more to God than anything else in all of His creation.  So here’s what Jesus wants to do.  He wants to connect this condition of our soul and our mind and our heart of anxiety, of being divided and being anxious and being worried with here’s what’s really underneath that.  Underneath every single one of your anxieties, underneath every single one of your concerns, and underneath every single one of your worries is one central thing.  You don’t believe, and I often lose sight of the fact, that we are deeply loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  And the fact that we don’t believe it causes us to steer our lives in so many different ways.  But when I do believe it, when I do receive my worth from God, I am able to release my worry to God.  But I can only release my worry to Him, if I first receive my worth from Him.  All of us have a way we find value in our life.  For some of us it’s the number in our bank accounts.  For some of us it’s the family that we have and the kids that we have.  Our kids are 4.0 students and they’re the best athlete on their team.  All of us think that and some of us have kids on the same team, so somebody’s delusional.  Or it’s the role that we have at work.  We all have ways that we find worth.  It’s a human condition.  We need it.  You have a way that you’re finding worth in your life.  The question is whether what you find worth in can support your worry.  Because everybody’s worry needs to be supported by something and our lives get out of balance when the things that we find our worth in cannot hold up under the weight of our worry.  There’s only one thing that can:  It’s hearing the voice of God sing over you, speak over you…You are Mine and I love you and you’re unworthy but you’re of great worth and the Christmas story declares it.

Listen to the way Jesus goes on in Matthew 10:29-31—Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  {So he’s going God is so intimately involved in your life that He knows how many hairs are on your head.  For some of us, He needs to stay really up-to-date!  So believe that God cares and then fear not.  When you believe He cares, you can release your anxiety.  You can release your care if you’re convinced He cares.  But until you come to that place, you can read worry here, worry not, fear not.}  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Friend, I pray that your soul feels its worth today, because I think it’s the greatest gift God’s going to give you all season.  If you believe that, it’s the gift that you’re going to, in turn, give to the people around you.  If you don’t believe you’re of great worth, you won’t give people great worth.  I love the way Tim Keller, the great pastor and theologian, puts it: “The pressure is off for all of us to make a name for ourselves.  Jesus has made a name for us already.”  That’s good, is it not?  Some of you are going this is just positive thinking.  To you I say, this is accurate thinking and if accurate thinking happens to be positive, count me in.  The “I’m unworthy train”….I don’t know if that’s served anybody well.  So hear from the voice of God today.  The Christmas story is about Him making you children of the Most High God.  It’s not positive thinking, it’s accurate thinking.

Listen to the way Jesus goes on in this teaching about how to live a life that’s free from worry and the benefits that come along with that.   And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?   Here’s my translation of what Jesus said:  Don’t be anxious.  Look around.  Know that you’re valuable to God. And let’s just talk about anxiety…..how’s that working out for you?  That’s what he’s saying.  I said it last week, I’ll say it again, I never met anybody that said, “I’m so glad I’m carrying this anxiety.  “Cause it’s really helping me!  I really feel like it’s fruitful in my life.  Thank you very much.”  And Jesus goes why are you worrying about things that you can do nothing about.  It’s not going to lengthen your life.  Ironically….and Jesus knows this…he’s saying it sort of tongue-in-cheek….we know that anxiety cannot lengthen your life, but we also know it can shorten it.  All these studies that tie heart conditions to anxiety, that tie bad health to anxiety, that tie lack of sleep to anxiety, so when Jesus is inviting us to release our worry, He’s inviting us to a better way of living and none of us would argue that.  Here’s what happens when we’re divided:  When my mind is on my to-do list and here…when my mind is questioning God, are you going to come through for us in the future?  Am I going to have enough money to pay that bill when that bill comes due in two weeks?  It robs us of the ability to be present, does it not?  I love the way that Corrie Ten Boom puts it: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows; it empties today of its strength.”  It’s true.  The divided mind is a mind that’s present nowhere, but when you know your worth from God and you release your worry to God, you’re able to live in the present. It’s this beautiful gift.  I think God’s inviting us to not only release, but then to give to the people around us.

If you’ve gone through a marriage ceremony, you’ve seen this lived out.  You’ve seen that it’s possible to be somewhere and not be there.  Because about a year after you’re married, maybe less, you’ll look back on the day and go I don’t remember anything.  Am I the only one?  We have video documentation so we know it happened, right?  But I remember very few things about that day.  Why?  Because there’s a ton of other things on your mind like: Is the caterer going to show up?  Is the food going to happen?  Are the ushers actually going to be in place?  Is the music guy going to start the music?  Is the pastor going to screw this up? Maybe.  But when your mind is divided amongst a ton of different places, it’s not really anywhere, is it?  So Jesus says you’re not going to add to your life by worrying, so why not release your worry and be present in your life.  Some of you are really worried about the Christmas season.  You’re traveling or have people coming to visit you and you’re already playing in your mind how the conversation’s going to go.  May I propose to you that the worry you’re carrying might actually cause you to miss the actual conversation.  And that it might not be as bad as you think.  When we carry our worry we’re unable to be present, because if we’re in more than one place we’re really nowhere.

Dallas Willard, the great theologian, pastor, philosopher, was asked one time, what is the one word you would use to describe Jesus.  His response was a little bit shocking to me.  He said: Unhurried.  That he was just simply present in the world that He lived in and the people that He was with.  So he said things like:  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled…(John 14:27)    As if to say there’s going to be things to be troubled about, but how’s that going to actually lead to benefit you if you carry those.  Receive my peace, he says, and live in my way.  It’s interesting if you go to the end of this passage in Matthew 6, verse 34.  Listen to the way that Jesus ends this:  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.    Some translations say Do not worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.  Jesus is giving a little bit of a pep talk, but he needs a little coaching.  Because here’s what he says: Don’t worry about tomorrow.  You’re not there yet and it’s going to be terrible when you get there!!   That was a little tongue in cheek, but here’s what He’s saying.  Tomorrow’s going to have some trouble, evil if you will, but what are you going to do today that’s actually going to change your tomorrow.  Nothing.  Your worrying about tomorrow isn’t going to do anything. Except rob you of today.  Here’s the thing:  God gives you enough grace and enough provision to walk through the pain and the problems of today.  What we want from God is give me enough provision to walk through the pain and the problems of tomorrow, but give it to me now, because I’m uncertain if You’re going to be consistently good tomorrow.  He goes no, no, no, no, no, I’m not giving you tomorrow’s manna today.  You’re going to trust me for that and I’m going to deliver and I’ve been good on my word.  I’ll be good tomorrow, but I’m not giving you tomorrow’s manna today.  I’ll give you that provision when you get there.  Worry says I’ve got to do it all NOW.  Worth says I believe that God will deliver in His time because He’s good; so I don’t need to control all the people and all the circumstances in my live.

He goes on to say: And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.   So here’s this conclusion: You can worry and try to do it on your own OR you can step back and recognize that your Father knows every single one of your needs today, right now, and He graciously provides.  Let’s just let that sit on us for a second.  Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Not one need that you have is He unaware of, friend.  Nothing.  The question isn’t whether or not He’ll provide, the question is whether or not we’ll receive.  And when I worry, I’m saying I’ve got to do this on my own and my hands are closed to His gracious and good provision, one.  But my hands are also closed to seeing the people around me.  If I’m so obsessed with What am I going to eat? and What am I going to wear? and What am I going to drink?…..  Notice Jesus doesn’t say you’re worried about IF you’ll eat.  He says WHAT.  And I say amen.  I’m always worried WHAT I’m going to eat.  I know I’m going to eat, but WHAT am I going to eat.  There’s a difference.  But He goes when you’re so worried about you….What will I eat?  What will I drink?  What will I wear?…..You know who the furthest person from my mind is if I’m worried about what I’ll eat, what I’ll wear, what I’ll drink?  YOU!  You the furthest person from my mind if I’m obsessed with me.  Here’s what Jesus wants to do in this beautiful, masterful way:  He wants to say will you release your worry.  Will you release your worry and actually be willing and able, not only to be present with people, but to love people?  To be FOR people.  I can be worried or I can be loving.  I can’t be both.  Worry makes me obsessed with me.   If I’m obsessed with me, I can’t see you.  It’s only when you know and I know that we’re loved that we can actually be loving to the people around us.  Maybe the best gift you’re going to give this year is the fact that you might receive worth and let go of your worry.   The gospel writers and the authors of the epistles wanted to just press this into people’s souls, because they knew this is a slippery truth.  Paul writes and says that he prays that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, that you might start to see differently and that you may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ… {He goes that’s my prayer, church!  That your eyes might be open to know that you are deeply loved and He will not let you go.}  ...the of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph.3:18-19)  How are you filled with the fullness of God?  When you know the love of God.  That’s how.  Not arbitrary love for someone, love for you.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus references the sparrow in this passage.  The sparrow is known in God’s creation for being one of the hardest working animals in all of creation.  It’s interesting to me because I think we could take this and go well, I’m going to release my worry and just sorta sit back with my feet by the fire, sipping hot cocoa.  The illustration is counseling against anxiety, not in favor of laziness.  We should be people who work hard.  The sparrow works hard, but recognizes that God is the one who provides.  We should do the same.  We work hard and God provides.  The passage is not speaking against the value of working hard, it’s speaking against finding our value in working hard.

Here’s how the passage closes:  But seek first…. {If you’re willing to let go of your worry by receiving your worth, your eyes are going to be open to seeing a whole new world.}  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things {These things that your Father knows you need and your gracious Father graciously provides…those things.} …will be added to you.  How many of them?  ALL of them.  But seek first.  When I’m seeking me, when I’m seeking to cover my needs, I’m not free to seek the kingdom.  But when I’m able to release my worry by knowing my worth, I am launched into God’s purpose for my life.  Worry free equals kingdom available.  Worry causes me to walk in self-preservation.  It’s that hoarder….am I going to have enough, am I going to have enough; I’ve got to get a little bit more.  I’ve got to make sure I have enough.  When I’m focused on me I cannot be open to God.  So Jesus, in a very practical way, says release your worry and walk into your purpose.  This is like victim mentality….can we let go of that, know that we’re loved and walk into purpose.  Can we walk into generosity this season?  I read a story this week about a couple that made a $500,000 anonymous donation.  They walked into Cub Foods with a $500,000 anonymous check and put it in a Salvation Army bucket.  You can think they have so much they don’t have any worries in the world.  Here’s the deal: it’s not about how much you have that makes you generous.  It’s about how much faith you have.  It’s about how close you’re willing to walk with the Father and say I know you provide for all my needs and so I’m willing to have an open-handed type of life.  The more I worry, the smaller my world gets.  Have you ever noticed this?  The more worry I carry the closer and closer the walls come in.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…the night of our dear Savior’s birth.  Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.    When Kelly and I were wrestling through whether God was leading us to move to Colorado…..we were leaving our home and friends in San Diego.  One of the very first questions I asked was can we sell our house and at least break even.  I don’t care about making money, I just don’t want to lose money.  That was my first fleece I put out.  I met with my realtor and he said he thought we’d be able to sneak out.  I think you can break even on this thing.  I said great, let’s put it on the market.  It only sat on the market for a week or two and we got a full-price offer.  It was wonderful!  We were praising God and saying God, you’re in this! Yes and amen.  We had the inspection and appraisal.  The appraisal came back $20,000 (lower) difference between how much the person said we’ll buy this for and how much the bank said it’s worth.  We’re left with this predicament about what to do.  We really believed God was leading us, so we just said alright, we’ll just take the loss.  We’re going to take the loss and move forward and we believe that even though it didn’t work out the way that we wanted it to, it worked out the way that God wanted it to and we’ll trust Him with that.  You know how all of this could have been avoided?  If we would have had a cash buyer.  Do you know what a cash buyer doesn’t need?  A cash buyer doesn’t need an appraisal!  Nobody’s loaning him anything.  They’re just walking in and saying I’ve got enough and I’ll pay this much for it.  I think it’s worth this much therefore I will give you this much for it.  Did you know that Jesus is a cash buyer?  Jesus is a cash buyer and a lot of us are still going here’s my appraisal and I add up.  OR we’re holding our appraisal and going I DON’T add up.  I am not worthy!  Here’s the definitive declaration of the incarnation and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection:  He’s not looking for an appraisal!  He’s a cash buyer and He will determine how much it’s worth and what He determined you are worth is His very life!  And for 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been coming to the table to remind ourselves that for some reason we are of great worth to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  We can throw our appraisals to the side.  He’s not interested.  What He’s interested in is the fact that Jesus the Messiah took on flesh, lived a perfect life.  Walked to the hill of Calvary.  Gave His life for you and for me.  Was buried and dead and rose out with a check that declared it cleared!!  And this is a table where we remember that we are purchased and made whole by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  As you come this morning to celebrate His life, His death, His resurrection, may you come knowing you’re deeply loved by the King of kings.  Leave your appraisal.  Leave your resume and know He’s a cash buyer and He’s purchased your life with His, because in His eyes you’re worth it.  You’re worth it!  Maybe this Christmas the same gift we give should be the same one we receive.  The fact that we have great worth in the eyes of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Let’s pray.  So Father, we come.  We come, in many ways, wrestling with the truth that You find us to be of great worth.  Because we know we’re not worthy.  Yet your blood speaks a better word.  Your life given for us reminds us of the fact that you love us, that you’re for us, that you provide and that you’re always enough.  As we come to the table together this morning, Jesus, would you remind us of the fact that you’re for us, that you love us and that you say that you are of more value than they.  Thank you.  It’s in your name that we pray. Amen.

Oh Holy Night: The Soul Felt Its Worth Matthew 6:25-342023-06-27T12:44:22-06:00
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