Wise Man, 29 December 2019

Wise Man: Christ
Series—Away in a Manger
Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 1:1, Luke 2:11, Luke 2:22-39, Leviticus 12:1-8, Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:6, Matthew 27:19, Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:54

Series Big Idea:
The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

Big Idea:
Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Christmas over? We blew out Jesus’ birthday candles days ago. Sure, we haven’t taken down the tree yet, but it’s time to move on, to get ready for New Year’s Eve, the ball drop, the football bowl games…

Here’s a thought: Jesus is the reason for the season…every season! And wise men—and women—still seek truth…and bring him gifts.

We don’t know Jesus’ exact birthday. We know it was about 2000 years ago but there’s a 1-in-365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25. Mary and Joseph were there. Shepherds were there. Animals and angels were there. The three kings or wise men? Not a chance!

Here’s the story from Matthew’s gospel—“good news”:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

These are Magi from the east. It says nothing about kings. The names of the Magi—Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior—and their status as kings from the east or “Orient” are based upon legend and tradition, not the Bible. So what are Magi? They are learned Gentile men. They may have come from Arbia, Ethiopia, Persia, or even India. They were likely astrologers, paying attention to the stars, which was easier to do then—before electricity and lights! It may seem odd to us that people took cues from what they saw in the sky, but they believed everything we interconnected. When a something special appeared in the sky, they assumed something special was occurring on earth. Scholars aren’t sure what the Magi saw exactly, but some think it may have been the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was the royal, kingly planet and Saturn was thought, by some, to represent the Jews. They came to Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, looking for the king of the Jews. However, Matthew wants us to know his rule is not limited to the Jews.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

No king wants to be overthrown. It is my understanding that the Romans were fine with the Jews so long as they were good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. When stars announce a new king, that can be threatening! Herod was not someone you wanted to threaten, as he murdered his wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and many others. And soon he would slaughter baby boys, too. He was not a descendant of David…or even Jacob, but rather Esau, causing hatred from most of the Jews.

Notice how a simple question from the Magi disturbs not only King Herod—the fake king of the Jews—but all Jerusalem.

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6)

I still find it remarkable that the birthplace of Jesus was prophesied about 700 years before his birthday (Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 5:2)!

It says “a ruler who will shepherd.” How many kings and rulers actually care for their people?

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:7-8)

Why did Herod call the Magi secretly? He was obviously scheming since he had no intention of worshipping this child…this king…or anyone!

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9)

The star in the east reappears to the Magi. Though some believe these were actually planets, others think maybe it was the Shekinah glory of God that led the people of Israel for forty years in the wilderness as a pillar of fire and cloud.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (Matthew 2:10)

We talked about joy last Sunday. They had great joy. They saw the star. It was moving until it reached the place where the child Jesus was, about five miles south of Jerusalem.

When I toured Israel many years ago, our tour guide told us to consider not only the historical buildings, fields, and bodies of water, but also the sky above us. Angels sung above Bethlehem. In this account, a star guided the Magi as they traveled and stopped above Jesus.

There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah that may prophesy this occasion.

Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. (Isaiah 60:6)

Gold, incense, and praise. Where have I heard that before?

Psalm 72 makes some references which may be relevant.

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. (Psalm 72:10)

Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long. (Psalm 72:15)

Jewish tradition and the early church saw this as pertaining to the Messiah.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

We don’t know how many Magi were present; maybe two, maybe twenty. We sing “we three kings” because there were three gifts mentioned and those three men with three gifts look so nice in the nativity scene! The Roman Catholic Church states Orient tradition would favor at least twelve Magi. This is the only verse in the New Testament that lists the gifts given to Jesus.

We usually see Magi in Nativity scenes carrying small “samples” of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Magi were high-level dignitaries who likely brought great quantities of these gifts, perhaps even a whole train of pack animals loaded with them. When the Queen of Sheba brought a gift to king Solomon, for example, she gave 9000 pounds of gold (2 Chronicles 9:2)!

It's possible that these gifts had special significance. They were appropriate presents for kings or even gods. Gold might reflect Jesus’ deity or purity, frankincense the fragrance of his life, and myrrh —which is used to embalm the dead—a foreshadowing of his death on the cross. It’s likely is these gifts provided the resources needed to flee to and live in Egypt until Herod died.

It’s worth noting years later, Pilate’s soldiers will be the first Gentiles wince the Magi to call Jesus the king of the Jews, though his crown would be made of thorns, his throne a cross, and instead of a star, darkness would cover the land while a Gentile man declares Jesus to really be God’s son.

We don’t know when the Magi arrived, either. It is probably months, possibly days, but it may have been up to two years since Herod wanted all baby boys up to two years old killed on a not-so-silent night. Matthew tells us the family was in a house, so this was definitely not Jesus’ birthday.

Every time the child Jesus and Mary are mentioned together, Jesus is mentioned first. Notice Matthew calls him a child now rather than a newborn infant.

Our text for today concludes,

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:12)

What followed was Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape King Herod’s slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.

So What?

Great, powerful men traveled far bringing gifts to a royal baby, one whose mission was to die. Other kings rule and reign, and when Jesus returns, that’s exactly what he will do…forever! He is the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings.

But as we look back at history, we see the most unlikely birth of a king. We see the most unexpected death of a king. We see here the king of the Jews pursued by wise Gentiles.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the truth. What he says is offensive to many, yet timeless and true. If we read and listened to Jesus as much as we do the news, I believe we would be different, to say nothing of the other 7+ billion people in this world.

The wise men were searching for truth. Are you?

One of the most searched, quoted, and misquoted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The problem with this verse comes when you take it out of context. God is speaking to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. It’s not something to cut and paste onto a t-shirt. I’m not suggesting God wants to harm you, but that there’s more to the message. It continues:

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12)

God’s inviting the people of Israel to get involved, to pursue, to pray. Then God adds:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Wise men still seek him. Wise women, too!

Jesus said,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)

Finally,

The wise men brought gifts? Did you?

I must confess I always thought the gifts of the Magi were small samples that could fit in the palm of your hand. While that makes for a nice Nativity scene, it’s highly unlikely. Kings were given great, extravagant gifts. If you’re going to travel a distance, why not bring the best?

What did you get Jesus for his birthday? No, it’s not too late! Every day is a day worth celebrating the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

You might wonder what you can give? One of my favorite Christmas songs—perhaps because it’s about a musician—is The Little Drummer Boy. If you omit the “rum pump um pum,” you’re left with these words:

Come they told me A newborn King to see Our finest gifts we bring To lay before the King
I am a poor boy too I have no gift to bring That's fit to give a King
I played my drum for Him I played my best for Him Then He smiled at me Me and my drum


What’s the message? A poor boy brought what he had…his drum…his best.

Some of you have great financial wealth. Give Jesus your best. Invest in his church.

Some of you have great talents. Give Jesus your best. Sing. Dance. Serve. Design. Paint. Lead. Invite. Love.

Some of you have great quantities of time. Pray. Visit. Read. Encourage.

We all need to give of our time and talent and treasures…and give our best. It will look different for each person, but the point is we need to give God our very best. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday, but for now, think about your gift to the King of kings.

Do you know what he wants more than anything? You can’t get it at Walmart! He wants you! He wants your heart, your obedience, your worship, your witness.

I think he also wants you to seek him, to pursue him, to be fully present with him. Not just now. Not just on Sundays. Not just at Christmastime. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. I believe if Jesus walked into this room and we gave him one wish from us, he would say the same thing he said to his friends:

Follow me.

He says it six times in the book of Matthew (Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9; 10:38, 16:24, 19:21) and numerous times in Mark, Luke, and John.

Wise men and women still seek truth…and bring him presence.

They are present. They pursue. They listen. They read. They pray. They slow down. They love. They worship. They follow.

My prayer for all of us as we draw near the end of this year and decade is that we would seek truth, seek God’s Kingdom, and give all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength to the King of kings.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)

Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Joseph: Joy, 22 December 2019

    Joseph: Joy
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Luke 2:10, 21; John 16:33; Hebrews 12:2; Matthew 1:20-24; 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27
    Philippians 4:4, 8; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea: Although they experienced pain and suffering, Joseph and Jesus were both filled with joy.

    Does Jesus bring you joy?

    I can tell you my first child brought me joy. Although we had been together for more than six years, the first time my wife saw me bawl like a baby was when I held our baby for the first time. Sheer joy! I did the same with our other two kids…and our grandbaby last year!

    Joy. It’s one of those Christmas words we don’t often mention the rest of the year. We’re all pursuing happiness. That’s our right in this country, according to the Declaration of Independence.

    But joy is different. Much different. We sing “Joy to the World,” but what does that really mean?

    We have sanitized the Christmas story. I don’t know if it’s the Christmas pageants at churches with girls dressed in blue bathrobes or sweet songs like Silent Night or even beautiful stained glass and paintings depicting Mary riding gently on a donkey with her man, Joseph, at her side, but the scene was hardly one of comfort…though there was joy. Great joy.

    Joy has been defined as,

    • - the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation
    • - a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated
    • - the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
    • - a state of happiness or felicity.

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

    The word “joy” mentioned here in Luke 2 by the angel is the Greek word “chara” (khar-ah) which means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, exceeding joy.

    What makes you glad?
    Who makes you cheerful?
    When do you experience calm delight?

    We are so often disappointed in our pursuit of happiness because life isn’t fair. Bad things happen. People let us down. Our expectations are not met. This is especially true this time of year.

    This past week I learned of a pastor friend in Chicagoland who had a Blue Christmas service at his church yesterday, the longest night of the year. They called it, “A time to name and offer our darkness and grief to the God of Advent hope.” I love that. While it is “the most wonderful time of the year” for many, others are struggling—even now…in this room—with loneliness, financial concerns, stress, and anxiety. Many will sing along to Elvis about their
    Blue Christmas. But that doesn’t make joy impossible.

    Joy stems not from life’s circumstances, but the knowledge that although our world is
    broken, God is in control. In a rare example of a good “but,” Jesus said

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

    We looked at this passage last Sunday when we focused on peace. But there’s great joy knowing Jesus has overcome the world. God’s light is greater than the world’s darkness. God’s truth is greater than all human lies. God’s love is greater than death.

    One of the most amazing verses in the entire Bible says of Jesus,

    For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2b)

    Joy and cross don’t usually belong in the same sentence. What this means is while Jesus was tortured and brutally murdered, he experienced joy. Not happiness. Not comfort. Not pleasure. But joy. He was able to look beyond his momentary troubles and recognize God the Father was up to something good. Redemption was coming for all humanity, along with reconciliation, forgiveness, salvation, and shalom.
    Yesterday many of us gathered to mourn and grieve the loss of our dear brother Willie Heidebrink. He was a great man who loved Jesus, loved his family, and added value to so many lives. We hurt. We cry. We struggle. But we have joy looking beyond ourselves to Willie’s new reality. We have joy looking beyond this moment of grief—and we must grieve!—and anticipate a future reunion.

    Author Mike Frost notes, “The message of Christmas is that God’s love comes to shine light into our darkness. That knowledge might not eliminate the darkness you’re struggling with now, but I trust it reminds you that God knows the despair, the pain, the anguish you’re currently enduring.” He is with us, which raises the question, “If God’s here, why doesn’t He do something about this pain/loss/grief/situation?”

    He does. He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us one another to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He’s given us hope for an incredible eternity with Him. He’s giving us opportunities to trust, to identify with Jesus, the suffering servant. I don’t usually understand why, but I know God has a plan. He never wastes anything. He’s up to something. I believe He’s inviting us all to trust Him. In fact, if He’s spoken anything to me in 2019, it’s two words: “trust Me.”

    I’ve heard them in the midst of some of the darkest moments of my vocational life this year. I’ve heard them as I am estranged from two family members. I’ve heard them as I seek the right words to share with you.

    Choose Joy

    There’s not much we can truly control in life, but we can control our attitude. We can choose joy. Henry Nouwen wrote,

    To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life. Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.

    Pain is not an end. It’s not permanent. It’s temporary. It’s an invitation to world without pain. Joy is knowing there’s more to life than this moment. There’s more to reality than this world. This does not mean to deny our pain, but to remember we can have joy in the midst of it—just like Jesus—if our perspective is right.

    In today’s scripture reading (Matthew 1:20-24), Joseph learns he is having a son…not from an ultrasound, but from an angel!

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

    We don’t give Joseph much credit. Sure, he walked for about 90 miles to Bethlehem while Mary rode on a donkey—at least that’s what some painters think—but he was more than chivalrous.

    When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

    Joseph trusted God. He stayed with Mary and married her—which was no easy task given the culture’s take on babies out of wedlock. He was willing to be stepdad to the Messiah. He accepted the name given to him for his stepson. He would obey God’s orders to become flee to Egypt to spare the life of Jesus and making refugees out of his family. Yes, Jesus was a refugee. But that’s not until the second chapter of Matthew!

    Jesus had joy, even while enduring the cross.
    Joseph had joy, even though this baby wasn’t biologically his.

    In both cases, joy was based upon obedience and bringing glory to the Father rather than happiness in the moment.

    Paul is another example of a joy-filled man despite difficult circumstances. Not only did he have a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” which tormented him every day of his life (2 Cor. 12:7), he wrote that he had

    “…been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-27, MSG)

    Through all of Paul’s sufferings, he was a man of joy. He said,

    Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

    The entire book of Philippians is about joy, not from Paul’s circumstances, but because he had confidence in God’s sovereignty and a hope in heaven. He had joy because of his focus, his perspective.

    For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

    Where are your eyes? Where’s your focus? Is your glass half-full or half-empty? Are you thinking about the things you don’t have or the blessings you do? Can you choose joy or do you prefer to complain and compare?

    Paul’s joy began in his head, with his thoughts. He famously said,

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

    There was joy at the birth of Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Nobody delivers joy like a baby.

    The story doesn’t end there.

    On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:21)

    We usually end the story with the newborn King in the manger, but there was surely great joy for Joseph just days later as Jewish sons became included in the covenant relationship with God on their eighth day. This tradition called b’rit milah would set Jesus apart for God following Genesis chapter seventeen. The circumcision occurred on the eighth day since God worked six days, rested on the seventh, and day eight is a new cycle of a new week of new life set apart for the glory of God.

    Baby Jesus wouldn’t remember the occasion, but Joseph surely did. It was a special moment for families to welcome their Jewish son into the covenant God had established with all of Israel throughout the generations. While there was, for Jesus, a moment of pain—hurt, not harm—joy surely filled Joseph’s heart.

    One writer (Skit Guys) put it this way:

    It was the joy of Joseph to call his son’s name “Jesus” during the covenant of circumcision celebration. As Joseph looked into the face of Jesus, the first time his son would bleed and cry out in pain, He would be looking into the eyes of His earthly father as Jesus was being welcomed into the covenant of God’s people. The final time Jesus would bleed would be thirty-three years later. Upon a Roman cross, Jesus would cry out for the last time while looking up toward the eyes of His Heavenly Father as He made a way for all people to enter into a covenant with God throughout eternity.
    God saves.
    Jesus saves.
    And the joy of a father, both on earth and in heaven, remains more than we possibly can imagine this Christmas. But rest assured, the hopes and fears through all the years still are met in Jesus tonight, because he still saves. And it still is His joy to do so today.
    The question is,
    Does Jesus bring you joy?
    We used to sing this song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” True and lasting joy won’t come from the new Star Wars movie or good seats at a Walleye game. You won’t find it under the Christmas tree or even on Amazon.
    Real joy comes from seeking God’s glory, knowing He is with us—Emmanuel—even when we feel alone.
    Real joy comes from knowing our story’s not over. There are more chapters to be written and the best is yet to come.
    Real joy comes from serving others, knowing you are serving Jesus at the same time.
    Real joy comes from surrendering control rather than fighting for something unattainable.
    Real joy comes from the Son of God who came as a baby but will return soon as King of kings and LORD of lords.
    In the meantime, as we wait for Advent—his second coming—we can fix our eyes on Jesus. We can stand amazed at his love for us—broken, imperfect sinners he left heaven for, he died for, he rose for, and that at this moment he is praying for.
    How marvelous!
    How wonderful!
    How amazing!
    Hallelujah!
    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.
  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Shepherd: Peace, 15 December 2019

    Shepherd: Peace
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Luke 2:4-20, 1 John 3:5-8, Isaiah 9:2,6-7, Isaiah 53:5, Luke 1:76-79, Ephesians 2:13-17, Philippians 4:6-7

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Jesus is the Prince of Peace and desperately needed in our hearts and world.

    Shalom!

    The shepherd in the drama said it’s more than peace. It’s God’s highest and most complete good.

    God’s peace on the earth…His highest and most complete good. Isn’t that what we all want? Jesus taught us to pray,

    “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

    That’s shalom, and it’s our subject today in our Advent series
    Away in a Manger.

    Our world is in chaos. Have you noticed? I’m grateful we don’t find ourselves in the middle of a war on our soil today. There are presently 28 countries at war, but even more staggering is a recent report—the Global Peace Index—which stated there are “just ten countries which can be considered completely free from conflict.” The USA is at war in seven countries right now! In fact, we are ranked as the 128th most peaceful country in the world (Afghanistan is 163, Iceland is number one).

    Locally, it’s no surprise to anyone that we live in a city and region in chaos. It seems like every day there’s another report in
    The Blade of a shooting, robbery, overdose, or protest. Despite our beautiful Metroparks, community services, industries, and world-class attractions like the zoo and art museum, violence and crime thrive.

    Even closer to home, there’s a lack of internal peace. The statistics for ulcers, depression, and anxiety are overwhelming. Suicide is rampant, especially among young people.

    Could we use peace on earth?
    The older I get, the more I seek perspective. There are always optimists talking about how the world is getting better—and it is—and pessimists who say the world is getting worse—and it is.

    There’s an irony in the Christmas story. Dr. Luke describes it this way:

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

    This was common. A shepherd’s job is to watch over the sheep.

    An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

    One angel shining with the glory of the LORD appears and terrifies the shepherds.

    I’ve heard many stories of people who encountered angels. It may have been someone who helped with a car broken-down on the side of the road, only to disappear. Perhaps it’s a stranger who offered an encouraging word at the perfect moment, then suddenly gone. Frequently the angel is identified as an angel after their appearance.

    The shepherds had no doubt this was an angel! While we often think of angels as nice and helpful and gentle and quiet, this one terrified the shepherds.

    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

    Don’t be afraid. Easy for you to say, angel! The angel delivered good news—the gospel! We all love good news, and this good news was for all the people. All the people. Shepherds and kings. Jews and Gentiles. Rich and poor. What’s the good news?

    Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12)

    The long-awaited Messiah has been born…to you! The description was necessary since this was not the way a king normally enters the world…wrapped in rags and lying in an animal’s food trough. Now the story develops.

    Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

    Suddenly. Why are people always sneaking up on these poor shepherds?! This disruptive group of supernatural creatures announces peace in the midst of disturbing the shepherds who were just minding their own business in the fields! The original Greek word for peace here, eirene (i-ray-nay), means one, peace, quietness, rest.

    Not this night! There was nothing quiet or restful or peaceful about these angelic visitors, but once they changed their underwear (!), I’m sure they didn’t mind. After all, they were privileged to be among the first to meet the Messiah.

    Leave it to God to invite common shepherds to the delivery room of His son! Most royalty enter the world surrounded by powerful and famous, with paparazzi trying to get the best photo and story. Not the Messiah.

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

    What a brilliant idea! The shepherds may have been common, but they weren’t stupid!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

    The shepherds were the first (human) evangelists, spreading good news about the arrival of the Messiah, the advent of Jesus, God moving into the neighborhood with flesh and blood. All who heard it were amazed. It amazes me two thousand years later.

    But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:19-20)

    Jesus. Prince of peace. Shalom arrived in person!

    Two weeks ago we looked at the prophet Isaiah and how his words hundreds of years before Christ were perfectly fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah.

    For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
    He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
    establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
    The zeal of the LORD Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

    When we read phrases like “Prince of Peace” and “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be end,” it may not seem terribly significant. After all, every nativity scene seems to depict a tranquil gathering of people and animals around baby Jesus. “All is calm, all is bright…sleep in heavenly peace.” Jesus came in the midst of nice people who lived in a nice neighborhood with nice neighbors and a nice government, right?

    Hardly! This is the Roman empire! Herod would order the death of Jesus and all of the other baby boys under two years old. This is a culture that didn’t use lethal injection for criminals. They were crucified! Battles were common. Oppression was normal. Peace? For some, it was unimaginable.

    Jesus. Prince of Peace. Paul would later write about the Messiah.

    But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

    For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:14-17)

    Jesus is our peace. He brings together Jews and Gentiles, black and white, rich and poor, young and old. But remember, shalom peace is more than the absence of conflict. It’s God’s highest and most complete good.

    There was a day when God’s shalom ruled the earth. Everything and everyone were at peace. There was no death or hatred or selfishness or pride. It was paradise, a garden called Eden. Until sin entered the world. Until Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The serpent—who knows how to lie, steal, kill, and destroy better than anyone—introduced evil and rebellion and war to our world, shattering shalom. Peace was broken…to pieces.

    The only solution to our sin, to violence, to wars, to brokenness was Jesus. He is our peace. He rescues. He restores. He reconciles. He redeems. He renews. He revives. One writer has said,

    “The peace of God is a full, satisfying, rich, and juicy fruit of His Spirit to His people and creation. The shalom of God is intended for relational goodness and harmony through and through. Peace is the original order of creation and remains in the heart of God for all His creation.” (Skit Guys)
    Isn’t that beautiful? What a vision! I want to experience that. I want you to experience that. I want City Council and Columbus and Washington and Syria and North Korea to experience that. I want every man, woman and child on the planet to experience shalom, wholeness, completeness, relational goodness and harmony through and through.

    It won’t come through an election, though.
    It won’t come through new laws.
    It won’t come through the perfect enforcement of old laws.
    It won’t come through more jobs, more education, or more money.
    It won’t come through religion and traditions and striving.

    Shalom only comes through God. It is manifest through Jesus. It comes through the Holy Spirit being given space to work in us, making us more like Christ. It comes through surrender, giving up control, hitting rock bottom and letting Jesus take the wheel. As the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

    The Bible begins with peace during creation (Genesis 1-2) and ends with peace in New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22. We’re living in the awkward in-between, seeking to know God and His shalom in a world fixated on its own happiness and pleasure. And it’s why what happened in Bethlehem was a strategic initiative by God to bring us peace—shalom—in the midst of a chaotic world. Listen to one of Jesus’ best friends, John:

    But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

    Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:5-8)

    We know the devil’s work. We see it every day. Addictions. Racism. Hatred. Greed. Disease. Bitterness. Envy. Insecurity. Pride. Despair. Fear. Worry.

    Jesus came to destroy them! The sweet baby Jesus didn’t remain in the manger. He grew. He showed us what it means to be human. He died and rose again, conquering sin and death. He literally destroyed the devil’s work. Hallelujah!

    Although some were surprised on Resurrection Sunday, it was prophesied—not by Isaiah or Micah or even Moses, but God in the third chapter of the Bible. After the devil tempted Adam and Eve,

    So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

    “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

    Jesus would be born of a woman. Satan would strike his heel…but Jesus would crush his head! God knew all of this. His plan was perfect, even though we’re not. All pain and suffering is not God’s fault, but rather the result of our choices, our free will. When we screwed up, God sent a Savior, a Healer, a Restorer, a Rebuilder…the Prince of Peace.

    We have all been enlisted to join him on his mission to seek and save the lost, to be hope dealers, to love, to make disciples. The purpose of Christmas was Good Friday…and Easter. The word “Savior” in Greek,
    soter, can be translated “preserver” or “deliverer.” Jesus came to deliver people from the devil’s work, to preserve the shalom peace of God so that we might experience the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Obviously, we are not experiencing the fullness of heaven now, but there are moments when heaven kisses earth, when love conquers hate, when peace prevails.

    So What?

    So what are we to do? How do we experience peace in a world of chaos? First, we need to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

    Peace is broken not just by others, but often by ourselves. We often make a mess and blame God. Here are some examples of how we break peace:

    • - When we spend more than we make, leading to debt and financial bondage
    • - When we read, post, and say negative words instead of encouragement
    • - When we mask our true self and hiding rather than courageously being truthful
    • - When we shade the truth and tell lies
    • - When we take and hoard rather than give and share
    • - When we are envious of others rather than being grateful
    • - When we gossip to others rather than caring enough to lovingly confront
    • - When we rationalize our sinful behavior rather than confessing and repenting
    • - When we value our comfort over doing the right thing

    Maybe you’re not experiencing peace simply because you’re not choosing peace. Call yourself whatever you want, perhaps you’re following some of the works of the devil rather than pursuing selfless, humble love for God and others.

    Many of you have lived lives of peace. You’ve made good choices and served others, yet injustice has followed you home. You think, “It’s not fair!” You’re right. It’s not fair when others sin against you, and what is even more unfair is that Jesus would leave heaven and live here…so he could die for our mess!

    The baby in the manger would experience death, the ultimate loss of shalom. Yet his death brings us life, forgiveness, hope, …peace. He said,

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
    (John 14:27)

    Later, he said,

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (
    John 16:33)   

    So what do we do when our peace is broken? After examining ourselves,

    Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

    In a word, trust. Give it to God. Let it go.

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

    I’m still working on this, but over the years I’m starting to make a little progress. As the sign in my bathroom says, “Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.”

    Finally,

    If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

    It takes two to tango. You can’t control the behavior of others. The best you can do is pray and love. Some relationships will never be peaceful. Some are not even safe. Love and leave the results to God.

    Conclusion

    Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is alive. He is still at work. Through the Holy Spirit, God’s shalom is brought from heaven to earth. God’s highest and most complete good is available if we seek first His Kingdom, if we trust and obey. Like the shepherds, we can join the angels in bringing honor and glory to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace.

    May you know the peace of Christ this Christmas and experience God’s highest and most complete good. May he bring peace to each of us so that He might work peace through us for His glory.

    Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

    Amen!

    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Mary: Love, 8 December 2019

    Mary: Love
    Series—Away in a Manger
    John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-11, 19, Luke 2:16-19, Luke 2:21-24

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Mary provides us with a beautiful portrait of true love to God and people through her devotion and presence.

    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

    This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

    Love. It’s the heart of Christmas. It’s the heart of God.

    We talk about love a lot at First Alliance Church. We should. The word appears more than 600 times in the Bible. Jesus used it about 50 times in the four gospels, the biographies about him.

    If you’re new around here, welcome! You belong here!

    We talk about love a lot because God is love. He’s the definition of love. Did you hear that in the scripture reading? God is love.

    Unfortunately, love is one of the most confusing words in the dictionary, especially the English dictionary.

    I love God.
    I love my grandbaby.
    I love ice cream.

    A few days ago I saw a fortune cookie fortune which said, “Love is the first feeling people feel, because love is nice.” Wow! That’s deep!

    I repeat once again Dr. Scot McKnight’s definition:

    Love is a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness. – Scot McKnight

    This is what it means when I say I love you, family. I am committed to be with you. I’m committed to be for you. I’m committed to grow with you to follow and become like Jesus, the ultimate example of what it means to be human.

    Jesus lived a life of love. It was more than words. It never involved lust. It was never cliché or trite. It was a choice, a decision, a rugged commitment to look out for the best interest of others.

    God is love. He proved it.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

    Love gives. Bob Goff says love does.

    As we continue our series Away in a Manger, our theme is obviously love, expressed beautifully in the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We devoted our entire 2018 Advent series to her. She is not only one of the most remarkable women in the Bible, she’s one of the most remarkable humans…in history! No sermon could ever begin to help us experience the shame this unwed mother endured, the courage this teenage girl expressed, the obedience this faithful saint demonstrated. If Roman Catholics think too highly of her—as some Protestants have suggested—she us surely the most underrated Bible character among Protestants. Some Christians have all but ignored her entirely for fear of worshipping her, yet there is so much to take from her life and story. Her love was expressed both to baby Jesus and the suffering Messiah, literally from the cradle to the grave…and beyond!

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!

    Jesus summarized all of the teachings in the Bible into two statements:

    Love God.
    Love people.

    Mary is a terrific example of someone who did both.

    In his book Soul Talk, Larry Crabb writes,

    Every follower of Jesus has two sets of desires: the desire to know God and to experience intimate communion with the Trinity, and the desire to hear the specific calling of the Spirit in our life, to be so anchored in the hope of eternal joy and to be so in love with Jesus now that we endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like Christ.

    What did he say? Our love for God must be so great that suffering for Christ would be considered a privilege. Sacrifice for the LORD would be welcome in our lives. Obedience and faithfulness to our Creator would be prioritized above anything and anyone…even our own pleasures and comfort. That’s love! That’s a rugged commitment to another Person.

    Does that describe my love for God? I want it to, though if I’m honest, no, at least most of the time. Often I love myself first, then if I feel like it, I’ll love others and God. I love God because He makes me happy, takes care of me, helps me be successful. Right? Don’t we use God? This is not love, or at the very best it’s conditional love. God, I will love you if…

    Larry Crabb continues,


    Jesus taught that the core longing of our soul is the desire to know God, not the desire to feel loved, not the desire to experience meaning, not the desire for the pleasures of family, friends, or success, but the passion to know God as high and lifted up and to place ourselves beneath him, resting in his goodness and available for his purposes.

    This is what it means to follow Jesus.
    This is what it means to love God.

    The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.

    John wrote,

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Notice this is in the past-tense. Does God love us today? Yes, absolutely! But He has already loved us so much that an eternity of devotion to Him will never begin to equal His love.

    The whole point of Christmas is not God gave us a gift so we can go to heaven when we die. The real message is God loved us, wanted a relationship with us, we screwed it up through our sin and rebellion, the only solution to restore our relationship with our Creator was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, and while the cross and empty tomb are the defining moments in human history, it’s all about a relationship now…and for eternity. Our faith is based upon past events, but it also about today…and tomorrow.

    And I don’t just mean after we die. Last week I mentioned one of my favorite names for the Messiah is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came here. He lived among us. Eugene Peterson famously said of Jesus,

    The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14a)

    He didn’t come simply to keep you out of Hell. His mission was to restore a relationship.

    “The biblical story is about God making a world where God wants to come and live with people in His world so that the final act in Revelation Is not saved souls going up to heaven but the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth and a voice is heard saying, ‘The dwelling of God is among humans.’” - N.T. Wright

    Do you see the difference?

    Love requires relationship.
    Love requires time.
    Love requires presence.
    Love requires sacrifice.
    Love requires commitment.

    This is why slogans such as “Toledo loves love” can be confusing. True love is not about what I can get from another person. It’s not about my feeling good. In fact, it’s not really about me at all. It’s about the One I love.

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Mary loved Jesus. Sure, she was his mom and all moms love their children, right?!

    But Mary loved God long before Jesus was born. She accepted a costly assignment. She suffered greatly for her LORD.

    There was a social cost during her pregnancy, the scandal of a baby out of wedlock.

    There was a physical cost during the birth. They call it labor!

    There was a relational cost during the early years as the family became refugees in Egypt.

    There was an emotional cost as she watched him crucified, dying before her eyes.

    That’s love! It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    She welcomed Jesus into her life, into her heart, into her world.

    Relationships

    Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to restore a relationship. He wants to do life with you. Loving God is not about an hour on Sunday or even a daily quiet time or a generous end-of-the-year donation. Loving God means being fully present with Him, keeping Him first in everything—time, talent, treasures. It is demonstrated by your calendar and your checkbook. It’s visible in how you relate to others.

    “The central battle in the souls of Jesus followers is the battle to keep the first-thing desire in first place and second-thing desires in second place.” – Larry Crabb

    What would it look like for you to truly love God?

    I’ve often said I want to want God. I believe, but I need help with my unbelief, my lack of faith, my fear, my wavering trust, my selfishness. I want to desire God above all else, yet my flesh puts up a fight.

    Most of us know there were shepherds in the Christmas story who were told of the Messiah’s birth by angels. Talk about a cool birth announcement!

    So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

    I think the shepherds loved Jesus. They knew this was a special baby and they loved others enough to “spread the word” about the Messiah’s arrival. “All who heard it were amazed.” The scene was incredible, but Dr. Luke adds a profound statement in the next verse.

    But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

    That’s love. She treasured the encounters. She treasured the conversations. She treasured the relationships. She treasured the privilege of knowing both God and people. She had all of the emotions of a new mom, yet she knew her son was special. She knew the biblical prophecies. She understood suffering was part of the package, yet her ultimate focus was on knowing God and being obedient. As Larry Crabb said, she was willing to endure every hardship as a privilege and as an opportunity to become more like the Christ she would mother.

    Jesus would say,

    “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

    and

    Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. (John 14:24a)

    Is that clear?

    Again, love is more than a feeling. It requires action. Mary not only loved Jesus as any good mother would love her son, she loved God and accepted a difficult assignment. Even her first moments of motherhood were filled with strangers making an unannounced visit to see her child. Rather than complaining, she treasured up these things, these people, these moments.

    One translation of this verse says,

    Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Luke 2:19, The Message)

    I want that kind of devotion, intentionality, engagement. I want to be fully present in every moment, with you and God. I want to be captivated by the majesty of God. I want to love Him so much all of my other desires pale in comparison. I want that love to be obvious to everyone who meets me…not because of a slogan on a t-shirt or a fish on a bumper sticker, but because of my life.

    James K.A. Smith says you are what you love. I want to become like Jesus. I want you to become like Jesus. I want all who call themselves Christians to become like Christ.

    You are what you love.

    The message today is not shame on you for not being a good Christian.
    The message today is not try harder and be better.

    The message today is love God. Be with God. Respond to His love for you. Treasure the things He has done to show—to prove—His love for you. Ponder them in your heart. Meditate on the scriptures. Slow down. Reflect. Be still and know He is God. Open yourself up to the Holy Spirit.

    Paul said it this way:

    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

    Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)

    Love is so much more than a feeling. It’s
    a rugged commitment to be with other people, to be for other people, and to grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Be present with God.
    Be present with people.

    Many years ago I was having dinner with a best-selling author and world-class speaker and I asked for his definition of success. After some hesitation, he said, “Being fully present in the moment.” I’ve never forgotten that. Be present. That’s what people need. That’s what I need. That’s what your family and friends need. Presence is powerful, especially in our world of non-stop screens, distractions, multi-tasking, and hurry.

    Love God.
    Love people.

    They both require action…or maybe inaction.

    They both require attention…our attention to be fully present with others.

    So What?

    Perhaps the greatest gift we can give this season is Christmas presence.

    Spend quality time with God. Spend quality time with others. Slow down. Turn off the noise. Shut off the screens. Ponder deeply what God is doing in and through you. Listen to those around you. Set aside your desires to truly seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His desires.

    Be with God and others.
    Be for God and others.
    Let’s grow together in Christ-likeness.

    Let’s love!

    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.




  • Isaiah: Hope, 1 December 2019

    Isaiah: Hope
    Series—Away in a Manger
    Isaiah 40:3-5, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Isaiah 60:2-3, Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, Matthew 1:20-25

    Series Big Idea:
    The Skit Guys have provided us with resources to view Advent from five different perspectives.

    Big Idea:
    Isaiah’s people were exiles in need of hope, not unlike our captivity to sin and need of salvation today.

    It’s finally here! The turkey has been put away, the credit cards are maxed out, The Game is over, and Advent has begun, this season of expectant waiting and preparing for both the celebration of Jesus’ first arrival to our world and his promised return. The word “advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming,” and we’re spending this month focused on the first and second comings of the Messiah.

    Throughout our series
    Away in a Manger, we’re going to look at the nativity of Jesus from the perspectives of various characters in the story, covering the five themes of Advent in the five Sundays of December. Today’s theme is hope and our character is a prophet who wrote about 700 years before the birth of Jesus, yet his predictions were spot-on, giving tremendous credibility to both the Holy Bible and our faith.

    Do you like music? Do you like Christmas music? I love Christmas music, though I always wait until I see Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade before I listen to it. One of the things that makes Christmastime so special is how it engages all of our senses: we hear the carols, eat the gingerbread, touch the ornaments, smell the pine tree, and see the lights. Perhaps the greatest soundtrack of the season was composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel…The Messiah. How many have attended a performance of it?

    If you’re familiar with it, you surely recognized our scripture reading today from the book of Isaiah, whose name means “the salvation of Yahweh” or “the salvation of God”:

    A voice of one calling:

    “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)

    Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (2 versions)

    Most every year at this time I think about doing a sermon series on Handel’s Messiah. Interestingly, it covers more of the Good Friday events than the Christmas story, so maybe this spring…!!!

    Back to Isaiah, he made at least nineteen different prophecies that were fulfilled centuries later by Jesus the Messiah.

    (You can find a chart of them
    here.)

    Although Handel tied it together with chapter 40, it says in chapter 52

    See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. (Isaiah 52:13)

    Jesus said,

    And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

    Paul said of Jesus,

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

    Perhaps the most famous prophesy related to Advent states,

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin
    will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    This was echoed by Matthew when he wrote his gospel or “good news” about Jesus.

    But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

    All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)

    I might add “Immanuel” is one of my favorite words for Jesus. He came and become one of us. Although it occurred two thousand years ago, God came to earth. He laughed and cried, knew joy and hardship, was tempted in every way, and understands pain of the most horrific kind. While Jesus is physically beyond our planet, he knows suffering. He can relate to whatever trial you are facing today. He was with us, he is with us by the Holy Spirit who lives in every follower of Jesus, and one day soon he will be with us again when he returns, the second “coming” which we remember during Advent.

    When Isaiah wrote his prophecies, the people of God had become unruly and disobedient. Their sins brought death and destruction and their abandonment of God brought about devastation. Isaiah understood the only way the people could experience peace was through repentance, turning away from their sin and rebellion and returning to God.

    I believe that message is spot-on in our nation today. Other than Christmas, it seems the only time we hear the name of Jesus outside of a church gathering is when it’s used as a swear word.

    (When did it ever occur to someone to use Jesus as profanity? Why not Pinocchio or Hitler or even satan?)

    We are a divided nation, an anxious nation, a fearful nation. Is it any wonder? Life apart from God will always break down eventually. We’re simply not wise enough our own. We were created for relationship with God and one another, yet it seems like every day we’re bombarded with another message stating it’s all about us.

    In Isaiah’s day,
    foreign nations such as Assyria and Babylon overtook God’s people and eventually led them into exile. That means they were taken from their homes and land. Imagine being kicked out of your home this afternoon, maybe sent to a different city, state, or even country. Some of you know what displacement is all about.
    People that experience exile for any length of time hope for survival and rescue. When we read the news today—whether we’re in our homes or not—it’s obvious we’re not following God. Our cities are filled with abuse, violence, corruption, human trafficking, addiction, exploitation, divorce, pornography, disease, debt, depression, and other signs the enemy is experiencing some victories.
    What we need is hope!
    When we were preparing to distribute goodie bags with Saturate Toledo, I reminded our teams not to worry about soliciting. We weren’t soliciting. I told them they were delivering good news. They were hope dealers!
    Isaiah offered hope to those in exile, proclaiming the coming of Messiah. One of my favorite prophecies is found in chapter 61:

    The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

    That’s what Jesus did, and today we re-present Jesus to our world. We are to be his hands and feet, proclaiming good news to the poor…and rich. We are called to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

    We do that through Cherry Street Mission.
    We do that through Kairos Prison Ministry.
    We do that through Dinner Church.

    We are hope dealers!

    We aren’t the hope, but we deal it, we deliver it, we proclaim it. Jesus is the hope of the world!

    Hollywood’s not the hope.
    Government’s not the hope.
    Our school systems are not the hope.
    Science isn’t the hope.
    Jesus is the hope of the world! He was. He is. He will always be.

    Listen to these hopeful words from Isaiah:

    The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

    Could we use that today?

    Could you use a Wonderful Counselor?
    Could you use a Mighty God?
    Could you use an Everlasting Father?
    Could you use a Prince of Peace?

    Hope came about 700 years after Isaiah prophesied these things. His name, Jesus, means “God saves.” About 700 year after Jesus was born, a group of monks sang a song which would become “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Here’s a little background on the song from Eric Metaxas:

    “I want you to imagine yourself in a monastery in the 8th century. It’s December 17th and you’ve gathered with your brothers for Vespers, the sun-set prayer service. As with all Vespers, at the heart of the service is the chanting of select psalms, each of them preceded and followed by what is known as an antiphon, a sung or recited response. What sets December 17th apart, and the six nights that follow it, are the seven antiphons used only on these nights. Each one is a name of Christ – specifically, they are Messianic titles from the book of Isaiah: Sapieta (wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root of Jesse), Clavis (Key of David), Oriens (Dayspring), Rex (King of the Nations), and Emmanuel.
    Because each of these titles is preceded by the word “O,” they are known as the “O Antiphones.” If this sounds familiar, it should. I have just given you a glimpse into the origins of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” – the greatest Advent, or should I say, Christian Hymn of all time. While I asked you to imagine an 8th-century monastery, the O Antiphons predate the 8th century. The Roman philosopher Boethius, who lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, alludes to them in his writings. It’s reasonable to suppose, as one scholar put it, that ‘in some fashion, the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early church.’
    But it’s what they teach us, and not just their antiquity, that gives them their power. The composer and musicologist Robert Greenberg has noted that if you take the first letter of each of the Messianic titles in reverse order, by December 23rd, you have the Latin phrase ERO CRAS which means, ‘Tomorrow I will come.’”
    While yesterday in exile may have been bad and today may not seem to be much better, we have hope knowing that if not tomorrow, soon, He will come again. The second Advent is closer than we may realize even if we feel like exile has lasted far too long from our vantage point of life. If we feel like we are still in exile, may we join with the monks and the many throughout the ages who have sung the song of advent hope: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.”
    O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    Credits: Some ideas from The Skit Guys.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • E13U796O04I5BEO0