What value would there ever be in any book whose introduction is longer than the story itself? Well, believe it or not, this is not a marketing ploy. I pray this book is engaging and affecting to the soul. It is succinct purposefully to make a point.
And ironically, this sentence took me more time than some of my prior books (that may not be a good thing). But this all came together while thinking through several recent, revealing events (more on that in a minute).
When you read this sentence, you will discover that it is themed around a hurtful father. Thankfully, I can say that theme is not my story, but it is much of my life. As a pastor, there is almost no greater wound that I see must be addressed than the family wound. So many people spend their days with the echo of their father’s mocking words in their ears or the memory of his disapproving glance in their minds. Men and women, even children, are so often driven by a need to either disprove their father or to disdain him, and so much wreckage lies between.
These truths became heightened in the past few months, and ultimately moved me to start writing, after watching two very different cultural tent poles.
My wife loves “Gilmore Girls”, and I joined her recently on a Netflix binge. In the series, Lorelai Gilmore works to establish a life in the attempt to distance herself from her disapproving mother and father. All the while, there are hints that she would love a random, “Well done.”
In one poignant scene, she returns home with her ex-boyfriend (the father of her daughter) for dinner with her and his parents. Awkwardness and pleasantries abound until his parents accuse Lorelai of ruining their son’s life and derailing his chances of going to college. Finally, Lorelai’s father stands up to defend her. This appears to be the moment in which Lorelai has dreamed.
Afterwards, there is a powerful scene where she goes to thank him, but this moment hurts her all the more. He wasn’t defending her. He was defending the family name. She defeatedly slinks out of the room knowing that she will never win her father’s approval.
Oddly enough, the other cultural tent pole that spurred my thinking came by watching “Christmas Vacation”. In one famous scene, Clark Griswold spends the day decorating the house so that they can have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since…well, you know the line.
So, as Clark prepares to turn on the Christmas lights, he brings the entire family out to see his creation. He plugs it in, and nothing happens. There is a wonderful clanging symbol of side-effect in the background that perfectly summarizes his feelings.
Clark’s father-in-law, Art, responds by saying, “I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.” Clark is crushed. Yet, he is not going to give up.
Finally, Clark gets the house to light once his wife realizes that they needed to flip a light switch. The entire neighborhood dims as Clark’s home takes off in light.
Clark is proud.
Clark is triumphant.
However, Art comments that the lights don’t blink. Clark resigns with a, “Thanks for noticing.”
Seeing these images pushed me to attempt to articulate the pain of many.
Thankfully, this is not every person’s story, but a Father’s words are powerful. His words of affection are restorative. His words of pain are damning, and the efforts to heal the lack may take a lifetime.
That healing is my joy to proclaim as the Gospel of Jesus declares an ending from the Heavenly Father of, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Those words are desperately needed and hopefully attractive. I hope you search them out after this reading.
Ah, the stubbled father who thinly hides behind the humor of personal arrows and laughs at the wounded’s cry for dignity, delegating it to sensitivity.
A Final Word…
As I was wrapping this project up, I began the Amazon research necessary to have it published. I then discovered that there is a wonderful movement surrounding the single sentence expression. I found there brave men and women seeking to articulate what is or what has been in their hearts.
This tiny tome is not part of those works as it was created in complete ignorance of those efforts, but it is a contribution of sorts as I hope it is a collection of words with which many will resonate.
Ultimately, I pray this sentence is redemptive in that it will free up someone to understand their own heart and move towards reconciliation either earthly or heavenly.
I spoke with someone in Garner the other day who bemoaned the way people acted during the Holiday season. He said, “Yeah, Christmas is when people act the way that they should be acting all year long.”
Sadly, this is true. Around Christmas, people want to feed the hungry, clothe the chilly, and gift the needy. I’m so thankful these actions occur, but what would cause us to do them all year long? I would humbly offer that the solution is understanding to a greater depth Jesus’ incarnation. Bear with me as I use my seminary degree for a moment.
Jesus’ incarnation is God becoming human, enduring pain and suffering, enduring persecution and death while innocent, and then rising triumphantly to new life.
Practically, that means that God entered into our suffering to alleviate it. If we could get that, then we would make greater efforts to mirror our Savior each day of the year (not just in December).
The services at Sovereign King during the holiday season are intended to engender that kind of appreciation of the life and death of Christ. We will begin a series entitled, “Anticipating” that will focus on the people in the Bible who anticipated Jesus’ arrival. What we hope these services will accomplish is to give a greater sense of Jesus’ incarnation and teach us to mirror Him in anticipation of His return once again.
I invite you to join SK this season not just for one service (for which we would be thankful) but for the entire series. Attend as much as you can; not for our benefit but for your own. Give you, your children, your family, or whoever it is that you do life with a clear consistent celebration of Jesus’ birth. But of course, if you can only attend once, we would love to have you.
Below is a list of our services for the season including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. We look forward to seeing you, and if you would like to know more about SK, Jesus, or living a life of anticipation, feel free to contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, November 27th @ 10:30am – Luke 1:5-25: Elizabeth Anticipates
Sunday, December 4th @ 10:30am – Luke 1:26-38: Mary Anticipates
Sunday, December 11th @ 10:30am – Matthew 2:1-12: The Wise Men Anticipate
Sunday, December 18th @ 10:30am – Matthew 2:13-23: Herod Anticipates
Saturday, December 24th Christmas Eve @ 5:30pm – Luke 1:46-55: Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
Sunday, December 25th Christmas Day – Luke 2:1-20: The Shepherds Anticipate
On December 5th, Sovereign King Church is going to celebrate perhaps its most significant day since her inception. Let me tell you about it, and my hope is that you can join us for any or all of events of that day.
To begin, December 5th marks the beginning of our celebration of Advent. It will be the kickoff of our “Voices Carry” series that will explore 5 voices that spoke of Jesus’ birth in the scriptures. Our Christmas services are always joyous and celebratory, and we would love for you to join us. We know that many of you have commitments to your own church, but if you could join us at all in December, we would love to have you as our guest. Services begin at 10:30pm.
Following the service, we will have about 5 minutes of business to take care of as we officially vote in our very first class of Ruling Elders. These men were nominated from among the congregation, trained for 9 months and passed both written and oral exams.
Then, we are going to have a massive lunch at our church space. Our after church meals are always a great time to catch up and have fun, and it will be the first that we have had in our new worship space.
Following the meal at 2:30pm, we will be joined by members of other PCA churches as we will have an official ordination service for these new elders. They will be prayed for, charged, encouraged, and set apart for ministry in the church. This will also mark the moment where our church moves on from being a church plant to being what we call a particular church (one with its own, fully established Biblical church government).
But what if you can only come for the ordination service? Won’t you miss some great food? Nope, because after the service, we are going to have a dessert bar so all of our friends from churches across the state can celebrate with us.
It is going to be an amazing day, and we would love for you to join us for any or all of the events on December 5th. If you have any questions, contact Gordon Duncan at email@example.com or call at 919-412-8161. Also, if you would like to help with food, contact Kristine Stead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One last serving of photos from the Sovereign King Love Feast.
More photos coming tomorrow…
I recently finished reading “Worldliness” a collection of essays by such authors as C.J. Mahaney and John Piper. Though small, this book is incredibly practical and theologically sound. It focuses not on the list of things to do or not do to maintain holiness and avoid worldliness, but instead, it offers practical tips as to how we should guard our hearts from drifting into a love of this world. In this area, I would agree with the book. The issue of our love for the world lies not the things we avoid or indulge, but rather the issue of our love for the world lies in what our heart is drawn to or even away from.
CJ Mahaney, in his article, offers a practical guideline as to how we know if our hearts are drifting away from holiness and into a love of this world. He describes it in way: “It begins with a dull conscience and a listless soul. Sin does not grieve you like it once did. Passion for the Savior begins to cool. Affections grow dim. Excitement lessens for participating in the local church. Eagerness to evangelize starts to wane. Growth in godliness slows to a crawl.”
I thought there was great wisdom in this explanation. Each thing he mentions can gradually creep into our lives while we are so often are unaware of its presence. For example, does sin grieve us at it once did or have we grown accustomed to it? Do we worship and participate in the life of our local church out of obligation or passion? Have we lost our excitement for sharing the truths of the Gospel to those who need it or have we by default left it for someone else to do?
These things might not immediately warn us of a heart that is moving toward worldliness, but if they are present, they are evidence of a dimming passion for Christ. If our passion is dimming for Christ, the only remaining passion is for this world. Mahaney warns of not taking these things seriously. He samples a typical response.
We say, “Oh, it’s not serious. I’ve just been in a busy season. Yeah, I’m not as excited about the gospel or the Christian life as I used to be, but I’m fine. I’m still attending church. It’s not like I’ve left God or anything. I’ve just been preoccupied lately. I’ll get back on track soon.”
Mahaney’s response is dead on. We don’t want to admit that our hearts have grown dim in passion for Christ and grown alive in passion for this world. I found this article and the other ones as well just incredibly encouraging and immensely practical. Check it out if you can.
This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.
Historically, a Love Feast is a meal shared by Christians as a symbol of thankfulness and love both to Jesus and to those partaking in the meal. Its origins go all the way back to the 1st Century and it was revived by the Moravian Church as recently as the 1800’s. Essentially, it is a celebratory meal where the church invites in friends and families to thank God for His goodness and grace.
This year, Sovereign King is hosting a Love Feast in place of a standard Christmas party, and I think it is going to be incredible.
A few weeks ago, some folks at SK asked me if we could coordinate a Love Feast for our Christmas celebration and open the meal to our friends and the various communities that we serve: EMS, GPD, women’s shelter. I loved the idea and our folks’ initiative. Christmas parties can be a blast but self-congratulatory Christmas parties are a contradiction in terms. When our folks said they wanted to celebrate by serving, I was all for it.
Coordinating with the EMS, all of the children in the women’s shelter will be receiving Christmas gifts. The mothers will also be receiving gifts and will be enabled to buy a few things for their children as well. An Edible Kingdom (that’s an amped up Gingerbread House I’m told) is being created with the goal of being devoured by the kids, and there might even be some singing.
This is one of the events at SK in which I can take zero credit. It was conceived by our folks, planned by our folks, and implemented by our folks. For that, I love them dearly as they so want to share their love of Christ with each other and the community.
If anyone in the area is interested in attending, email me at email@example.com and we’ll get details to you. I think this Saturday is going to be an incredible evening.
Often, when an athlete injures them self, they have to relearn how to do the very thing that they were good at in the first place. You read these stories or see interviews on TV about athletes spending an incredible amount of time working out or relearning how to do certain skills because they have been injured. Now, none of us are professional athletes, but I’m sure many of us can relate to the whole re-learning process.
When I broke my right hand playing softball, I had to relearn how to hold a pencil without it causing me pain. And you know what? My handwriting did not get any better.
When I injured my knee playing football in college, I learned that my running style was incorrect, and so I relearned running so as not injure myself anymore.
The hardest relearning came when I hit my head and injured my shoulder diving into a swimming pool. I had to relearn how to sleep. My entire life, I had slept on my left side, but that was not possible anymore because it was my left shoulder that had to be repaired. Sleeping on that side meant I would wake up in excruciating pain. So I had to relearn to sleep on my right side.
Now, most of us need to relearn something at some point and time. And this relearning serves a couple of purposes. We relearn things because something is keeping us from doing them properly. And in the relearning process, we discover often that we had forgotten to do them correctly a long time ago. Relearning is pretty beneficial. It removes slowly growing errors while reminding us of the true intention of what we need to do.
That’s exactly what is going to happen in the passage that we are studying this Sunday. We are going to return to Zechariah’s song surrounding the birth of his son, John the Baptist. In doing that, we are going to see how the celebration of the birth of Jesus is really a good time to do a good bit of relearning. With that in mind, let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question:
Big Picture Question: How is Advent a time to relearn what so many have forgotten?
Last week, we spent some time talking about Zechariah’s song surrounding the birth of His son, John the Baptist. In that song, Zechariah sang about how the advent of Jesus signified the absolute defeat of the people of God’s enemies. Sin, death, hell, Satan, and the grave are all defeated. Practically, in addition to all of those things, we talked about how fear and shame are defeated. Through the work of Jesus, God does not intend for His people to live in fear or shame ever again. God does not intend for you to feel shame about what you have done or what has been done to you because the work of Jesus is that powerful. This week, we are going to pick right back up in Zechariah’s song in verse 76.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
Can you imagine singing this about your child at their birth? The angel, Gabriel, made several promises Zechariah nine months prior about his son, John. He promised that
• John would be great before the Lord.
• John would set himself part by his lifestyle.
• John’s ministry would lead to the return of many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God
• And then get this one. Gabriel promised that John would live and serve God in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Now what does that look like? What would it look like for John to serve in the power and spirit of Elijah? Well, the first thing I will tell you is if John has a ministry like Elijah’s then that means counting success very differently than the world counts success. That’s a lesson to us all in the church. So many of us talented in the work place, and in school, and in athletics. But we cannot count success like the world does: numbers and noses or money and people.
Look at Elijah’s ministry. Elijah’s ministry was marked with ups and downs. Yeah, He righteously opposed the idolatry of the day ultimately challenging the 850 prophets of Baal and God came through. Yes, Elijah was used to raise the Widow’s son back to life. But as soon as Jezebel threatened to kill him, he ran scared or as we used to say in Johnston County, “scart”. Without the preserving power of God, no one would have believed from Elijah’s ministry, but fortunately, 7,000 did. At the end of his ministry, the whole world would have looked at him and said, “You started well, but you didn’t finish well.”
John’s ministry will have similar success but in the world’s eyes may not be too impressive. You know why? In the end, John was beheaded by the very people that He called to repentance. The world wouldn’t see that as very successful. This is the promise of John’s ministry from God though. It will be like Elijah’s and God determines what true success is.
Zechariah says…John’s ministry is going to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. John’s ministry is going to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just And John’s ministry is going to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Now folks that is some mission. John’s ministry is going to make father’s better parents. His ministry will lead people to true repentance. And his ministry will as verse 76 says, “prepare the ways for Jesus.” That should sound a lot like what we are doing in this season of Advent but also what the church should do in and out of season. That would be a helpful reminder of something that is so often lost. These should be things we strive for in 2010.
SK needs to be equipping our men to train their children well. I want to see a more developed training through Fight Club, both from me and your elder candidates, and I also hope to be equipping parents better through a future teaching time prior to the worship services. Can you guys imagine a teaching time for adults and kids? I can envision a SK University and a SK Academy to do just that in the next year. Not a full blown school, but I easily see an intense training and teaching program for our parents so that they will be better equipped to teach their kids. Part of that could about before we get a new building, and it could flat out explode when we get a new building.
SK needs to be about turning the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. The foundational beginnings of SK started with investigative Bible studies at the now defunct Bushiban Coffee Shop. These studies that were populated with all strata of folks with the intention of introducing Jesus to them. I want us to regain the enthusiasm for taking the message of the Gospel in similar ways to areas like Swift Creek Coffee, Wake Tech, and the other places where the social tribes gather in our area. I would love to see our CE Groups lead the charge of investigative Bible studies in places where people gather.
SK also needs to be preparing the way for the Lord and His Second Advent. What that means is that we need to recapture an urgency for the work of the Kingdom. We can’t assume that there is someone else to do the mission. If you are in earshot of my voice, you need to assume the work of creating and engaging community is yours. God has blessed us immensely this year, but He is never going to bless us to the point that He does not call each and every one of you to work with all your might to the efforts of the Kingdom.
These things can be so easily forgotten if we are not careful. The promises sung in these songs are clear reminders to us to make sure that does not happen. Look at verse 77.
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
One of the specific purposes of John the Baptist’s ministry was to proclaim the Gospel – the good news, the knowledge of salvation to the people that God has called to Himself. In that knowledge, God’s people will find forgiveness for their sins. When it comes down to it, people have to hear the truths of scripture in order to know how to be forgiven. The words that need to be proclaimed are about the tender mercies of God. John was to proclaim light and hope to those in darkness and the shadow of death so that people would have a guide for their feet.
Now practically what does that look like? When I think of John the Baptist, I think of a crazy looking man telling people to repent and making people so angry that they wind up chopping his head off. But one thing learned from the life of John the Baptist and this passage is that the only people who are going to respond to His message are those who are called to be God’s people. To those God called to be His people, they responded with repentance. Everyone else responded to John with hostility. That’s why His ministry was successful. Those called by God believed and those who weren’t didn’t. John was just faithful in the proclaiming.
As we consider John’s work, we should ask how we walk in that kind of ministry now in light of both John’s and Jesus’ ministry being complete? You know we cannot forget that this same mission is what you are called to, what your family is called to and what this church is called to. We own a ministry just like John’s. Now definitively, we are not John the Baptist. Our circumstances and our context are vastly different. But if we spend a few minutes looking at the scriptures, we will be reminded that the ministry of Sovereign King Church and you in particular is incredibly similar to Johns. I think that mission for us is expressed pretty well in 2 Corinthians 5.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
Verse 16 talks about how through Christ, we should have a new set of lenses by which we view the world. We aren’t to look at things as the world does. To look at the world through the flesh is to look at them in one way: personal gain. That’s what lust is and greed is and selfishness is: viewing others for personal gain. Lust says you only exist for my pleasure. Greed says you only exist for my benefit. One reminder for us this year is that we need to refocus our we view God, ourselves, and each other. You are a new creation so do not regard things according to the flesh.
Now when it comes to thinking about Jesus, we are thankful for Jesus but we should not look at Him for personal gain. Yes we are thankful for what Jesus has done on our behalf through His life, death, and resurrection. But Jesus is to be worshiped for who He is first and foremost: the son of God by which all things have been made. That is an incredible reminder to all of us. We should praise Jesus for His wonderful work. But Jesus deserves and demands our praise for who He is. A goal for 2010? Praise Jesus for who He is before praising Him for His benefit to you. It will change your worship and your devotional life. This is possible because of verse 17.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then the old you has passed away and you live as a new creation.
• You now have the ability to praise God.
• You now have the desire to serve God.
• You can actually perform a righteous act.
• You can think Godly thoughts.
• You can resist temptation.
• You can look at people without selfish intent.
• You can call out to God and in His mercy, He hears you.
We don’t do that all the time because sin remains, but we must reminded that we are made new through faith in Jesus Christ. All of this enable us to have a ministry like John the Baptist’s. Look at verse 18.
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
God reconciled and repaired the broken relationship between you and Himself. He did it through Jesus Christ. And in addition, God has given you the privilege and the responsibility to be a part of the ministry of bringing others to reconciliation with God. That is everyone single believer’s privilege and responsibility. That is in verse 19, Christ who is God repairs the relationship with the world to himself. He doesn’t count people’s sins against them because He took the payment of sin on himself by living and dying for sin. And He has given you that message. The message you are to deliver day in and day out is that Jesus repairs the broken relationship with God.
Imagine how many messages you deliver each day. Husbands, make a joke about your wife’s appearance and you send the message that you don’t think she is pretty. Wives, insult your husband and send the message that you don’t appreciate how hard he works. Kids ask their parents to play with them and parents say they are too busy reading emails and they send a message to their kids that email is more important.
There are also functional messages that we send every day. Those include vm’s, emails, texts, letters, tweets, facebook status, DM’s and the like.
We send positive messages each day as well. Fathers, tell their daughters that they are smart, pretty, and Godly and send the message to them that they don’t have to get that affirmation from the first boy who gives them a kiss. Children, obey your parents happily and send the message to your parents that you are maturing and might be able to handle greater freedoms.
Everything you do sends a message. Even when you are sending a message, you are sending a message. You might be as quiet as a church mouse but that sends a message to people as well. This passage speaks to the message that we have to proclaim. You should be reminded that if you called on the name of Christ and claim to be a Christian, you are a new creation, called, equipped, and responsible for the proclamation of the good news that Jesus reconciles sinners to Himself. You don’t get to hope that someone else is going to do it. 2010 is about your being reminded of this beautiful privilege. Look at how that privilege is details in verse 20.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Listen to verse 20. You are an ambassador for Christ. God makes His appeal to the world through you and you and you and you. I implore you as Paul does. Be reconciled to Christ. Call others to reconciliation with Christ.
Read verse 20 to yourself. Read it in the first person. “I am an ambassador in Christ.” “God makes His appeal to the world through me.” Here within this community, God makes His appeal in so many places.
• God makes His appeal in the legal community through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal in the school system through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal in the computer world through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal to students through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal in the financial world through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal to the grocery stores through the work of SK.
• God makes His appeal to the police and EMS through the work of SK.
• If you are a stay at home mom, then God makes His appeal to all the stay at home moms through the work of SK.
In every relationship you have, your mission is to at some point and time to declare this. I implore you on behalf of Jesus to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, became sin so that in Him, sinners might become the very righteousness of God. Folks, here is what I think the scriptures want to remind you of today. God has given you the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. You cannot be loved less by God than you are right now and you cannot be loved more by God because of Jesus Christ. You are made 100% perfectly acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. God doesn’t hold your past against you because He has loved you from eternity past before you even had a past.
Because all of these things are true, you are God’s ambassador. God makes His appeal to the world through you. Every circumstance and relationship of your life is intended to be a platform by which you declare, “Be reconciled to God.” We can do these not because we are so righteous and perfect, but we can do them because God has make you a new creation and His righteousness has been given to you.
This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Read it there and help me earn a penny.
Have you ever had something amazing happen to you, and when you go to tell someone about it, they have had something even greater happen for them? It can be disappointing because you want to revel in what’s happening but you also feel shortchanged a bit.
Maybe something like this has happened to you.
• You tell someone you got a $500 raise, and they got a $5,000 raise.
• You have 50 people going to your church and someone else has 100 (or even a thousand).
• You get a B in really hard class, and your sister gets an A.
I remember when I was in high school, I got straight A’s one time, but my brother, who did not enjoy school, finally graduated. He got the praise and I didn’t. I was like, “Hey, how about something for the effort?”
Hopefully we mature through those things, but honestly, being thankful and sharing in other people’s joys is not as easy as we think. But look at Mary and Elizabeth’s interaction in the Gospels. Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist and Mary is pregnant with Jesus. Now if two people ever had the right to be excited about what God was doing in their lives, it was Mary and Elizabeth. But if you examine their interactions more closely, you will see that their joy and thankfulness was not just for themselves. They were thankful about what God was going to do for others through them.
In this, we have a simple lesson that doesn’t even require a sermon, (don’t be selfish in your joy – share in the joy of others). One way to do that is to explore Mary’s genuine joy for God’s work in other people’s lives (scripture below). During the holidays, it’s almost a given that we are supposed to be kind to those in need and remember others, but genuine care for others goes beyond holiday customs. Genuine care begins when we are thankful for what God has done for others.
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Once upon a time, there were two Godly people, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah served faithfully as a priest, and both he and his wife were described as walking righteously before their God. It would seem the only sadness in their lives was that Elizabeth was barren, so they had no children in which to take joy.
One day, Zechariah is serving in the temple, and an angel of the Lord appeared to Him. Out of great respect and fear, Zechariah trembled before this messenger of God. The angel of the Lord tells him, “No need for fear. Your prayers have been answered and your wife Elizabeth is pregnant. You are to name your child John. He will be a great among God’s people. He will set himself apart both by his lifestyle and his message. He will make the paths straight for the coming of the promised Savior.
Now that’s a pretty good day. You serve in the temple. An angel shows up. Tells you the one thing that you have prayed for the most will be given to you by God. And the child you desire so much is going to be a great man used by God to usher in the Savior of the World.
That would seem to be a pretty good day. You would think Zechariah would jump for joy.
Instead, he says, “Um, how do I know this will all come true? Elizabeth is getting up there in age.”
The angel of the Lord responds and says, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the very presence of God and have been sent by Him to give you this message, and you want reassurance? How’s this? You won’t be able to speak another word until that baby is born. That will probably assure you that God means what He says.”
And just like that…Zechariah fell silent…for the next 9 months.
Now, we like to read this story and criticize Zechariah. It is easy to wonder how he could doubt when Gabriel is standing before him telling him what God is going to do. We wonder why Zechariah was so doubtful that God could cause him and his wife to be pregnant when again, Gabriel is standing before him.
It would do us all very well, however, to relate to Zechariah. Zechariah was…scared, plain and simple. Though the promise from God was great, though the delivery of that promise was great, though God was granting him everything that he ever wanted, he was still scared. So scared in fact that it causes him to doubt God himself.
In that, I bet you and I can relate to Zechariah. It is our fear that most often causes us to doubt God. This week, as we begin to celebrate our Advent season, we are going to explore just how Jesus and His work removes us from all fear. If we can embrace that, we will be transformed people. So, let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question:
Big Picture Question: How does the birth of Jesus not only repair our relationship with God but also remove us from fear and shame?
68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
We found ourselves in this passage moments after the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Upon the sight of his son being born, Zechariah bursts into song as he sees the fulfillment of God’s promises literally come to life. I always thought that it made sense that Zechariah sings this song and not Elizabeth. I’m sure if anyone put a microphone to her face so quickly after getting birth she would have yelled, “Get those cameras out of here.”
But Zechariah begins His joyous song of thanksgiving by declaring that the Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed His people. Now how can he say that God has visited and redeemed His people? John is not the Savior. John the Baptist is not going to die for anyone’s sins.
Well the answer is found in doing a little bit of word work. Zechariah is saying a lot when he says that God has visited His people. Visited is the same word for “looked after”. Jesus uses the same word when He says “I was sick, and you looked after me” God’s visiting His people is not the kind of visit many of us just experienced over Thanksgiving where you show up, do your best to not offend anybody for 4 hours and then leave. God’s visiting is to meet the incredible sin need of His people. It is an active caring visiting.
But how has God redeemed His people? That my friends is a statement of faith. If God is going to give Elizabeth and Zehcariah a child so late in life, then supernaturally silence Him for 9 months, then surely God will keep His promises of bringing about Savior through the ministry of John the Baptist. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah sees that God working salvation in the path of John and ultimately Christ. God’s redemption of His people is as sure as done as John the Baptist will help bring about the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Look at how Zechariah describes Jesus’ work in verse 69.
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
Now in scripture, a horn of something always symbolizes “power” and in this case the language implies a “destructive power”. Essentially God has raised up a destructive power of salvation. With that in mind, we should ask, “What is it that God needs to destroy to bring salvation? Don’t answer esoterically. What in scripture has told you that something must be destroyed so that people might be forgiven and saved?
Well, way back in Genesis 3:16, when all of humanity fell under the curse of death because of their willful choosing to sin, God promised salvation. God said it would come in the seed of the woman (Eve) crushing the head of the serpent (Satan). What is necessary for salvation is that the Savior must overcome the curse of sin and the accusations of the enemy. That destructive power of salvation is going to come from the house of David. Immediately we know that Z is not speaking about the destructive power of salvation coming from his son, John the Baptist. That would be the house of Levi. He is speaking of Jesus who would fulfill another promise of the OT that was given to King David when God told Him that one of descendant would sit upon the throne for all eternity.
This is the promise that the prophets have spoken of for thousands of years, and now that promise is being fulfilled. Moses called the promised one the prophet that God would raise up. David called the promised one the one who would sit at God’s right hand. Isaiah called the promised one wonderful counselor. Jeremiah called the promised one the branch of salvation. Jeremiah called the promised one the Lord. Ezekiel called the promised one the shepherd. Daniel called the promised one the son of man with everlasting dominion. Micah called the promised one the ruler of Israel. Malachi called the promised one the angel of the covenant. All of scripture and the prophets spoke of Jesus, the wonderful Savior to come, and Zechariah, a prophet himself now sings of our coming rescuer.
Not only will Jesus save us from sin and destructively put to death sin and Satan, look what else He will do. Look at verse 71.
It says He has come “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
This is the point in the sermon where I don’t know if we’ll make it much further because there is so much rich material here. What Zechariah is doing is explaining the redemption that Zechariah spoken of in verse 68. Zechariah promises that God will save His people from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them. Rightfully so, we should ask the question, “Who are God’s people’s enemies?”
Well, as you read the playing out Jesus’ interactions with almost every sing person in the Gospels, most folks felt that physical enemies of Israel the Old Testament were going to get an old-fashion butt-whipping. Everyone thought that Jesus was going to kick out the pagan occupants of Israel and restore a physical kingdom in that day and time. Obviously that was not part of Jesus’ agenda to everyone’s dismay so we have to wait until heaven I guess for God to give out those butt-whippings. But scripture also calls Satan, sin, death, the grave, hell as well as many other things your enemies. All these enemies hate you and seek for your destruction whether you are aware of it or not. And we just saw Jesus’ destructive salvation proclaimed.
• He defeats sin by living sinlessly.
• He defeats the grave by rising victoriously from it after He was crucified.
• He defeats Hell by rescuing sinners from it.
• He defeats Satan by obeying in the face of temptation, living for obedience, dying for sin, and rising for new life.
• Ultimately, Rev 20:10 tells us that Jesus will cast Satan and Hell into the Lake of Fire, so there is no reigning of Satan in Hell. He is defeated.
Now, that is the joy of the believer’s life and the hope offered to hurting world. But you know, in Zechariah’s job of priest, he also dealt with another enemy of God’s people that is not mentioned quite as often. Notice the language of verse 74 and 75.
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
The deliverance from this enemy will enable people to serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness for the rest of their lives. You might ask, “After defeating sin, the grave, death, hell, and Satan, what enemy is left?” I would answer…the enemy of fear and shame. Fear and shame were always in people’s mind because of the clean/unclean system.
You see, in the OT system, to enter the temple either to offer sacrifice or do any other prescribed act of worship, the Priest would declare you either clean, unclean, or the seemingly worst category unclean and outcast. To be declared unclean meant that you were not allowed to worship or offer sacrifice until a prescribed amount of time passed. More than likely, people avoided when you were unclean so as not to become unclean themselves.
Now, not everything that caused you to be unclean was sinful. You could of course become unclean by doing something like having an affair or willfully doing something you were commanded not to do. However, you might have no choice but to come in contact with a dead body or you might have to take care of someone who was terribly sick. These things would make you unclean but not be sinful. For example, Jesus touched and healed lepers, blind men, and the women with the discharge. In all that situations, Jesus made them clean but technically became ceremonially unclean in the touching. He didn’t sin but he was unclean.
Now the clean unclean system in the OT was designed to help us understand a few things. We understand God’s purity and holiness, our own conscience and need for forgiveness, our need to have fear and shame removed from our lives.
I read one article this week that called shame “a dead weight of not good-enoughness,” and Ed Welch who is one counselor I really respect says this about shame. He says, “Shame says you are unacceptable because of what you have done or what had been done to you, and even worse, there are witnesses.” Shame makes you feel despicable because the action, whether you did it to be unclean or it was done to you makes you feel worthless.”
Despite the declaration of forgiveness and restoration from the work of Jesus, so many people are still held captive and are prisoners to their shame. Some of that shame has come from things you’ve done. Yet, some of it is not your fault. People have hurt you. People have touched you. People have mocked you. I spoke a wonderful person just this week because when I asked her what her nickname was as a kid, she couldn’t tell me. She said her dad gave it to her and it was not nice. In fact, it was scarring.
Folks, Jesus has conquered all your enemies including your enemy of shame. If you can lose shame, you will lose fear. If you lose shame and fear, then you will live a joyous life, perhaps for first time ever. Buckle, let me give you all some hope that comes from Jesus whom we celebrate and Zechariah sings. I want to walk us through some the incredible promises surrounding Jesus that speak to His defeating of our enemy of fear and shame.
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
Isaiah 64 for speaks of a shame so great, that even the good things we attempt are polluted and diseased. The effects of sin cause us to whither and die. Now I don’t want anyone to recall specific feelings of shame, but I think everyone here can relate to the feelings expressed in Isaiah 64. Your shame causes you to whither and you feel like dying. You feel that it is impossible for you to do any good thing because of your shame, and if you do attempt something good it is tainted.
But God calls your name and moves Himself to defend your cause. God seeks you out in the midst of your fear and shame. It is the exact opposite of what we think God will do. Our feelings of shame make us think that God is not going to be anywhere near us because He his angry. His wrath against sin has been great, and we have felt His wrath against it. But listen to the promise of verse 8.
8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Doesn’t that sound familiar to the promises of Romans that we heard just a few weeks ago? The Lord your God your Father, is the potter who makes pottery into lovely honorable pieces of art. If you go a bit further back into Isaiah 54, you will see what that picture of honor and blessing looks like. Now, men before I read this, bear with the female personification of the people of God. The imagery that God uses for the church is bride of Christ, so many promises to the people of God are feminine in nature. Because of that, men sometimes have a tendency to tune out or not apply the promises in scripture that are given in the feminine. Please don’t make that mistake. The masculine need for the removal of shame is just as important as the feminine.
Now, let me set the groundwork of Isaiah 54 before we jump into it. The people of God here are described as being barren. Of course, the people of God are not physically barren. They were having plenty of children left and right. No, they were barren because they were unable to produce anything with a lasting Godly legacy. What they produce is sin and shame and God is going to rescue them from that sin and shame through Jesus Christ. That is a feeling that I think many people can relate to. You feel so much shame that you think that there is no hope of ever living a Godly life or producing any longstanding Godly legacy. So before I go any further, if you struggle with shame because you were raped or sexually abused and you feel that something has been taken from you that you can never get back, this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because you made promises to God and you haven’t kept them, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because you have been an unfaithful spouse, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because not your but your spouse has been unfaithful, then this promise is for you. If you struggle with shame because of your secret internet porn addiction, then this promise is for you.
God does not intend for His children to live in shame. He has freed you from it. As I read these promises, hear them addressed to yourself.
Isaiah 54:4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
Now you may hear that and think it sounds great. However, you might also think, “Great, God doesn’t want me to be ashamed or disgrace, but then you think that no matter the promise, it feels like God deserted you a long time ago. Knowing that God describes those feelings verse 7
7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.
It does feel like God deserts in the most painful of moments. In struggling with shame, we assume that God will never come near us again. But God wonderfully promises to pursue and gather you in with His great compassion. Yes, God is angered by sin and it felt as if His face was hidden but God has an everlasting love that causes Him to pour out compassion on you. In case you want to know how sure this promise is of God to never leave or forsake you, read verse 9.
9 “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you.
God likens His promise to never forsake to the promise He made to never flood the earth again with Noah. When God destroyed the earth because of sin, He gave Noah and humanity the rainbow as a covenant sign and promise that He would never destroy the earth because of sin in that way ever again. Now, because of the securing work of Jesus, God promises never to be angry with you again. Folks, drink that in and live that for a moment.
• Because of the incredible advent and work of Jesus Christ.
• Because Jesus absorbed all of the wrath of God on the Cross
• Because Jesus earned the good pleasure of God by living a perfect life
• Because Jesus absorbed every ounce of shame associated with your sin and any sin done to you, God promises not to be angry with you ever again.
How sure is this promise of God never being angry again? Look at verse 10.
10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
The earth may crumble, the mountain may fall apart, the hills might be remove, but the steadfast love of God will never depart from you. God makes a covenant with you now through Jesus. And the gift of that covenant is not shame, and it is not fear, and it is not judgment. It is a promised covenant of peace. Something so many of you long for.
And get this. Verse 17 says, “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” You are not going to leave a legacy of sin and shame because of what you have done or because of what has been done to you. Jesus, the promised Savior of Zechariah’s song vindicates you and give you a heritage, a new legacy, of righteousness. The goal is that we might serve God, free from the fear of our enemies and even free from the fear of God’s wrath. Because of Jesus has done, as Zechariah sings, you can now serve God in holiness and righteousness.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
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