Everything doesn’t have to be calm for all to be bright. The message of Christmas is the confidence that the future is filled with hope; and the knowledge that God is with us right here, right now, working to transform our lives. Join us this December as we discover the truth about living in – and as – the light.

THE POWER OF CONTRAST

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

7/8

Judges 7:1-22

Welcome to the first of our 2019 Christmas sermon series. When everything is dark, any light at all can make a difference. You were designed, with God’s assistance, to drive back the darkness in the world around you by shining as a light for others to see. You are encouraged in today’s message to set aside the world’s way of thinking and embrace opportunities to show how God is making a difference.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills on this first full weekend of December in the beginning of our Christmas series, “All Is Bright.” Here’s what we believe at Mission…that’s not right. Here’s what we know at Mission Hills. Christianity is a world-changing faith. It doesn’t just change us. It changes everything. It spills out of us into our relationships, our families, our communities, and our world or at least it’s supposed to, and that’s really what this series is about is what does it take to live out the Christian faith in the way that Jesus intended it?

Now, let me introduce you to two truths that are gonna guide us through this Christmas series. The first is something Jesus said about himself. It’s John chapter 8, verse 12. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.” How many of you have heard that before, right? It makes sense. Jesus is the light of the world. He said, “I’m the light of the world, and whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” That’s what he said about himself.

The second truth that’s gonna guide us through this series is something that Jesus said about us, something that he said to his followers about his followers. And so if you’re a follower of Jesus, this is something that Jesus said about you. This is Matthew chapter 5, verse 14. He said, “You are the light of the world.” It’s a little intimidating, right? He’s the light of the world, but he says to his followers that you are the light of the world.

Of course, he doesn’t mean that we have a light in and of ourselves. It’s his light shining in us, but it is supposed to shine. He says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it up on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Well, in the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

So we’ve been given a command that we are to shine. We’ve been given a command that we’re to make things brighter. We’ve been given a command that we’re to drive back the darkness. Now, the bad news is that we have an enemy in the world that is committed to keeping us from shining in the way that God calls us to. The good news is 1 John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” right?

The devil cannot defeat us. The devil cannot keep us held down or our back and can’t keep us in the dark. Light always wins out against darkness every single time, and the devil knows this. And so his strategy is to feed us lies designed to keep us from shining. He can’t defeat the light, but if he can keep us from shining, he manages to hold on to his territory. And today, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna tackle one of the biggest lies I think that Christians struggle with when it comes to being the light that Jesus says that we are, and that’s the lie that I’m not enough. I think every one of us on one level and other struggles with some version of this lie.

We go, “I can’t drive back darkness. I can’t shine and make a difference because I’m not smart enough. I’m not wise enough. I’m not experienced enough. I don’t know enough about the Bible. I haven’t been walking with Jesus long enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m not old enough. I’m not bold enough. I’m not young enough,” any number of things that we struggle with. And my guess is that most of us could immediately go, “Yeah, here’s the struggle that I have. Here’s the I am not enough-ism that I struggle with.”

And honestly, if you can’t think of a single one, I’ll give you it. You’re not humble enough. Okay. Well, we all have one of these things that goes, “Well, I can’t do anything here. I can’t make a difference because I’m not enough.” Fill in the blank. And the most powerful truth that I can speak into that lie is what I call the law of contrasts.

Let me show you what I mean. If you wanna grab a Bible, we’re gonna take a little bit of a trip down the rabbit hole today. We’re gonna start with that first verse that I shared. That first verse is guiding us throughout this month. It says this. John 8:12, “Now, when Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

What you need to understand is that Jesus didn’t come up with this on the spot. What Jesus said about himself here was actually something that was said about him about 700 years before Jesus showed up, something that was said about him by a prophet by the name of Isaiah. And what Jesus says here is actually an arrow pointing back to this prophecy in the Book of Isaiah Chapter 9.

We’re gonna go down the rabbit hole a little bit and go on a search for the source, the ultimate source of what Jesus says about himself here, and so we’re gonna go back to Isaiah Chapter 9. Isaiah 9:2 says this, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And there’s the key phrase, walking in darkness. Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”

Well, Isaiah says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.” We’re gonna go a little farther down because what Isaiah says here is just scratching the surface of everything that he says about this coming Messiah. He’s predicting the coming of Jesus, and he says a lot more here than just that he’s gonna be light. He goes on to say this.

He says, “You,” meaning God. “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy. They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the days of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle, every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning and will be fuel for the fire. 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.” Sounds familiar?

Yeah. It’s a classic Christmas passage. In fact, if you spend any time at all in a church around Christmas, chances are at some point, you’ve heard somebody read that verse, and so those are very familiar words. Isaiah is saying, “Hey, when the Messiah comes, it’s gonna be like this.” And when Jesus arrives, he says, “I am the light that Isaiah was talking about. I am the great light that has dawned on those that are walking in deep darkest. That’s me.”

But everything that Isaiah says here is not necessarily familiar. We’re familiar with that last part, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, but in the middle of that, Isaiah said something really important about the coming of Jesus that most of us kind of skim over. And that is, in verse 4, he said this, “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, as in the day of Midian’s defeat.” And if you’re right now sitting here kind of looking around going, “Wait a minute. Am I supposed to know what that means?” It’s okay. Probably, a lot of us don’t. Even though we read those words often every Christmas, we don’t actually understand what he’s talking about.

What Isaiah is saying though is when the Messiah comes, when Jesus arrives, it’s gonna be just like the day of Midian’s defeat. Well, what was that day was he talking about? We gotta go further down the rabbit hole. We gotta go all the way back to the Book of Judges. Judges chapter 7 is where that comes from. Here’s what we learned about the day of Midian’s defeat.

Judges 7:1 says this, “Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal,” (that is Gideon,) “and all of his men camped at the spring of Harod. Now, the camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.” There’s the Midian we’re talking about. Midian is one of the enemies of God’s people, and they’re about to do war against Israel. Now, we’re gonna find out a little bit later on in the story that the Midians and their allies numbered about 135,000 soldiers. Israel, on the other hand, had about 32,000, which is not good odds, right? I mean, that’s basically four to one odds. That means for them to win this battle, they were gonna have to…every one of their soldiers were gonna have to defeat four of their enemy soldiers. Those are not great odds.

And I don’t know about you, but when I’m facing a situation that I feel like the odds are not in my favor, that’s a really good impulse to go pray, right? Right. When you feel an overwhelming like, “I can’t handle this. I don’t have what it takes. I’m gonna go to God,” right? And I imagine Gideon went to God, and he said, “God, I don’t know if you’re watching, but it doesn’t look good, right? There’s four of them for every one of us. There’s four to one odds. You’re gonna have to do something.”

Now, the way I would naturally pray and the way I suspect Gideon probably prayed was, “God, I need you to send me some more men. I need you to give me more resource. I need you to give me more of what I need so that I can win this. I need you to do that. At the very least, God, I need you to reduce their resources, right? A plague would be great right about now. I’d be okay with an earthquake. I don’t really care what it is, but if you could even the odds out just a little bit, that would be fantastic.”

And I don’t know about you, but, you know, sometimes I pray…I’m gonna be honest with you. Sometimes I pray, and I wonder if God’s really listening. It happens. Sometimes I know. Sometimes I don’t. Gideon has a really unique experience. He goes to God with his prayer, and there’s no question that God listens because God speaks. And here’s what God says.

And the Lord said to Gideon in response to his prayer, “You have too many men.” Wait a minute. What? Now, I think maybe we have a bad connection. No, I think you mean they have too many men. That was the whole point, right? They have too many men. What do you mean? And God says, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands or Israel would boast against me saying, ‘My own strength has saved me.”‘ In other words, what God knows at some point I think we understand is that our strength can be our weakness because it blinds us to our need for God. Do you hear me, Church?

See, when we face the difficult circumstance with resources and especially when we face the difficult circumstance with enough resources that we think we’re gonna be able to handle the circumstance, God kind of disappears from our view, right? We go, “Yeah. I got these resources. I’m strong enough to them. I’m smart enough. I have enough experience. You know, I have some wisdom. I got some people around me. I’ve got enough money. I can deal with the problem,” whatever it is. When we face a circumstance with sufficient resources, God tends to disappear from our radar. And so God says, “No, you have too many men. I’m not gonna leave you blind to the real source of your strength.”

So, verse 3 says, “Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead. So twenty-two thousand men left while ten thousand remained.”‘ Like, I can’t even imagine how that played out, right? Like God said, “Here’s what I want you to do. Just go tell the army, “If anyone of you is trembling with fear,” which is really kind of putting it on thick, right? I mean, he’s basically supposed to go up there and announce, “Hey, if any of you are about to pee your pants because you’re so scared, feel free to go home.”

And I’m sure Gideon’s like, “Oh, okay, I know what God’s doing. God wants to stir them up,” right? He’s gonna go, “We’re not that of kind of fear. No, not a chance.” And so he goes…then he goes, “Hey, if you guys are just quaking in your boots, if you’re so scared, feel free to go home.”

And I’m sure for a while everybody just sort of stood there, but there’s one guy, right? Only one sorts of one guy. There’s one guy going, “Nope, nobody. Yeah, I’m going home. Yeah, I don’t mind. I mean, I’m really scared. It’s four to one odds. Do you understand that, right? Yeah, I’m gone. See ya.” And he takes off, and everyone else is like, “You’re gonna let him go?” “Yeah, I’m going to.”

And one by one, twenty-two thousand men leave. So they go from 4 to 1 odds to basically 14 to 1 odds. They lost two-thirds of their strength. Now it’s 1 man for every 14. 1 man of Israel has to defeat 14 of the enemy. And so I’m sure Gideon goes, “God, did you see that coming because I did not see that coming? I did not think that’s how that was gonna play out. You got a back-up plan?” So he goes back to God, and he prays. Verse 4, the Lord spoke again. “But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men.”‘ What? What are you talking about? He says, “There’s still too many men. He says, “Take them down to the water, and I’ll thin them out for you.” “Oh, will you? Really? That’d be great.”

“If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go, but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go. So Gideon took the men down to the water, and there the Lord told him, ‘Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink. Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.’ So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home, but he kept the three hundred who took over the provisions and the trumpets of the others, and the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.”‘

There’s a little bit of confusion among scholars here. Nobody’s exactly sure what’s going on. I mean, the picture is pretty clear. They go down to the river and some men, they basically go all the way down kind of hands and knees, and they drink directly from the stream. Others don’t. Others stay kind of upright a little bit, and they put their hands in, and they bring it up. That’s what he means by lapping because that’s how a dog drinks. Did you know that? If you watch a slow-motion of a dog, its tongue actually makes a little cup, and it kind of flings the water up into its mouth, which is an incredibly messy way to drink. It’s why – I have dogs, there’s always wet around their dish, right? That’s basically what they’re doing.

Now, what I’ve been told…when I was growing up, what I was told was, Well, see here’s what happened. The guys who went down on the hands and knees, they’re not maintaining situational awareness, right? They’re totally blind. Everything is going on around them, and so we don’t want those guys fighting. Whereas the guys who did this, you know, they’re maintaining situational awareness, right? And that might be true. It’s possible.

But interesting enough, you could make the argument that those who went down to drink were the bravest, right? They weren’t worried about what was going on around. They had enough courage. Whereas those who did this, they were still kind of shaking in their boots. They’re like, “I don’t know what’s going on. I gotta be ready to run.” So he might have kept the more scared ones. I don’t really know. And it doesn’t really matter because the point isn’t exactly why this group versus that group. The point is he’s down to how many?

Together: Three hundred.

Craig: Three hundred. God’s shedding their strength, right? I mean, they’ve gone from 4 to 1 to 14 to 1. Now, check the math on this. It’s 450 to 1, which I think we can all agree is not great odds, right? If you’re gonna bet on something, those are good odds, but if you’re gonna win something, they’re not. Now, during the night…I think that’s important actually.

During the night, the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, and go down against the camp, because I’m giving it into your hands. If you’re afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they’re saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? God says, “If you’re scared, feel free to go down to the camp and listen in on their conversations.” Well, Gideon and his servant go down to the camp, which means Gideon and his servant are what?

Together: They’re afraid.

Craig: They’re afraid. I think this is really important. Sometimes we have this idea that the opposite of fear is courage. You can’t really have both. That’s just not true. We’re gonna talk about that a little bit next week to understand biblically what courage really is and what fear really is. They’ve got both right here. They’re clearly afraid or they wouldn’t have gone down, but there’s enough courage to at least take God up on his word and to step into the camp. It’s such a massive camp, and it’s just the two of them. And so they’re able to kind of sneak in and to listen in on conversations. And they hear a very interesting conversation.

He says, verse 12, “The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore,” which I think we can all agree is a lot of camels. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling his friend his dream. ‘I had a dream, he was saying. ‘A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”‘ Can we all agree that that’s a weird dream? It’s weird. You know, in the evening of a battle, you’re like, “I had a really weird dream. I wanna tell you about it. There was this big round loaf of bread, and it came rolling.” Really? That’s weird, but not as weird as what his friend says.

Verse 14, “His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”‘ Really? There’s no other options. Like, that’s the first place you go like, “We’re all gonna die. You saw bread? We’re done for.” Like, really? I mean, best guess is what’s happening here is that a lot of the Israelites were not actually professional soldiers. They were farmers, and a lot of them were barley farmers.

So what might have been happening is that the Amalekites and the Midianites and all that group there, they’ve been kind of trash-talking the enemy. They’re going, “Hey, yeah, we’re going to war tomorrow against the barley boys,” right? It’s gonna be simple. It’s not a big deal because they’re farmers. They’re not soldiers. And so that may be the connection there. But in any event, Gideon hears this dream and its interpretation.

Verse 15 says, “When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel, and he called out, ‘Get up. The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’ Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them with torches inside.”‘ That’s important. You need to pay attention to that. What happens is they lit torches, but then they hid them inside jars, which is kind of funny because see, I grew up in church, I grew up in a Christian home, and I’m grateful for that. And grew up in Sunday school, and in Sunday school, we had these weird little songs that we sang. And one of them burned into my brain for all of eternity was, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

And there was another verse of it. I don’t know if anybody knows it. We’d go, “Hide it under a bushel.” Thank you. I appreciate that. It makes me feel at home. And I never got that. I was like, “Hide under…” What is a bushel, and why would you hide a light under? Well, bushel’s basically it’s a bowl. It was a certain unit of measurement. It was a jar, and literally, what they’re doing now is they’ve lit their torches, they’ve lit their light, and they’ve hid it in a bushel. They’ve hid it in a bowl. They’ve hid it in a jar.

“Watch me,” Gideon told them. ‘Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp,’ because they were gonna kind of align themselves around the camp, ‘shout for the Lord and for Gideon.’ Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch.”‘ The important thing there is it’s the darkest part of the night. It’s as dark as it’s ever gonna get. It’s also as quiet as it’s ever gonna get.

“Just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and they broke the jars that were in their hands.” And so suddenly, the light bursts out of these jars. “The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon,”’ which is so interesting to me because they yell a sword, but in their hands, they actually have a torch and a trumpet. Instead of weapons of war, they’re actually fighting with light and with sound in the darkest and the quietest part of the night.

“While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled,” right? Because, you know, when everything’s dark, and suddenly lights begin to spring into view, especially when they’re springing into view all around you with a whole lot of noise. And human beings aren’t good at estimating anything over 20 actually. When you get into hundreds, honestly, most human beings can’t tell if you’re talking thousands or what. And so suddenly around the camp, there’s this noise, and they’re shouting, there’s trumpets going off, there’s lights, and they’re waving back and forth. They just panic. They freak out, so they begin to run.

Now when the three hundred trumpets sounded the Lord, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. So the strength of the enemy actually was turned on the enemy. “The army fled to Beth Shittah towards Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.” They won. 450 to 1, they won.

Let’s go back up the rabbit hole, shall we? Isaiah 9:4. When the Messiah comes, it will be as in the days of Midian’s defeat. “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” When the Messiah comes, he says, it’s gonna be like the days of Midian’s defeat. So that’s Christmas, right?

God didn’t rescue us with a show of power, right? God didn’t rescue us by suddenly demonstrating how mighty he was, right? That’s not Christmas. God left heaven, right? I mean, the King of the Universe left heaven. He left the palace of heaven to be born in a barn. That’s not a show of strength. That’s a shedding of strength, isn’t it? He left the moment-by-moment worshiped by Archangels, beings with such incredible power that you and I can’t even begin to imagine. Like, if we saw Archangels, our natural temptation would be to worship them as gods.

And Jesus enjoyed moment by moment the worship with the adoration of Archangels themselves falling down before him and declaring his might and his power and his glory, and he left all of that to be greeted first by shepherds, the lowliest of those in society. He left all of that to live a life of humility. Instead of being served, he served. That’s one of his favorite statements. He said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” That’s not a show of strength. That’s a shedding of strength. It’s laying aside.

He laid aside all the glory and the honor to live a life of humility and service and ultimately to die on purpose, right? That was the plan from the very beginning. He lived a perfect life with no sin that he had to pay for with his death. And so they beat him, and they battered him. They nailed him on the cross, but when the cross was raised up with him hanging on it, it wasn’t just him. He was bearing upon his shoulders all of our sin. Every wrong we’d ever done and the consequences, he paid for through a demonstration of weakness. That’s Christmas, right? Do you hear me, Church?

God has defeated our Enemy, not with a show of strength, but with a shedding of strength. As in the day of Midian’s defeat, a great light has dawned. That’s the Christmas story. It’s also the Gospel, right? It’s the truth that we forget so easily, right? We see this in Christmas, we see this in the Gospel truth, and yet what we find ourselves doing when we look at darkness is “I can’t do anything there. I’m not strong enough. I’m not bold enough or old enough or young enough or smart enough or experienced enough or educated enough. I don’t have enough answers. I don’t have enough money.”

It’s always, “And I’m not enough because look how deep that darkness is. I’m not enough.” And what we have to do is we have to…we have to combat that lie with the truth of what I call the Law of Contrast. And this is the Law of Contrast that I think God teaches us here. Here’s the Law of Contrast. When everything is dark, a little light makes a big difference, right? When everything is dark, a little light makes a big difference. That’s the Law of Contrast. So God’s teaching us.

I learned the power of that in really kind of vivid way when I was in college. I was in Tennessee with a friend of mine, and we decided to go for a hike. And so we started a hike through the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. I don’t think they’re that great. That’s what they call them. Compared to our mountains, not so great. But we’d heard there was this beautiful waterfall. They called it Rainbow Falls, and so we began to hike through the woods. Now, I’ll be honest with you, we started a little bit later in the day than we probably should have. The sun was already getting kind of low on the horizon, but we’d heard it was a pretty short hike. So we thought it was gonna be fine.

Now, the trail did not go straight. It was actually a much longer trail than we expected because the trail was winding. It was like somebody who was having seizures had drawn the plan for this trail and kept looping around and back. And we finally got to the edge of a cliff. We realized we had to climb down some rocks. We climbed down some rocks into the streambed, and we walked up this little canyon. We came to a place where the water was falling from the lip of the canyon. As it fell, it just kept hitting a little outcropping of rock, and so there was just constant splattering of water everywhere, which meant that there were just rainbows everywhere. It was amazing.

There’s been six or seven rainbows in different little places where the mist was. And I remember standing there with my friend, and we were just kind of commenting on the beauty of it. I remember saying things like, “Yeah. Isn’t it amazing how many rainbows there are? Yeah. It’s just amazing. Isn’t it amazing how you can see the leaves from the forest up there reflected in certain still pools of water around here? Yeah. It’s amazing. Isn’t it amazing how fast the sun is going down? Yeah. It is going now fast.” And so we raced up the creek bed, and we climbed up the rocks, and just about the time that we got to the top of that trail, and we thought the beginning of the trail would take us back to our car, night fell. Guys, it was about the darkest I’ve ever been in.

I remember my grandfather who’s from Tennessee used to tell me stories about when he was a kid, and he would say things like, “You know, we’d be out in the hollers at night.” I have no idea what a holler is to this day. He says, “We’ve been in the hollers, and it gets so dark. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.” And I was like, “It doesn’t ever get that dark, Granddaddy.” He lied a lot when he told stories. So, I thought that was one of those. But I remember standing there that night when it was as dark as I’ve ever seen it and putting my hand in front of my face going, “Huh, he was telling the truth about that one.”

And I had no idea what we’re gonna do. It was a long trail that meandered, and we had no idea which direction the car was, and it was dark. We were scared. I looked around and eventually, I saw a little spot. At least I thought I saw a spot. I wouldn’t call it a spot of light. Actually, we’d call it a spot of less dark. And I sort of moved over to it, and by the time I got there, honestly, it kind of felt like it disappeared. But when I got to where I thought it was, I felt like the ground was different, and I leaned down, and I touched the ground. I realized that I was standing on sand rather than dirt.

And I looked up and I looked around, and maybe another four or five feet away, I saw another little spot of less dark. And I went over there, and sure enough, there was sand there too. And we remembered as we walked in, it looked like somebody at some point had covered the trail in sand to mark it. And over the years, a lot of the sand was gone, and it sunk into the dust in the dirt in the mud, and there were leaves, but there were little spots that marked the trail. And so I thought, “Well, the sand is only where the trail is. So maybe if I work my way from patch of less dark to patch of less dark, we’ll get out of here.” And that’s what we did. It took hours.

But I learned something really important that night. I learned the power of the Law of Contrast, right? And what is the Law of Contrast? When everything is dark, a little bit of light makes a big difference, right? Jesus said, “I’m the light of the world,” but he also said, “You are the light of the world.” And we look at the darkness around and we go, “I can’t do anything about that. I don’t have enough resources. I’m not enough.” It’s not a question of how bright you’re able to shine. It’s a question of whether or not you will step into a place where the light that is in you will be so much brighter than the darkness around you, that it will have an impact that’s greater than you can even begin to imagine. When everything is dark, a little light makes a big difference. That’s the Law of Contrast.

You know, so many Christians don’t take steps of faith. They’re not willing to step into dark corners of the world and be light partly because they’re afraid that they’re not bright enough to make a difference. And I think one of the reasons honestly that a lot of Christians are afraid that they’re not bright enough to make a difference is because they spend all their time hanging out with people of the light.

The thing is when you’re hanging out only with light, your light doesn’t seem that bright. It doesn’t seem bright enough to make much of a difference, right? That’s the power of the Law of Contrast. We have to be willing to step into those places that are dark, and it’s in that moment that we really understand the power of God flowing through us. It’s in those cracks of our weakness where the light of God begins to shine through, and it shines through, honestly, in a way that is blinding for those who are living in darkness. But it’s not blinding in a bad way. It’s blinding in a way that it blinds them to the despair and to the heartache and to the pain, and it begins to give them a sense that there is a hope. That’s the power of the Law of Contrast. Just say it with me. Say the last part with me. When everything is dark, a little light makes a what?

Together: A big difference.

Craig: A big difference. So here’s the questions for you as we begin this Christmas season. Question number one is just this. Where can I shine the brightest? I want you to ask yourself that question, Church. Where can you shine the brightest? And please remember, where you can shine the brightest is not the place where you have the most resources. It’s not the place where you feel like, “I know what to do here. I’ve got what it takes to make a difference here.” No, no. Honestly, sometimes when that happens, we experience what Gideon did, which is God reduces our strength so that he has a greater opportunity to shine through us, right?

So where you shine the brightest is not necessarily that place where you feel like, “I’ve got what it takes.” Where you’re gonna shine the brightest is the place where it’s darkest, and your light will provide the most contrast. I think every one of us has unique places of darkness that we have access to. Every one of us does. It might be our family. It might be our marriage. It might be our house. It may be our extended family.

It might be a home across the street. It might be where we work or where we work out. It might be some other part of the world that God’s calling you to. But there’s someplace of darkness that I believe that God has given you access to and is calling you into to be light, to let your light shine. So where can you shine the brightest? Not because you’re strongest but because you will have the most contrast. Then question number two is just this. What spark of light can I shine in that darkness? You don’t have to be a spotlight. You don’t have to be a searchlight. When everything’s dark, a little light makes a what?

Together: A big difference.

Craig: A big difference. Well, it’s just a spark. Maybe it’s just a conversation. Maybe your marriage is dark right now, and you just need to take that step of faith to say, “You know what? I know things are hard, but I love you, and I’m glad I married you.” Well, that can be powerful when things are dark. Maybe it’s inviting the neighbor across the street to come to dinner with you or somebody in your life that you know is going through a really hard time and just saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about you. I care about you. Let’s grab a meal together.” Maybe that’s all it takes.

Maybe you grab one of the cards on the way out today or you use the Facebook invites, and you invite somebody to come to one of the Christmas Eve services with you. Maybe it’s that. That means it’s all it is. Maybe there’s an opportunity to speak the truth of the Gospel into the life of somebody who looks at you and goes, “Why do you like Christmas so much?” It doesn’t have to necessarily be a big deal because when everything’s dark, a little light makes a what?

Together: A big difference.

Craig: A big difference. It’s just a spark. So, what spark of light can you shine in that particular darkness? This week, let’s pray about that. God, I’m really grateful to you for this opportunity to hear from your Word, a truth that’s really hard for us to get a hold of. Lord, we see so much darkness around us. We see much pain and suffering. We see so much evil around us. We see so much hatred and so many things that just make us go, “This is a deep and a heavy darkness, and I don’t possibly have anything to offer. I don’t have enough of whatever it is.”

Lord, we thank you for this truth from your Word that we don’t need to be enough because we know the One who is, and we recognize that your light will shine through us if we’re only willing to embrace the Law of Contrast and recognize that when everything’s dark, a little light makes a big difference. Lord, we wanna be a big difference. We wanna be bright light shining in the darkness. So, Lord, would you give us the courage to do that? Would you speak to us? Show us where you would have us give a little spark and in that way to begin to drive back darkness and draw people into the light that is your love for them.

Lord, we pray for so many we have contact with who don’t know the love of God that we do. They’re living in darkness. And, Lord, I believe there are people in this place right now, there are people listening to this message right now who are living in darkness. And if that’s you, I want you to understand the light that is available to you. We talked about it a little bit already. God loves you so much. He left heaven to come looking for you. He lived a life of humility. He died on the cross willingly because of his love for you. He died on the cross to pay for every wrong that you’ve ever done, for every dark deed that weighs you down with guilt and shame. He paid all of them off. Three days later, he rose from the dead, and he’s offering you a new life in the light, the light of his love, the warmth of his compassion, his mercy and his grace for you.

And if you’re listening to this right now and you don’t know God in that way, you can. And here’s what you do. Wherever you are, you just say this conversation with God. God, my life is dark, and I know a lot of it’s because I’ve done dark things. I’ve sinned and I’m sorry. Thank you for loving me. Jesus, thank you for dying for me on the cross. I believe that you rose from the dead and only in that moment did you finally demonstrate your power and your strength because you had defeated death and sin. I believe that. I need you in my life, Jesus. So please come in. I’m putting my trust in you, my faith in you. I’m saying yes to a relationship with you, Jesus. I’m yours for now, forever. Amen.

They’ve been a number of people who make their decision already this weekend. Can we walk them into the family of God and the light of his love? It’s awesome.

THE POWER OF COURAGE

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

14/15

Luke 1:5-38

There are things in life that cause fear; it’s ok to feel the fear, but not to give in to it. When you are at your most fearful, courage can fight fear back where it belongs so you can move forward, doing what needs to be done – and it can be done with small steps. Fear suffocates celebration, and God wants you to shine and overcome it.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills. So glad you’re here. We’re in our “All Is Bright” Christmas series where we’re talking about something Jesus said about his people in a commandment that he gave and is a commandment that Audra and Hannah are taking really seriously. It comes from Matthew chapter five, Jesus said to his followers, which means to you and me if you’re a follower of Jesus this true of you. He said, “You are the light of the world.” And that’s not because we have any light of our own. It’s Christ’s light in us. He says, “You are the light of the world.” A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it up on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. So in the same way, here’s the command, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Audra and Hannah are doing that and we love it. That’s what we’re doing in this series. We’re talking about what does it look like to obey that commandment to shine? Now, the good news is that the light is more powerful than the darkness. The light in you is far more powerful than the darkness that’s in the world. Every time that light and dark battle it out, light wins every single time. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have an enemy that knows that. An enemy that knows that he can’t stand against Christ in us. And so he’s been, for thousands of years, he’s been engaged in a massive dis-information campaign, a fake news campaign, if you will, for thousands of years now. And the bulk of that news is basically it’s lies. It’s lies designed to keep us from shining. Last week we took a look at one of those lies and that was the lie of I’m not enough. Right? “Well, I can’t make a difference. I can’t drive back darkness. I’m not smart enough. I’m not wise enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m not old enough. I’m not young enough. I’m not clever enough. I don’t know the Bible well enough. I haven’t been walking with Jesus long enough.” I mean, whatever it is, we looked at this lie that you’re not enough and we combated that with the power of contrast. The Law of Contrast says when everything’s dark, a little light makes a big difference. And so Christ in you is more than enough to drive back darkness if only we’re willing to pay attention to the power of that Law of Contrast.

Today, we’re gonna talk about another lie that can keep us from shining, and that is the lie of fear. And I realize some of you are going, “That’s not a lie. That’s a real thing.” And maybe you’re feeling it right now. Maybe you had a conversation with a doctor this week and he gave you some bad news and you’re afraid. It’s very real. Or maybe your husband and your wife or your significant other said, “Hey, we need to talk,” and you’re afraid. Or maybe your kids are making some decisions and you can see where they could lead and you’re afraid. It’s real. Maybe you’ve gotten word that maybe your job is not gonna be there this time next month, and you’re afraid, and you go like, “That’s real. That’s actual stuff.” Right? How is fear a lie? And what I mean when I say fear is a lie, what I mean is that fear lies. Right? When fear speaks to us, it rarely speaks the truth. I love what the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said. He said, ”We’re often more frightened than hurt.” We’re more afraid of what’s gonna happen then we are actually damaged by it. He said, ”And we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” And I think he’s absolutely right. Years ago, I began to understand something about fear as I battled it, and here’s what I began to understand. It’s that fear magnifies pain and it minimizes potential. Does that make sense? Fear magnifies pain, it minimizes potential. What fear does is it says, “Hey, if you do this, if you move into this direction, what’s gonna happen is it’s gonna cost you this, and here’s how people are gonna think, and here’s what they’re think about you and it’s gonna be painful, and here’s how it’s gonna be painful,” and it blows that up and out of proportion. At the same time, it minimizes potential, says, “Yeah, if you do that, it’s going to cost all this. And yeah, maybe this’ll happen and maybe this little thing happened. But that doesn’t even compare to the cost.” That’s what fear does, is it magnifies pain and it minimizes potential.

And the reality is that fear very quickly and very powerfully, prevents us from shining. I’m always stunned actually at how quickly and how easily fear can keep us from shining. And I don’t say that based on my observation of the Church, I say that just from reflecting on my own life. I wrestle with fear the same as anybody else. You know, our Communications Team, did this amazing job. They came up with these cool little gift tags. You know, and the idea is that if you’re gonna give a gift to a coworker or some neighbors before Christmas, you give them this tag and it has our Christmas Eve service times that you can just say, “Hey, Merry Christmas,” and invite them to come to Christmas Eve. And I thought, “That’s brilliant. That’s really good. That’s a great thing.” And so I grabbed a stack of them and I went home. I was like, “I’m gonna make some cookies, well I’m not gonna make some cookies. I’m gonna have Lynae, my youngest daughter make cookies. They are much better cookies. And I wanna give them a good gift, right? So she’s gonna make some cookies and then I’m gonna put this tag on. We’re gonna go over, we’re going to say Merry Christmas and just invite them to come to Christmas Eve.” My stack of cards is still sitting on my counter. You know why? I’m afraid. I’m afraid. Fear speaks into my life, and it says things like, “They might think you’re weird.” Actually, what it says is, “They already think you’re weird. Do you really wanna confirm that?” Fear says, “The conversation might just be awkward.” Fear says, “Maybe they’re gonna think it’s all self-serving. Maybe they’re just gonna think you’re interested in growing your church since you’re the pastor, right?” Fear says, “It’s just gonna be uncomfortable.” Fear says, “What if they say no, right? What if they say no and then every time you see and that’s like weird and it’s gonna be really uncomfortable and it’ll keep going on. That’s gonna be awful, right?” Fear says, “Hey, what if they come? What if they say yes and they come to the worst service?” Right? I mean, we’re doing seven of these things. I guarantee you at least one of them, I’m not even gonna know what I’m saying, right? And what if they come that service and they’re like, “How do they let him be in charge of that place? What’s wrong with that people?” Right? See, fear does that. It magnify as pain and it minimizes potential, and so my stack is still sitting here. I know exactly what it’s like to wrestle with fear and I know how easily and how quickly fear can keep us from shining. I know it in my own life. My guess is you probably do too.

What we’re gonna do today is we’re gonna push in a little bit on how exactly it is that fear prevents us from shining, how is it that it does its work in our lives, and talk a little bit about how it is we can begin to break that power in our lives. If you have a Bible, I’d love to have you join me. We’re gonna be in Luke chapter 1, verse 5 is where we’re gonna start today. Says this. ”In the time of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah and his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.” In other words, they came from really good families. “And both of them were righteous in the sight of God observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” So they were good people. They came from a good family and they were good people. “But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive and they were both very old.” Now, even though the word fear hasn’t been used, I think it’s easy to understand that this is exactly the kind of situation that can be filled with fear, right? If you’ve ever had something that you really longed for, something you were deeply and desperately hoping would happen and there was a delay in its fulfillment. You were hoping, but it just didn’t seem to be happening as the days stretch into weeks and into months and into years, fear begins to kind of crowd into that space, right? It’s the fear that, “Hey, maybe this thing I really wanna see happen isn’t ever gonna happen.” And even as believers, it can be the fear that speaks and says, “I don’t think God’s listening to you. I don’t think God’s hearing your prayers.” And we become afraid that maybe he’s not listening or maybe we’re afraid that he’s not caring, right? Maybe he’s listening, but he just doesn’t care. Or maybe, maybe we’re more faithful than that. we go, “No, no, I know he’s listening. I know he cares, but,” but we begin to be afraid that maybe the answer is just no. And maybe we trust that God’s good, but fear that that hope is never gonna be fulfilled can be really strong and really powerful. And the problem is that as fear begins to crowd hope out, other nastier things take its place, right? And disappointment at the very least, but then maybe even anger, resentment, bitterness. It’s a hard place to be. That’s where they are.

“Now, once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as a priest before God, he was chosen by lot according to the custom of the priesthood to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. Now, when the time of the burning of incense came, all of the assembled worshipers were praying outside. And then an angel of the Lord appeared to him standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Now, when Zechariah saw him, he was startled and he was gripped with fear.” And I think we can probably give him a pass on that one, right? The interesting thing though is that it’s a really good thing that’s happened, right? I mean, he’s a priest of God and he’s in the temple of God and an angel of God has appeared. That’s like the priestly jackpot right there, right? Not only did he win the lottery in being the one that gets to go into the Holy place and offer the incense, but an angel has showed up, right? Like, he hit the priestly jackpot. But his response is that he’s startled and he’s gripped with fear, which is very natural. It’s interesting to me that sometimes even really good things when they happen unexpectedly, they can cause fear, right? It’s a pretty natural thing. I got a friend, well, Coletta has a friend. She’s, she’s 43 and she just found out that she’s pregnant again. Yeah. That was her response too. Here’s the thing. I believe and she believes that a child is always a blessing, a child is always a good thing, but it was so unexpected, and she’s struggling with fear and that fear is making it a little hard to even see that it is a good thing especially because what happens is that fear gets a hold of us, right? That’s what it says. It says that he was gripped with fear. Literally, he was gripped by fear. In other words, it’s not that he had fear, it’s that fear had him. In the literal Greek, what it says is that he was embraced by, he was, he was grasped and held tight by fear. And the reality is that while things that are unexpected my startle us, when fear gets a hold of us, it changes our perception. And what happens is, see when we’re gripped by fear, even good things can appear threatening. Right? Even good things can appear threatening. This is such a truth that I’ve recognized in my own life that even if I don’t recognize fear, one of the indicators that I am being gripped by fear is because good things I’ll kind of see is like threatening and people will be going, “Hey, this is a really good thing. This is happening. This is really good.” I’m like, “Yeah, but what about this and this.” And even if I’m not feeling that I’m afraid at moment, the recognition that I’m having a struggle to see a good thing as a good thing is an indication that fear actually has a pretty tight hold on me. Because, when we’re gripped by fear, even good things can appear threatening.

So the angel begins to speak to Zechariah, and it’s interesting. Watch this. The angel really lays it on thick. He’s working really hard to convince Zechariah that this is a good thing. The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard.” That’s a good thing, right? “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” That’s a good thing. “And you’re to call him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you.” That’s a good thing. “And many will rejoice because of his birth.” That’s a good thing. “For, he’ll be great in the sight of the Lord.” That’s a good thing. “He’s never to take wine or other fermented drink and he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” That’s a good thing. “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.” That’s good. “And he will go on before the Lord and the Spirit and the power of Elijah, this Old Testament prophet.” That’s really good. “In order to turn the hearts of the parents for their children,” that’s good. “And the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” That’s good. “And to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” That’s all really, really good. The angel is working really hard to convince him to see through the distorted lens of his fear in this moment that everything that I’m telling you is all really, really good. Verse 18, ‘Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I’m an old man and my wife is well along in years.” And can we just acknowledge, that was a really good way to say that. Right? Hey, it almost sounds like a compliment, doesn’t it? If you’re like, “This is my wife, she’s well along in years.” “Well, thank you. Hang on a second,” right? It kind of sneaks up on you. He said that really well, but the first thing isn’t so good, right? He says, “How can I be sure of this?” And understand that what’s happening here is, is basically an expression of deep and profound doubt. He’s basically going, “Yeah, no. Have you seen her? No, we’re past that.” Now, what’s interesting to me is that Zechariah has to want this to be true, right? He has to be hoping desperately that this is true, but in spite of the fact that, you know, an angel of God has appeared in the temple of God and delivered a promise from God, he’s really struggling to put any trust in it. He’s really struggling to have any real faith, because he’s afraid, right? And that’s what fear does. Fear fights faith for room in our hearts. I don’t think fear and faith are opposites. I actually think you could have both fear and faith at exactly the same time, but they do battle with each other. They’re constantly battling over which is gonna have the upper hand, which is gonna have the most space in our hearts. And he’s been so long, and then the idea that God would suddenly answer his prayer. There’s a of him that goes, “I hope that’s true,” but the fear that he’s lived with for so long is battling faith for his heart, and the reality is that faith is losing.

And so the angel kind of changed his tone. He’s gone from all this is really, really good to kind of some, some fairly harsh words for Zechariah. The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel,” which basically means I stand before God. He literally says, “I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you. You don’t seem to be excited about that Zechariah. I’ve come to tell you this good news. You don’t seem to see that Zechariah. And now, you will be silent and you’ll not able to speak until the day that this happens because you, you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and they’re wondering why he stayed in the temple for so long. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he’d seen a vision in the temple for he kept making signs to them and he remained unable to speak. And when his time of service was completed, he returned home, and after this, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. It’s interesting. What that means is for five months she didn’t go out in public. For five months she didn’t tell anybody that God had done this thing. For five months, she kind of kept it to herself. She didn’t go public with her praise. She didn’t let anybody know. This was going on for five months. And I probably read that hundreds of times over the years. But as I’m preparing for this message that really kind of struck me. Five months and I thought, what exactly is the significance of five? Why five months? And so I did some study. I wasn’t really come up with any answers. So I consulted with some scholar friends of mine. We kind of put our heads together and what we determined was we don’t know. No idea. We know it happened, but we don’t have any idea why it happened. None of us are aware of any Old Testament Law that says anything like that. There’s no Jewish custom. There was no practice of the people. We can’t find anything in any of the ancient writings that suggest that this is a normal thing, so it’s apparently not a normal thing, but she did it for five months. We don’t know why, but I do have a theory. And my theory is that she was afraid.

It’s interesting with Coletta. Coletta and I led a life group of young marrieds for a long time, and as is often the case with a group of young marrieds, it kept growing not only because new couples would come in too because they would bring new people into their family. They were just a lot of babies. But in the midst of seeing that growth and sharing that joy with them, we also walked through a lot of heartache. There were a lot of miscarriages, a lot of struggles with infertility. And I noticed a very clear pattern. In fact, I think over the course of four years, we saw nine miscarriages in this group. And I noticed a clear pattern that when a couple first got pregnant for the first time ever, they were really quick to celebrate. They would call us the day they found out and the next time we had Life Group, we’d have a celebration of some kind. But once a miscarriage had happened, that kinda changed. In fact, once a miscarriage happened, the next time they got pregnant, they didn’t say anything for awhile. They kind of held on because they were afraid, you know, maybe it’s not gonna take, maybe the same thing’s gonna happen. And so they didn’t share anything. In fact, I noticed that most of them, after one or two miscarriages, they didn’t tell us about their next pregnancy for four or five or six months. Because here’s what happens. Fear suffocates celebration. It just takes the wind out of it. The problem is, as we saw a couple of weeks ago as we studied that story in Luke chapter 10, sometimes our willingness to celebrate what God has already done is the key that unlocks the door to everything else that God wants to do. And until we’re willing to celebrate, the door stays locked and those opportunities stay off limits to us. And so when fear suffocates our celebration, not only does it rob us of the joy of being able to celebrate what God has done, but it may very well keep us from being able to move into more that God has to do in us and through us in the world.

It took her five months before she was willing to go public. Five months before she said, verse 25, ”The Lord has done this for me.” She did eventually get there. She eventually went public with her praise. She said, ”The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” She finally went public five months in. And I wonder, I can’t say for certain, but I do wonder. It’s interesting to me that verse 26 says this, ”In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.” In other words, God didn’t do this other great thing until she’d finally gone public. But in the six months after she’d gone public, of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, the town of Galilee to a Virgin Mary pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary, and the angel went to her and he said, ”Greetings you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” ”Now, Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ”Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” He says that she was greatly troubled. That’s the New International Version. Some translations say that she was confused or perplexed, and the word kind of means all of those things. It means kind of stirred up and agitated, but it’s clearly related to fear because what does the angel say to her? He says, “Do not be afraid.” He recognizes that her confusion and her struggle to understand what’s going on is related to fear of what’s happening right there. And the reality is this, the reality is that fear creates confusion, right? Fear creates confusion. Fear fights against clarity. We’ve already talked about that a little bit. Fear, when we’re gripped by it, fear can actually make even good things appear threatening, right? Sometimes it works the other way around though. Fear can create so much confusion that bad things seem like good things, right?

And I see people that are gripped by fear making decisions that everybody else around them is going, “That’s not a good idea,” but it seems good to them in that moment, right? Because of fear, and fear has this ability to create this confusion and to remove clarity, to make it hard to understand what’s going on. So she’s confused. So he pushes in and makes sure she has, says, no, no, this is a good thing. He says, “You will conceive, and you will give birth to a son and you’re to call him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.” ”Well, how will this be?” Mary asked the angel, “Since I’m a virgin?” And the angel answered, ”The Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and so the Holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is gonna have a child in her old age and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month, for no word of God will ever fail.” ”I’m the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” And so the angel left her. Can we just agree that that’s impressive? I mean, what the angel has just told her is really good, but it’s also terrifying, right? He’s just told her you’re pregnant, which is honestly a little scary all by itself, right? I mean, I’ve never been pregnant, but it looks terrifying. But worse than that, she’s an unmarried pregnant woman in a culture that does not take that lightly. It was entirely legal in first century Israel to stone a woman to death who was found to be pregnant before she was married. That’s scary.

And she doesn’t exactly have a good explanation, right? Was she gonna say? “It’s okay. It’s God’s,” because they’re gonna buy that. “How do you know it’s God’s?” “An angel told me.” Right? Oh she doesn’t… Wow. She’s got nothing to work with. And if that’s not enough, honestly, she’s carrying the Son of God. Like, raising any child is terrifying. How on earth you plan to raise the Son of God? Everything about that is terrifying. Everything about that is terrifying. But she takes a deep breath. She says, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Well let’s do it,” right? I think one of the things that this story reminds me of is the fact that even good things can be terrifying, right? You know, we accept and we assume that, you know, bad news, that bad things are gonna be scary. But honestly good things can be just as terrifying, right? I know, I’ve seen that. I remember when Coletta said, ”Yes, I’ll marry you.” That was really good. Followed by a complete terror like, “Well, what am I the, I can’t be a husband. I can’t lead a household. I can’t like, I can’t be in charge. What the heck? And then I remember she came to me with this little stick one day, it had a little plus sign right here, and she’s like, ”You’re a dad.” That was great news, and absolutely terrifying. How can I be a dad? I can’t be in charge of anybody. Even the second time when she came and told me she was pregnant, it wasn’t any less scary. It was no less good news and it was no less scary. About three and a half years ago, I got a call from somebody on staff here who said, ”Hey, good news. The congregation in Mission Hills has voted. You’re gonna be the next lead pastor of Mission Hills.” That was great news, and absolutely terrifying. It was good news. I mean, I know God had given me an opportunity to help a whole lot of people become like Jesus and join him on mission, a platform with an influence that would allow me to do a lot of good and bring a lot of glory to God and good to his people. That was all great news, but it was absolute terrifying. It still is, honestly. There, there are mornings I drive in and the moment I see the building, I go, “What am I doing?” Listen, good news can be just as terrifying as bad news. Opportunity can be just as scary as obstacles, right? Open doors might actually be more terrifying than closed ones. And it’s at that moment, it’s in the moment when confronting an opportunity, an open door. that fear actually is most damaging because it’s that moment that fear can keep us from taking a step forward into that opportunity, from going through that door into everything that God’s calling us to and everything that he has for us and everything that he has for the world through us. It’s those open doors that are most blocked by fear. I think that’s why it’s so impressive to me that Mary looked at this incredibly scary opportunity and she said, “Well, I’m God’s girl. Let’s do this thing,” which is a rough translation of the Greek.

Here’s the thing. Like, I know that she heard the voice, right? I know that she heard the voice of fear. I know that there was a voice speaking in her ear that said, “Who are you to do this?” There was a voice saying, “How can you possibly do this?”There was a voice saying, “Do you understand what it’s gonna cost you to do this? Do you understand what they’re gonna say about you? Do you understand what they’re gonna think about you even if they don’t say it? Do you understand that every time you look at them, you’re gonna know what they’re thinking about you and you’re gonna be right? They’re absolutely gonna be thinking, and they’re probably gonna be thinking much worse things about you than you’re even imagining that they’re thinking about you.” She heard that voice. She heard the voice, but she chose faith, and that’s impressive to me. See, it’s okay to give fear a voice. That’s okay. Just not the final vote. Honestly, I don’t know that you can keep from giving fear a voice. You can’t silence the voice of fear. It’s not possible. And honestly you wouldn’t want to silence the voice fear because fear is a gift from God. Fear is an early warning sign against stupidity. Do you understand that? Fear is a gift from God to keep us from stepping into dangerous situations that we’re not supposed to be in. Fear is a warning sign from God to keep us from staying in situations that we shouldn’t be in. It’s a gift from God. The problem is that fear like every other year the good thing has been twisted by sin until it’s no longer doing what it’s supposed to do. Fear is supposed to keep us out of situations God doesn’t want us to be in, but what happens now is that in the hands of sin, fear becomes something that keeps us out of situations that God does want us to be in. Fear is supposed to get us out of situations that we’re not supposed to stay in, and yet fear keeps us in situations that we’re not supposed to be in because we go, “Well, going out there and taking that step, whatever I do to get out, it’s gonna be worse,” because fear magnifies pain and it minimizes potential. And so fear has been twisted into something that’s not good in our lives. So listen to me, it is okay to give fear a voice, but it’s not okay to give it the final vote. That’s what Mary shows us.

How do you do that though? How do you give fear of voice and not the final vote? Probably no big surprise. It’s courage, right? Courage is what lets us give fear a voice, but never the final vote. That’s what it is. Courage. That’s all you need. Have a great weekend. Yeah. Except that courage, courage isn’t so easy to come by, right? Actually, what I’ve found over the years is that part of the reason that the courage seems like a bigger thing and a harder thing to get a hold of is because a lot of times I think we understand courage properly. If it’s okay, I’d just like to share some things that God’s taught me about courage over the last few years. Here’s the first thing that I’ve come to understand about courage. Courage isn’t the opposite of fear, but it is the opponent of it. Courage isn’t the opposite of fear. I think we naturally tend to assume that, you know, courage and fear that they’re just sort of like polar opposites. So if you have a lot of courage, you don’t have a lot of fear. And if you have a lot of fear, then you don’t have a lot of courage because as one goes up, the other one goes down because they’re exact opposites, right? They’re on the other side of the seesaw, right? But that’s not the way it works at all. In fact, the reality is that the more fear you have, the greater the opportunity for courage. And in fact, I’m not even entirely sure that there can be real courage unless there’s real fear. I actually think you have to have the one to have the other. I love what Eddie Rickenbacker, he’s a decorated American fighter pilot said. He said, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage without fear.” I think he’s absolutely right. Like, if you don’t feel any fear and you’re just like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do this thing. I don’t feel any fear at all.” I’m not sure that that’s courage. It might be stupidity. It could be all kinds of things, but the reality is I think unless you’re feeling fear, then there’s no real room for courage. Now, here’s the great news. If you’re afraid, and if right now you’re struggling with fear and you go, “I’m just filled with fear,” you need to understand that at this moment in your life when you are most afraid, this moment is pregnant with the potential for courage in a way that no other moment has ever been. Because courage isn’t the opposite of fear, but it is the opponent. Courage is that thing that we use to fight fear back into its place so that we can do what needs to be done. That’s the first truth?

Second truth I’ve understood about courage is this, is that little steps of courage add up over time. See, we have this idea that, you know, courage is this big thing and I’m gonna summon up all this courage. I’m gonna do this Herculean effort and I’m gonna change everything and I’m going to break through my circumstances. I just got to have this big thing of courage. But the reality is that honestly, courage is not always this big thing. I love what Mary Anne Radmacher, she’s an American poet. She said this. She said, ”Courage doesn’t always roar.” We always think it does, but she says ”Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow. I’ll take another step.” The thing is, those little steps of courage add up. You know, the average human being, the average human being… And by the way, I’m 5’7. That is the average. Just want to make sure everybody understands that. I’m not short. I’m average. The average human being, when they take a normal step, they take about 18 inches. Okay, so 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 12 steps. That’s a world record, long jump. It’s the farthest any human being has ever jumped with one giant leap. I can’t do that in one leap. Chances are you can’t either. But 12 small steps, 12 average steps, you cover the same distance. You see the power in that? Small steps add up over time. They take us farther than we would have ever thought possible. And courage isn’t this roaring giant thing that allows us to do Herculean efforts. It’s the voice that just says, “Okay. I’m gonna take one more step.” Small steps in the same direction will take us places we would never have thought possible. Courage is what allows us to take those. Third thing that I learned about courage is that we feel fear, but we choose courage. Fear is a feeling. Fear is a feel. Courage isn’t a feel. Courage is a choice. We choose it. And the reality is we often choose it without feeling it. I’m not too sure that we ever feel courage. We feel fear, but we choose courage. I love the story when Moses led his people out of Israel, they escaped Egypt. They, wait, out of Egypt, not out of Israel. He led them through the desert, and they got to the edge of the Promised Land that God had given them, and he was told that he wasn’t gonna be the one to lead them into that Promised Land. And he called a young man named Joshua. In Deuteronomy 31:7 says this, ”Moses summoned Joshua and he said to him, in the presence of all of Israel, be strong and courageous. For you must go with his people into the land.” He didn’t say, feel strong and courageous. He didn’t say, “How are you feeling today? Feeling strong? No? Doesn’t matter. You feel encouraged today? No? Doesn’t matter.” You don’t have to feel it. You have to be it. Be strong. It is a choice. It’s a decision. We feel fear, but we choose courage. We choose to say to fear, “I’ve heard your voice, but you don’t get the final vote. Faith gets the final vote. I’m going to take this step.” Has nothing to do with how I feel. It’s a choice that I make.

The last thing that I wanna share with you today is this. I came to understand that to fuel your courage, you need to feed your hope. To fuel, your courage, feed your hope. You can’t feel courage. I don’t know that anybody’s ever felt courage. But there is something that fuels courage that you can feed and that is hope. Hope is what gets our eyes off of the circumstances. Hope is what gets our eyes off of the magnified pain and chooses instead to focus on the minimized potential, the potential that fear is minimized. It says, “I’m gonna focus on that potential, I’m gonna focus on what God could do. I’m gonna focus on what God has promised and by focusing on that, I’m gonna start to feel something that we call hope.” And hope does fuel courage. Maybe we can’t feel courage, but we can feel hope and we can do things that will make that hope in us grow and ultimately that courage. I think is almost impossible, it’s inconceivable to me that when Mary began to face all of the difficulties of this journey God had her on, it’s inconceivable to me that she didn’t constantly think of these words from the angel. He said, “You will conceive and you will give birth to a son, and you’re to call him Jesus. He will be great and he’ll be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever and his kingdom will never end.” I guarantee you, when things got hard, Mary thought about that. And then those promises of God fueled her hope and it was that hope that ultimately fueled her courage. No, no, no. You can’t feel courage, but you can feel hope and hope fuels courage. So to fuel your courage, feed your hope. Focus on those things that God could do, has promised you.The reality is this. Courage is what lets us give fear voice, but never the final vote.

So let me ask you this, ask you to ask yourself this. What fears are most likely to keep me from shining? For some of you maybe it’s the fear of some really difficult thing that’s been brought into your life. It’s that conversation with the doctor or your spouse, your significant other, or your kids or your workplace. It’s something that’s happened to you and you’re afraid. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is that that fear keep us from shining. So if it’s that, what is that fear? Or maybe it’s the other side. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that’s happened. Maybe it’s a good thing that’s opening up. It’s a door that is beginning to swing open and you’re seeing what could happen, but fear says, “You can’t walk through that. You can’t do that. Who are you?” What fear is most likely to keep you from shining? And I think it’s helpful also to ask this question, what specific steps of faith are being crowded out by that fear? What is it that God’s calling you to do that you’re struggling to do because the voice of fear is so loud? And then lastly, what’s one truth? We’ve talked about four truths about courage today. What’s one truth about courage that I need to embrace to overcome that fear? Which of those truths about courage do you need to grab a hold of and ask the Lord to plant deep in your heart so that it begins to spring up in that courage that will allow us to choose to say the fear, “I’ve heard your voice. That’s fine. But you don’t get the final vote.” We’re gonna take a few minutes right now to just sit before the Lord. It’s such a busy season. We’re gonna take a little bit of time right now to just to be still, to go before God and spent some time praying about this. Maybe some time confessing fear and asking for that courage, courage to shine. The prayer team is gonna come down and if you wanna pray with somebody, they would love to pray with you. There’ll be here to pray with you. If you want to do that in your seats, that’s fine, but however best use this time to go before the Lord. I’ll start us off.

Jesus, we thank you. We thank you because you, you didn’t give fear of the final vote either. We know that you felt fear. On the night before you went to the cross to pay for our sin, your Word says that you were actually sweating blood that night because you were afraid. You knew what it was gonna cost you. You knew the pain that you were facing that next day. You understood that there was a moment when our sin was really truly paid for where the Father was gonna turn his face away from you because of our sin on your shoulders, and you hadn’t experienced that for all of eternity, that break in that fellowship until you sweated blood. You were afraid, but you didn’t give that fear the final voice. And so you died on the cross for our forgiveness. And so because of that, we get to celebrate resurrection and your gift of new life received by faith. Simply by saying yes to a relationship with you, we are set free from sin and death and darkness. Your light comes into us. We’re given the opportunity to shine. Lord, we ask for your forgiveness for the different ways that we have entered a new kind of bondage, a bondage to fear in all of its different forms, a fear that keeps us from shining your light. We asked for forgiveness. Now, as we come before you would you simply allow your Holy Spirit to move among us. Allow us to identify these fears, to confess them to you, maybe by your strength to begin to root them out, to silence their voices, and so to give faith and faith alone the final voice, the final vote.

THE POWER OF CLARITY

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

21/22

Matthew 2:1-12

So far in this series we’ve talked about the lie of “I’m not enough” and we’ve seen how that lie is exposed by the Law of Contrast. We’ve also talked about the lie of fear and the power of courage. Today we’re going to talk about the lie of confusion. The best way to combat confusion is with clarity – so where do we find clarity?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills. So glad you’re with us. We recognize how busy this time of year is, and honestly you got services starting tomorrow and the next day. So the fact that you’re here at all either means you’re remarkably spiritual, or you’re related to somebody who’s remarkably spiritual, and they have some kind of power. However, you got it, we’re really glad that you’re here. We’re in a series, as I said, called All Is Bright.

And what we’re doing in the series is we’re pushing into something that Jesus said about his followers and a command that he gave to them. This is what he said, this is Matthew chapter five, verse fourteen. This is the statement he made about his followers. So this is about you. If you’re a follower of Jesus, if you’ve said yes to a relationship with Jesus by faith, this is true of you. He says this, he says, “You are the light of the world.” It’s not our light, it’s his light in us. But he says, “If my light’s in you, you are the light of the world.”

But, he says, “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden, and neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it up on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.” So, in the same way, and here’s the command, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So what we’re doing in this series, we’re looking into what it means to shine, to step into darkness and to push it back with light. Now, we know good news, and the good news is light is more powerful than darkness.

Every time that light and dark go at it, light wins every single time. That the bad news, of course, is that we have an enemy that knows that. We have an enemy that has been engaged for very long time in a strategy of feeding us lies in order to keep us from shining. One of the lies that we’ve talked about in this series is the lie of, “I’m not enough.” It’s a lie that so many of us believe, we go, “I can’t make a difference. I can’t push back darkness. I can’t make things brighter because I’m not smart enough. I’m not mature enough. I’m not extroverted enough. I’m not wise enough. I don’t know the Bible well enough. I don’t have enough resources. I’m not old or…” Whatever it is we go, “I don’t have enough.” And what we’ve seen is that the the lie of I’m not enough is destroyed by the Law of Contrast, which we said is this, it’s that when everything is dark, a little light makes a, say it with me, big difference.

All: Big difference.

Pastor: So the lie that you’re not enough, if Christ is in you, it is absolutely categorically false. You are enough. We’ve also talked about the lie of fear or the lies that fear teaches us. And we saw as we look to the story of Elizabeth and Mary that courage is what allows us to give fear a voice but never the final vote. It’s okay to give fear a voice because God gave us fear to keep us from being stupid. He did. It’s an early warning sign against our stupidity. But the problem is that sin gets a hold of fear and it turns into something it was never intended to be. So it’s okay to give fear a voice but we should never give it the final vote, only faith gets the final vote. And courage is what allows us to do that.

Today what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna tackle the lie of confusion, the lie of confusion. See what happens is, if our enemy cannot convince you that you don’t have enough, that Christ in you is not enough to shine, and if he can’t scare you into not shining, then his next tactic is to confuse you about where to shine, and how to shine, and what it looks like to shine. And we can get caught in this lie of confusion. I think most of us have experienced at one time or another, let me just ask this question, how many of us have ever had to make a decision where it wasn’t entirely clear what the right decision was? How many of you have ever been confused about a decision you had to make? And that’s almost everybody.

So why don’t you just look at the person next to you and go, “I’m confused too.” Right? We all have these moments of confusion. I know I feel like in this job here, as the pastor at Mission Hills, I spend an awful lot of time confused and seeking for clarity. It comes up in so many different ways. One of the ways that it’s really clear to me and that I experience it every years is it would come budget time, when we start have to make the budget for the next year that it’s so confusing. God has been so gracious and you have been so generous that the issue hasn’t been typically that we’re not gonna make budget that year. And the issue is in like how do we allocate resources so that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do next year?

I mean, like, for instance, our Counseling Ministry is just doing amazing things. They’ve seen over 500 people this year. There’s a waiting list for the Counseling Ministry, and they’re helping people become like Jesus, joining them on mission, and that’s awesome. So maybe we should hire more counselors, but our Online Ministry is killing it too. The online team’s doing an amazing job. We actually have as many people engaged on a weekly basis through online platforms like the Online Campus, or Facebook channels, or the Mission Hills App, or podcast. We have as many people engaged online as we do on our physical campuses. So maybe we should put some resources there.

Our Kids Ministry is growing, so maybe we need to hire somebody there. Or the student ministries is taking off, we need to do some things there. Or it’s just everywhere I look, there’s like, “Well, that could be, aaaah.” And I get really jealous of Moses. You know what I’m talking about? Some of you do. Is that moment when Moses didn’t even have a confusing situation, he’s just walking through the desert. All he had to do is take care of sheep, right? That’s not complicated. Like don’t let them die, that’s it. He’s walking them through the desert and suddenly a bush catches fire and a voice speaks out of the woods and it says, “Hey, go here, do this.” That’s clarity. I wish I had that kind of clarity.

I’m constantly in this situation of, “God.” “There’s a rhododendron right there. Go ahead and set it on fire. I’m listening.” “No, okay, there’s an aspen tree. What do you think? Could we do the as…no? Okay.” And so there’s this constant search for clarity in the midst of confusion. I think most of us experience that and maybe you’re dealing with that today. Maybe you’re here today and you’re trying to decide about a job opportunity that’s been given to you and you’re like, “Do I take it? Do I not take it?” It could be good, it might not be good, I’m not sure. Or maybe you’re looking for a job, and it’s not materializing, you’re thinking, “Well, maybe I need to look elsewhere. Maybe I need to look at another career field, or maybe I need to look out of state and think about going somewhere else. Or maybe I need to go back to school and retrain. Maybe I should do that.”

Or maybe you’re graduating high school and you’re thinking, “Well, do I go to college right away? Do I take a gap year? Do I get a job and work so that I don’t have as much debt when I get out? Or maybe I should go ahead and get through college so that I have a job that pays me enough that I can maybe pay off the debt that I had to take on so that I could get the job which took…” Maybe you’re struggling through something from a health perspective and you’re like, “Do I go to another specialist? Or do I try this new drug that they’re offering?” Or maybe somebody’s asked you out, “Do I say yes. Do I not say yes?” Confusion can leave us kind of paralyzed and unable to move forward.

And here’s the reality. Every time that we have limited resources and multiple options, we have confusion, right? That’s the formula, right? Limited resources, whether that’s time, or money, or energy, or any number of things, we always have limited resources. Limited resources plus multiple options equals confusion. So how do we find clarity? What I wanna share with you today, something that I’ve come to understand about clarity and where it ultimately comes from. So I’d love to have you join me.

We’re gonna be in Matthew chapter two, starting in verse one, a story that for some of you will be familiar, some of you may not know the story, but you might recognize the characters in the story. This is some familiar Christmas characters. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem, and they asked, “Where’s the one who’s been born, the King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.”” Now, there’s some clarity, right? Got a group of guys, Magi, you might know them as the wise men. Matthew says they’re Magi, that they have some clarity.

They know that a child has been born. They know the child is a king and they know that he’s supposed to be the king of Israel, right? So they have some really stark clarity. What’s not so clear is how they came by that clarity, right? I mean, all we’re told is they saw a star from the east, and so they said, “Oh, now we know. Now we know he’s been born. He’s the King of the Jews.” They knew where to go. So how did they know that? And that’s not quite as obvious.

Here’s what we know. We know that they came from the east. We also know that the word Magi is a Persian word, it means magician. It means enchanter. They practice all kinds of occult arts, fortune telling and, you know, they would read tea leaves, they would read, I’m just gonna have to say it, they would often toss the entrails of animals out onto these plates and depending on how they fell, and you’re like, this is a great Christmas message already, right? This is awesome, right? And they would read them for signs, and the idea was they were in touch with the gods and the spirits and they knew the ancient scrolls. And so, they were advisors to Kings, and they practiced, of course, astrology which may be connected here, seeing something in the sky and understanding its significance. Magi is a Persian word, and Persia is from the east. There’s a very good chance that that’s where they came from. It’s interesting, there’s only one other place in the Bible where we actually find the word Magi, and that’s all the way in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. If you’re not familiar with Daniel, I’ll catch you up. Daniel is a story of a young Jewish man named Daniel, of course, and a few of his friends that were captured by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and he captured them and he brought them back to Babylon, which eventually became Persia, so it’s that part of the world, and Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel and his friends a part of his sort of Advisory Council. They were part of a group of people, which included a group of people known as the Magi.

Now, it’s interesting that Daniel and the Magi didn’t get along so well. In fact, the Magi often had it out for Daniel and his friends, and that was the way it was. We see that kind of that conflict throughout the Book of Daniel until kind of an interesting thing happened. One day, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. And he had some ability to recognize something about the dream clued in him that that wasn’t just a normal dream, it wasn’t because I had bad pizza last night. There’s something going on spiritual, and so he called in the Magi and he said, “Hey, I had this dream, and I really want you to interpret it for me.” And he said, “Sure. we’d be glad to do that. Tell us the dream.” And he went, “That’s not how we’re going to do it. Here’s how we’re going to do it, you’re gonna tell me the dream.”

And they were like, “Well, no, no. You tell us the dream. And then we interpret.” He said, “No, I want you to tell me the dream” And they said, “We don’t do it that way. You tell us the dream, and we interpret.” And he said, “No, no. You’ve been claiming all these years that you have all these magical powers, that you’re in touch with the gods, you have all these incredible insights. So it would seem to me that knowing the content of the dream should be pretty easy compared to knowing its significance. So how about you just tell me once you get in touch with your gods and your supernatural powers, and you tell me what the dream was, then I can believe your interpretation.” And they went, “We can’t do that.” And he went, “Okay, you die.” And that was basically it. He said, “You’ve been conspiring all these years to tell me you had all this insight and ability, but you don’t, so you all die.”

And the soldiers went out to do that, and they came to Daniel who was considered among the Magi from their perspective, and Daniel went, “Hey, hold up. What’s going on?” And they told him the situation. He asked for time. He prayed for a revelation, and God gave him insight. He told him what the dream was. And so Daniel went back to Nebuchadnezzar, he said, “God has given me the answer.” And he told Nebuchadnezzar his dream and Nebuchadnezzar went, “That’s it? What does it mean?” And then Daniel interpreted it for him.

Now, at that moment, the Magi’s feelings about Daniel changed. Because at that moment, Daniel not only saved himself, he ended up saving all of the king’s advisors, all of the Magi. And so they became a little bit more friendly from that point on. The Magi respected Daniel and they also began to respect Daniel’s God, the God of Israel, the true God. And along with that, they began to respect the Scriptures that Daniel had brought with him from Israel, the Holy Books, God’s Word, as Daniel had it at that moment, which means that, from that moment on, Daniel, and the God of Israel, and his Scriptures were respected among the Magi in Persia.

And so, about 600 years later, as we join the story of Matthew, they were familiar with something that was said in those Scriptures, something that comes from Matthew, or from Numbers 24:17, it says this, “A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise out of Israel.” This is the Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, where you have a scepter, which is a symbol for King and a star connected together. When the Magi said, “We saw his star,” what they’re almost certainly doing is they’re going, “Hey, we know about this prophecy from God’s Word. And now we’ve seen it, and we’re looking for him.” In other words, their clarity depended upon their familiarity with the Scriptures.

Now, how it is they know that that particular light in the sky was the star, we don’t know. We’re not really told anything. We don’t even know what the star was honestly. Some people think that it was a conjunction of planets, and some people think that it might have been a supernova. Some people think it might have been a comet. Some people think it might have been a supernatural light. We don’t know. What we know is that they knew that Scripture, they saw that star and they went, “There it is.” And so they had clarity, and so they came looking. Now, it’s interesting, Matthew says that they asked, “Where is he?” But literally in the Hebrew it says, they were asking, it’s a verb that implies that it was going on over and over again. In other words, like, they got into Jerusalem, and they grabbed the first person they saw and they said, “Hey, where is he? We saw the star, we’re really here…You don’t know? All right, well, how about you?”

And so they asked that person, “How about you?” And she didn’t know, and he didn’t know, and they went around and nobody seemed to know. And people started talking about these guys who were asking this question, which eventually came to Herod’s attention. And so verse three in chapter two of Matthew says this, “Now, when King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him. And when he had called together all of the people’s chief priests and the teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea. They replied, for this is what the prophet has written, “But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, or by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel.”” That’s from the Book of Micah, in the Old Testament, Micah 5:2, to be precise. So it’s interesting. Clarity has come, and again, clarity has come from where? It’s come from God’s Word. It’s come from the Scriptures. It’s interesting, none of the people knew where the Messiah was to be born because they didn’t know the Scriptures.

Only the chief priests and the teachers of the Law knew. And you might go, “Well, wait a minute, if the Magi knew about Numbers 24:17, why didn’t they know about Micah?” And the answer is that when Daniel went to Babylon, he didn’t have all of the Old Testament scrolls. At the time that Daniel was captured, the Old Testament wasn’t one big collection. I mean, they had some of them, but some of them were still being written.

And so Daniel carried what he had, but he must not have carried Micah with him, they didn’t have it to take, and so he wasn’t familiar with it, and so the Magi weren’t familiar with it. But as soon as they got there, and they heard about it, they went, “Yep, that’s it.” So now they knew, clarity, again, came from God’s Word because, and this is one important point to understand, God’s Word brings clarity. You hear me Church? God’s Word brings clarity. Why is that? Well, partly, it’s because God himself has clarity. Right? Because God has perfect perspective and he sees everything with absolute perfect clarity. The Book of Hebrews 4:13 describes God this way, it says, “Nothing in all of creation is hidden from God’s sight. He sees it all. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” He sees everything. Not only everything that happens in the world, he sees past, present and future. He sees everything that’s happening in the human heart, and we can hide some of the things that we do and claim that we had good motives, but he gets through all of that. He sees exactly what drives everything we do, good, bad, and ugly, he sees it all. He has absolute perfect clarity.

But he also communicates that clarity in his Word and, in fact, Hebrews 4:12 says this, “For the Word of God,” which includes the Bible, “The Word of God is alive and it’s active.” It’s not just a dead thing. It’s not just information. It’s a living thing that is accomplishing his purposes. He says, “For the Word of God is alive and active. It is sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.” So it’s not just that God has perfect clarity, but he communicates that clarity. He brings clarity to his people through his Word. And so God’s Word brings clarity.

It was true for the Magi, it’s true for me and it’s true for you. God’s Word brings clarity. And so they’re given clarity again. And Herod knows now, and so, Matthew 2:7 says, “Then Herod called the Magi secretly, and he found out from them the exact time that the star had appeared. And they sent them to Bethlehem, and he said, and by the way, you need to hear what he says here in the most sinister voice you can imagine. So Scar from “The Lion King,” whatever, okay? Because you got to hear just this evil dripping from this, but it’s so false, he says, “Go,” it’s the most sinister that I can summon, “Go and search carefully for the child. And as soon as you find him report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” No, you’re not. That’s a complete lie. And you don’t even need to know the story to go, it doesn’t sound right. There’s something else going on here. “And after they had heard the king, they went on their way and the star that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.”

Now, by the way, if I had to make a guess as to what the star was, and the Greek word for star just means any light in the sky. If I had to make a guess what this light was that they were seeing, it was probably, I think a supernatural event. I think it was probably a miraculous star. Because if it was a constellation of planets, or a supernova, or a meteor, all those things that are outside the atmosphere, you know, from a distance, and part of the world, you might see them and they might lead you in a direction, but those things can’t stop over a particular place. And when he says the place, he can’t be talking just about Bethlehem, they’ve already got clarity, they know they need to go to Bethlehem, this has stopped over the building where he is. And there’s no way that any of those extra-terrestrial stellar phenomenon. I’m glad I got all this right.

There’s no way that that would have brought that kind of clarity. So if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably a miraculous sign. But in any event, they know now. They have clarity and so there’s. Now, when they saw the star, they were overjoyed. And literally in the Greek it says they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy, which is kind of over the top. In other words, they partied hard, super excited. “And on coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and they worshiped him.” “And coming to the house,” it’s an interesting word. And I’ve had people kind of pick up on that word and go, House? Yeah, that’s why I don’t trust the Bible. It’s not clear. It contradicts itself because everybody knows Jesus wasn’t born in a house. He was born in a manger.

A manger is a feeding trough, so he was in the feeding trough which would have been in a stable in a barn. He was born in a barn, he’s not born in a house, and Luke says that, right? Luke says that on the night that he was born, he was in the barn, and here, the Magi come and he’s in a house, so which is it? How can I trust God’s Word when it contradicts itself? Yeah, except it doesn’t. Because here’s the thing, Luke, in his Gospel describes where Jesus was the night that he was born on Christmas Eve.

Mathew is talking about sometime later. It’s been a while. Well, we know that in part because here it asked when the star appeared, and later on, maybe another story, the Magi didn’t go back to Herod, they didn’t tell him where the child was, and he pitched a fit and in his attempt to kill Jesus, he ended up killing all the baby boys in this region who are under the age of two years. And as Matthew says, in accordance with what the Magi had told him about when the star had appeared. In other words, they said, “It was about two years ago, it took us a while to figure out the significance. It took us a while to get here.” In other words, the Magi weren’t there the night Jesus was born. I know. Like, I’m messing with Christmas, right?

It goes against some traditions and listen, I don’t wanna poke too much fun at traditions, but the reality is that tradition doesn’t always tell the truth. But in this particular case, it’s told us something that’s just not true, right? I mean, every nativity scene you’ve ever seen has the Magi there that night, doesn’t it? Can we pop a couple of those up here? Magi, right? On camels, also not mentioned. I’m okay with that, but how about this, ooh Fisher Price, this little kid stuff here, right?

From a really early age, we’re like the Magi were absolutely there. And it was a diverse group too. Magi, right there, right there, Magi. Magi. No faces or noses but Magi. I don’t know what’s going on with that, but there’s Magi. More Magi, right? Magi. Every time you look, there’s Magi. There’s Magi. Pilate, what the Kris Kringle is happening here? Right? Like, is that not the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen? Not only are they all made out a yarn, but they’re all babies. Like, that’s weird. They all show the Magi, but that’s tradition. And here’s the thing, sometimes tradition clouds what God’s Word makes clear. You hear me Church? Tradition is not a bad thing, but it’s no substitute for God’s Word. And we always have to check our tradition against God’s Word, because we’ve all been taught some things by tradition that aren’t necessarily the truth. I was convinced growing up that cleanliness is next to godliness, and that it was in the Bible, and it’s not.

I believe that Adam and Eve ate an apple. There’s no apple mentioned, it’s just fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is not an apple tree. But we have these things kind of rattling around in our brains. And then they take on sometimes the veneer of truth, but the reality is that they’re just tradition, and sometimes tradition doesn’t tell the truth. Sometimes tradition clouds what God’s Word makes clear. And so we have to always go back to the Scripture. We have to always go back to God’s Word for truth. And then they open their treasures.

“And they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” And by the way, tradition alert, tradition says they were how many? Three. It’s not what it says, it says there were three gifts. There might have only been two Magi, there might have been 20. Maybe each one carried one of the gifts, maybe there were three, or maybe a whole bunch of them each carried some of those same gifts or they split them among, we just don’t know. By the way, do we even need to talk about the fact that they weren’t kings? We okay on that?

“We three kings of orient are…” No, you’re not. You’re not kings. You’re advisors to kings. Maybe we do that because we’re so uncomfortable with the idea that they were pagan occultists. So if we’re not gonna call them kings, we down, well, they were wise men, because that’s better than magicians, and astrologers, and enchanters, and intestine readers, right? But sometimes God’s Word comes to, and even speaks through people that we wouldn’t necessarily expect.

And it’s uncomfortable. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. That’s maybe the most interesting line to me. Up to this point, all their clarity has come from their familiarity with God’s Word, right? And it’s come from Scripture. Here, for the first time, their clarity comes from a dream. It’s still God’s Word God speaks to them, but it’s a dream. And my question is, how did they know that it was God? Because, we all have dreams and they’re not all from God, at least I hope they’re not. Right?

How many of you have ever had a dream that you’re really hoping was not God speaking to you? Right? Yeah. So how did they know? How did they know that this was God and it wasn’t, you know, bad pizza last night? Here’s what I believe with all my heart, they knew that it was God in this dream because they already knew what he sounded like. They knew what he sounded. They knew the sound of his voice. They knew something about who he was because they were already familiar with his Word. They knew the sound of his voice from their familiarity with his Word. And this is so important to understand. Listen, our ability to recognize God’s voice, it begins with our familiarity with his Word. Because, here’s the thing, and I know this might be a little controversial for some of you, and it’s okay. I believe that God continues to speak in a variety of ways. I do think absolutely he speaks first and foremost through the Word of God through the Bible. But I think God speaks in other ways. I think God speaks through dreams. I’ve never had a dream where I think God was speaking. But I know people who have and I don’t doubt either their sincerity or their sanity. I think God speaks through prophecies. I’m not a prophet, but I know some people who seem to have that gift. And again, I don’t question their sincerity or their sanity.

I think God speaks through words of wisdom and words of knowledge. I think God speaks through advice. I think God speaks through open doors and closed doors and circumstances and the people he brings around us to speak, and I think God speaks in a variety of ways. But of course, we run into that confusion, but how do we know when it’s God? How do we know when it’s a voice we should be listening to? And the answer is this, the answer is that clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word. That’s where we first learn God’s voice and begin to develop the ability to recognize, in other words, because the reality is, not every dream’s from God. Not every opportunity is an open door that God wants us to go through. Not every closed door is an obstacle he wants us to run away from. Not every piece of advice we receive is godly counsel. Not every circumstance is a sign. So how do we know when God is speaking? And the answer is, we have to know his voice first. And clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word.

So how do we get familiar with God’s Word? We’re about to go really deep. This is probably more theology than any of you signed up for today. This is gonna blow your minds. Here’s how we get familiar with God’s Word and his voice, we need to read it. Did I lose a bunch of you? Okay, let me slow down, I went pretty quick. If we’re gonna get familiar with God’s voice through familiarity with his Word, we’re gonna need to read it. You’re still on the train? Okay. How many of you own a Bible? Awesome. And hey, by the way, if you don’t own a Bible, the Welcome Center has Bibles for you. We’d love to put one in your hands. They’d be thrilled to. Just go see them after the service. They’re ready to give them to you. But a lot of you said you already own. How about this, how many of you have more than one Bible?

How many of you have a Smartphone? You have all the Bibles. Like, do you understand that we live in an age that’s unprecedented in human history, right? We have unprecedented access to God’s Word. And yet, on some level, I do wonder if in fact we’re actually less familiar with it today than people in the past were even though they had less of it, right? Because in the past, you know, before Gutenberg came along and made the printing press, most people didn’t have a Bible. I mean, the only people who had the Bible were the priests. And so you’d go to church and you you’d hear a story, or you’d hear a passage from Scripture, and that was the only Scripture you had for the week, you didn’t have anything until next week. No access until the next time you went to church, because they were the only ones that had the Bible.

But that’s not true anymore. We have access to it. But you know how the law of economics work, right? If there’s a whole lot of something, it gets less valuable. If there’s a little something, it’s really valuable. And so, back in the past, they had little access, and so they put a lot of value on it, now we have a lot of access, and we actually seem to put little value on it. We just don’t read it. So if you want to get familiar with God’s Word, and so become familiar with his voice, and so find clarity, we got to read it. Here’s what happens when you read it, three things. Number one, reading the Bible clarifies a lot of things. Just reading the Bible is gonna clarify a lot of questions that we have, questions like, how do I be a good husband? What is the plan? What does it mean to be a good father? What does it mean to love my husband and my kids, be a good mom? What does it mean to be a good parent? What does it mean to be a good kid? What does it mean to be a good employer or a good employee? What does it mean to be careful and wise with my finances? What does it mean to think about myself as a citizen and engage with the politics? I mean, a lot of that is clarified directly by teachings from God’s Word. It clarifies a lot of things, if we’ll only read it. A lot of our questions are answered directly by the Word of God.

Second thing that happens is this, reading the Bible familiarizes us with God’s voice. We begin to recognize his voice. Now, I don’t mean obviously the sound of it. But I mean what he sounds like. And we begin to pick that up. I mean, here’s the thing, I can walk into any crowded room with all kinds of conversation happening, and I can find Coletta. I can my wife immediately, and it’s not because she’s louder than everybody else, she’s not. It’s not because she has a weird voice or she says weird things. I just know what she sounds like. Because I spent a lot of time getting familiar with her voice, and so, I can pick that out anywhere in a crowd. And it works that way spiritually. That the more time we spend with God’s Word, the more familiar we become with his voice, and the easier it is to recognize his voice however it is that he chooses to speak to us. Familiarizes with his voice. Third thing happens is this, reading the Bible changes us.

Reading the Bible does something in us. It polishes the lens, it wipes away dirt, it changes from the inside out. I love this, Isaiah wrote this. This is actually God’s speaking, He says, “As for the rain and the snow, as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and they do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and the bread for the eater, so is my Word.” In the same way, he says, “So is my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty. But it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What is it that God desires? Why does he give us his Word to do? It’s to change us, it’s to transform us. Here at Mission Hills, we talk a lot about being here for the sole purpose of helping people become like Jesus and join him on mission, and his Word is one of those powerful tools that we have because God’s Word changes us, and when we engage it, it adjusts who we are, and it tightens the screws and and battens things down and it opens up the shutters and it clarifies the view of things. We begin to become like Jesus, and as we do, we begin to gain some of his perspective. And, of course, he has a perfect perspective, so the more we’re becoming like Jesus, the clearer we are seeing all kinds of things in life. Reading God’s Word changes us. So, the first thing we need to do is we need to read it. Second thing we need to do is we need to seek to understand it. First thing is read it, second thing is seek to understand it.

So important that we seek to understand God’s Word because a lot of its work is done in our lives whether we fully understand it or not. But when we don’t understand God’s Word, we can do some weird things with it. Years ago in seminary I was teaching on biblical interpretation, and one of my students brought me a Christmas card. And on the front, it said, “And they celebrated by giving each other gifts. Merry Christmas. Revelation 13.” I remember thinking, I did not know that the Book of Revelation talked to us about this tradition of giving Christmas gifts. So I went and I looked it up and it turns out, that’s not what it says at all. Revelation 13, it’s describing this time where two of God’s prophets in the future before Jesus comes back, two of his prophets will rise up and evil people will kill them and leave their bodies in the streets. And it says that the people of the town looked at their bodies and they celebrated their death by giving each other gifts. Merry Christmas, right? No, not even close. But that’s what we do when we take God’s Word out of context. That’s what we do when we take God’s Word not in the way that it was intended, and we misunderstand it, and we misuse it, and we abuse it and we say, “But this is what God said.” And God’s like, “No, I didn’t. Why don’t you shut up?”

So it’s imperative. It’s critical that we seek to understand it. How do we do that? Let me just give you a couple quick suggestions. Number one is, it’s really, really helpful to do it in the context of a group of other people that are seeking to understand it. God often works in that, and so, if you’re not part of a group that’s studying the Bible together, our Group Link is coming up in January, join a Life Group or join a Bible study, that’s a really powerful way to begin to seek to understand God’s Word. If you’re new to your faith and you’re new to the Bible, and you’re not even sure where to start. We have an experience called Discovering Faith that will be begin in the beginning of January, so you can take a look at the Next Steps room today or you can sign up online, that will introduce you to the basics of understanding the Bible.

You can put yourself under the teaching of a Bible teacher who’s gifted to explain Scripture and focuses on that. And a lot of you are visiting from other places, and my prayer is that you are part of a church that is doing that regularly in your life. And if not, I would encourage you to find a place that teaches the Bible and helps you to understand it, but we need to seek to understand it. Third thing we need to do is we need to apply it. We read it, we seek to understand it, and then we apply it. That’s the missing ingredient for a lot of people today, I think. We live in a culture, not only where access to the Bible is at an unprecedented level, but our access to good teaching, honestly, is at an unprecedented level.

We can go to a church, we can listen to a podcast, we can go online to preachers and teachers all over the world to hear amazing teaching, gifted teaching, but sometimes we’re so, honestly, we’re so obsessed with consuming content that we never do anything with it. And listen, consumption is not the same thing as transformation. Learning is not the same thing as changing. And to change, we have to go, “Okay, Lord, I understand this. Now I need to do something with it. I need to put this into practice in my life. I need to apply it.” I think it’s interesting I read this verse in Hebrews, it says, “For the Word of God is alive and active. It is sharper than any double-edged sword.”

Most translations say that way, but it’s interesting, the Greek word for sword is also the Greek word for scalpel. It’s also the the word that’s used for a double-edged blade that was used in surgery. And it’s interesting what’s being described there sounds a little bit like surgery does, and it says, “The Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged blade. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit.” That’s intricate work. “Dividing joints and marrow,” that sounds a little bit like surgery, doesn’t it? The interesting thing to me is, you know, a sword does its work whether you’re submitting to it or not, right?

I mean, somebody just divides your head from your shoulders, and you don’t have a lot to say about that with a sword. But surgery, you have to agree to, right? Surgery, you submit to. Surgery, you invite into your life. And I wonder if maybe that’s actually what’s being said, the Word of God is powerful to do all these things, but we have to submit to it. One of the most important ways we do that is by applying it, by going, “God, I understand this truth, now help me to live it out.” Clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word. Whatever confusion you’re facing, I believe God wants to speak clarity into your life. I believe God is speaking clarity into your life. You may not be able to recognize it yet because you don’t quite know what he sounds like. Clarity begins with familiarity with God’s Word I just have one question for you. What am I gonna do to get more familiar with God’s Word? What step are you gonna take?

Would you pray with me? “God, we live in a confusing world. We do have limited resources, we have multiple options. Sometimes the options are confusing themselves, we don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. Sometimes we can recognize there are multiple good options, but we can’t tell what’s best. We don’t have your perspective and so things are confusing. So we thank you for your Word. We thank you that you have given us clarity on so many things.

Thank you that your Word does more than simply communicate abstract truths and principles, but it’s living and active in our lives. And it not only changes us but it also attunes us to your voice. We long to know your voice because we know it’s only from your voice, from your Word that we get clarity. So we long to know your voice and we thank you for the Scriptures, for the Bible that allow us to become familiar with you and for your Word and your voice. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we have taken so lightly such an invaluable resource. Change our hearts. Bring us clarity.”

If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do something for me? Would just spend some time now just praying. Praying for the people who are joining us right now that don’t know Jesus. They don’t have a relationship with him like we do. Pray for those who will come over the next few days for Christmas Eve that don’t know him. And pray that God would give them clarity. By the way, if you’re one of those people, if you don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus, a lot of what I said today probably doesn’t mean much to you. That’s okay. Here’s the one thing you need to be clear about.

Here’s the one reason that you’re with us today. Here’s the one thing that God wants to make sure you do not miss. Here it is. He loves you. God loves you. God himself said, for he so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. That’s the thing you need to be clear on, God loves you. He loves you so much he sent his Son Jesus, lived the perfect life and then voluntarily went to the cross to pay in his blood with his death, the price of every wrong thing you’ve ever done. All those things that separates you from God. He’s paid for them all. Three days later he rose from the dead. And he’s offering you forgiveness. He’s offering you freedom, and he’s offering you a relationship with this God who loves you. That’s what you need to be clear about.

And if that’s hitting home, if that’s ringing clear, if there’s something in you today that says, “I need that in my life.” You can have it. God is offering it to you. Wherever you are, this is what you do, just have this conversation with him in your heart. Say, “God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned, and I know that’s separated us. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I understand you’re offering me forgiveness and freedom and a new relationship with a God who loves me. I’m ready to accept that like any gift needs to be accepted. I’m ready to accept it. Jesus I’m saying yes to faith in you. I’m putting my trust in you, come into my life. I’m yours now and forever, Amen.”

I’ve had a number of people make that decision for the first time this weekend, can we just welcome them into the family of God together? That’s awesome.

CHRISTMAS EVE

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

23/24

Luke 2:1-16

There’s a line in the Christmas song, O Holy Night: “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Not a giant, unmissable, in-your-face, tidal wave of hope…a thrill of hope. Almost a hope that might be hope. That line is so good, because the reality is that when Jesus was born, it wasn’t a tidal wave of change, right? It was a subtle change that indicated that the tide was turning. Join us for this special Christmas Eve message.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT

Craig: Well, hey, Merry Christmas.

Congregation: Merry Chrismas.

Craig: Welcome to Mission Hills. We’re so glad to have you with us for our Christmas Eve celebration. So I tell you what, in just a few minutes, we are gonna do something together and that’s whether you’re in the main auditorium. Those of you who are in the Grove, welcome. We’re gonna do this with you. Those of you’re in the middle, we’re gonna do this with you. All over this building and really all over the world this week and the people of God are gonna do the same thing. And that is we’re going to light a candle and we’re gonna sing a song about light shining in the darkness.

When Christians do this at Christmas Eve, there’s two really popular songs and it’s usually one or the other. And those songs are “Silent Night” and “Oh Holy Night.” Both are great songs, full of meaning and significance. Today we’re going to sing “Oh Holy Night.” And there’s a line in a song that wanna draw your attention to before we all sing it together and maybe put it in context. So Holy Night says this. It says, “Oh, Holy Night, the stars are shining brightly.” And I love that line in part because it reminds me of a truth. See, the thing about the stars is honestly, they might shine bright at night, but they’re really not all that bright. They don’t really shine all that brightly on their own because if they did, we’d see them in the daytime and we don’t. It’s only in the dark that they seem to shine so brightly because when everything’s dark, a little bit of light makes a big difference. And that’s true in the night sky, but it’s also true in the world and it’s true in our lives.

You know, we often look at the darkness and the pain and the suffering around us, and we think, “I don’t really have much that I can do about that.” But the reality is that sometimes very, very small lights make a huge difference. The small words of kindness or grace or generosity or those acts of caring and love in the world of a person who’s really caught in darkness, those small acts make a huge difference. And we can shine very brightly because when everything’s dark, even a little bit of light makes a big difference.

So it says, “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. This is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” Anybody pined recently? I may not even know what it is. It’s an old English word actually. It means to long for what’s lost. It means to be longing for something that we used to have and it’s gone. And that’s a great line too, because see, we were all made to have a relationship with God. God designed us with this innate deep-seated need to connect with him, to know him and be known by him, but we sinned. We turned away from God and through all of our small acts of sin, which we’ve all done, we have disconnected from him. And you know, whenever you disconnect the light from the outlet, it goes dark, right?

And when we disconnected from God, we moved into a place in a time of darkness. But we didn’t forget this God completely. We didn’t forget this inner ache in us that longs to be connected to something. We’ve lost sight of what exactly it is, but we still feel the ache because the need to connect to God, they need to know God is as deeply seated in the human person as the need for air or water or food. And I think the proof of that is the fact that every culture that’s ever existed on this planet has a religion of some kind. There’s not a single culture that has not had this longing to connect to God because it’s just an expression of this innate sense that we all have. And you might go, “Well, yeah, there’s all these religions, but they all have very different ideas of God.” Well, of course.

Because when we moved away from God into the dark, we lost sight of our Creator’s face. And over time we began to forget what he looked like, what he sounds like and what he is like. And so we’re kind of left going, “Well, maybe it’s this or that, and it’s our imagination, our ideas.” I think really only Christianity explains why every culture has a religion and why there so many different ideas because it’s all of us in the dark trying to remember.

I have a guy that I know that that overheard his granddaughter, she was about four years old at the time and she was talking to her new baby brother that had just come in from the hospital and my friend overheard her say to her baby brother, she said, “Baby, tell me what God sounds like because I’m starting to forget.” And when I heard that, it gave me this kind of shiver, right? I think that’s us. We’re lost in the dark, longing for what we’ve lost this ache in a still longs to connect, but we’re not even sure to who anymore. So, “long lay the world in sin and error pining.” A longing for what we lost. “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Felt that in spite of the fact that we had abandoned God, he had not abandoned us. He came looking for us and so we had this incredibly powerful line.

“Soul felt it’s worth, a thrill of hope. The weary world rejoices.” I love that line. I love that word actually, thrill a thrill of hope because what the writer of that song meant by a thrill of hope was that it’s not a truckload of hope. It wasn’t an avalanche. It wasn’t a floodlight of hope. It was a subtle thing at first. See, a thrill of hope is the, I don’t know, it’s the first time you noticed the first star twinkling in the darkness and there’s a hint of more to come. It’s that little shiver that runs through you when you think, “Did the wind just shift? Is there something new in the air?” It’s really a thrill of hope is it’s a hint of hope. It’s a hope really, that there might actually be hope, but it’s not. It’s not a truckload of hope. It’s a small thing and that’s the Christmas story, right?

Luke tells it this way. He says, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken to the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David because he belonged to the house in the line of David. And he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified,” which I think is a natural reaction, right?

I don’t know how angels appear. I’ve never seen one. I don’t know if it’s like a slow fade-in like a Star Trek transporter or if it’s like bam, here I am. Either one’s terrifying, can we agree? But he said to them, “Do not be afraid.” Which I’m thinking, yeah, that’s way too late. Maybe some advance notice would have helped. “So do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” which is a pretty big buildup, right? And I’ve often wondered if maybe what came next actually didn’t feel like a little bit of a letdown after that big buildup. I mean an angel appears, that’s a big deal all by itself. And then he says, “I’ve got good news, which will cause great joy for all the people.” I mean that’s a big buildup. It’s setting the standard pretty high. And I’ve often wondered if what he said next actually didn’t feel like a little bit of a letdown after that big of a buildup. He said this, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you, he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Now, so far so good because there’s some big words there, right? Some big exciting words. The Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. And, you know, and I think they probably focused on those words and they probably skimmed pretty quickly over that little word born. And in fact, honestly in the original Greek that this was written in, the word there doesn’t necessarily mean childbirth. It can just mean has appeared or has arrived. And so they probably didn’t pay much attention to what the angel said about how he had arrived. They paid attention to his identity. They’d called attention to what the angel said about who he was. They said he’s the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. But then the angel went on and he said this, “And this will be a sign to you.” Like, “Hey, do you want to sign? Do you want to see him?” Yeah, we do. “Here’s how you do it. This will be a sign to you. You’ll find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And I gotta wonder if that wasn’t a wait, wait, what moment? Right. I mean the Messiah is in the house. The Savior is on the scene that the Lord has arrived. I mean, this is big, exciting news. We’ve been waiting for thousands of years. “You wanna see him?” Yeah, absolutely. “Okay. Here’s what you do. You go into Bethlehem.” Yeah, we’re gonna do that. “And you’re gonna go to a barn.” Okay. That’s weird. But okay, I’m gonna go to a barn. “And in the barn and you’re gonna find a baby. Yeah, well that’s him.”

Wait, what? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I mean, babies are cute, right? But they’re kind of useless. Can we just be honest about that? I mean, I’ve had two of them myself, okay? And like for a good solid couple of years, they’re basically high maintenance decoration, okay? They’re just not good for a whole lot. And see, they’ve been waiting for a King and now he’s saying, yeah, you’re getting a kid. Some assembly required kind of almost. You’re looking for a war, you’re getting an infant. You’re looking for somebody to do battle against your enemies, well, I’m giving you a baby. Yeah, I don’t get it. That’s weird.

“Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven.'” They’re excited at least. “And on Earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests. And when the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Well, let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that’s happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ And so they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby.” I got to wonder if a couple of them weren’t thinking, maybe it was a metaphor, some kind… He’s so fresh that it’s like he’s a baby or something like, “Oh no, you’re talking an actual baby, huh? It’s cute. I was looking for a little bit more than that.” They found “the baby who was lying in the manger. And when they’d seen him, they spread the word concerning would’ve been told them about this child.” I mean, don’t get me wrong. This is obviously a huge deal. It’s a very big deal. God himself has come into our world. The Son of God has become one of us. This is Emmanuel, God with us. This is a very big deal. It’s just a really low-key entrance for the Almighty, right? But this is how God often does big things.

Some of the biggest things God has ever done have started really, really small. I mean, think about the creation itself, the universe, right? It’s vast in a way that you and I can’t even begin to imagine. I think about this a lot. Some of you heard me talk about this because I can’t get over this, but if you have the best eyesight possible and the best possible viewing conditions, sometimes at night you might be able to see as many as 10,000 stars, which seems like a lot until you realize that there’s 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which means you gotta take the most stars you’ve ever seen, multiply it by 10 and now you’ve got 100,000. We’re gonna need 10 of those 100,000 to get our first million. We’re gonna need a thousand millions to get our first billion, and then we’re going to need a hundred of those to get the number of stars in our galaxy. And it appears that there’s between 100 and 300 other galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars in them, and they’re thrown across an expansive space so vast you and I can’t even begin to imagine the tiniest fraction of it.

And yet when God began that entirely like uncomprehensible, incomprehensible thing, he did it this way and maybe you know it, the first thing he did was he said, “And let there be light.” And I don’t even know what that was like. And maybe it was a flood of light, like it was. Maybe it was like a let there be like… Or honestly, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just a little spark in the dark. But see, when everything’s dark, when everything’s always only been dark and a spark in the dark suddenly seems like a really big deal, right? So many things that God does begin very, very small. So maybe they were a little disappointed. It’s a baby in a barn, in a feeding trough wrapped up in whatever rags they could scavenge, but God often does really big things from very, very, very small beginnings.

We’re in the series at Mission Hills this Christmas. It’s called All is Bright and early on somebody said to me, “Isn’t that a little optimistic?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, like I get it, Jesus born. I mean, that’s a big deal in all, but there’s still a lot of dark, I don’t know how you can say all is bright because there’s still a lot of dark.” And I thought that that’s a fair statement. It’s a fair question, but I also think that the coming of Jesus has brought more light. It has driven back more darkness than most of us recognize. We kind of take for granted how much light we actually live in today because of the coming of Jesus. In fact, I know that for some of you, in fact for a lot of you, you’re here today because you’ve experienced the coming of the light of Christ into your life.

You’ve personally experienced what it means to have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You know what it’s like to have his light in your life and to see the darkness being driven back. And I know a lot of you are here for that reason. If you’re here for that reason, could I get a hallelujah?

Congregation: Hallelujah.

Craig: That was sad. I don’t know. I caught you off guard. We’re not really that kind of church. We don’t do a lot of that, but I think this is that kind of night even if we’re not that kind of church. So here, if you’re here today because you’ve experienced the light of Christ coming into your life and driving back darkness in your soul, can I get a hallelujah?

Congregation: Hallelujah.

Craig: That was better? That’s right. That’s the way it is. But see, here’s the thing. That’s not just true in our personal lives. Here’s the thing. Jesus said this. He said, “I am the light of the world,” which is not a big surprise. Of course he is. “I am the light of the world.” He said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” In other words, he said that I’m gonna give my light to you. And then he went on and he said this, he said, “You are the light of the world. If you have my light in you, then you are now the light of the world.” A town built on a hill cannot be hidden neither do they… People put a, you know, they light a lamp and they put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house, in the world. So in the same way he gave us this command, he said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

And so for thousands of years, the followers of Jesus haven’t just experienced the light of Christ coming into their lives. They have worked hard to obey that command. They stepped into darkness, they’ve held up the light and they have driven back the dark. And the world is a very different place because of that. And I think we often lose sight of how different it is because of the followers of Jesus obeying that command. Let’s just talk about a couple of the highlights. Number one, hospitals. You know hospitals exist because the followers of Jesus in the middle ages look to people who were sick and hurt and dying and nobody cared about them. And they said, “Well, God cared for me when I was sick and hurt and alone and so I need to do the same for others.” And so we invented hospitals. That was the followers of Jesus.

Universities. How many of you have a university education? The followers of Jesus invented those because they believed that education would drive back darkness. How many of you can read? You can thank the followers of Jesus for that because it was the followers of Jesus who believed that every human being should be able to read so they could read God’s Word and understand about his light and his love. They invented literacy and public education for the masses. Representative governments in the modern world driven by the followers of Jesus. The belief in civil liberties, driven by the followers of Jesus. The abolition of slavery in the modern world, driven by followers of Jesus.
The modern science. How many of you have a Smartphone? You can thank Jesus for your Smartphone because it was the followers of Jesus who said, “Well, we serve a God of order.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that the university created displays that order and he’s made us as his image, which means maybe he’s given us the capacity to understand something of that order. And that was the foundation of all modern science. So the next time you pull out your Smartphone, thank Jesus for your Smartphone, you can thank Apple and Android second.

The elevation of women in modern culture, driven by the followers of Jesus. The idea of charity. Charity as a concept doesn’t even exist apart from the Gospel. In parts of the world where the light of Christ is not yet gone, the idea of charity is incomprehensible. Why would you be generous? Why would you give your limited resources to people that are not related to you and are never gonna be able to pay you back? Why would you do that? That is a Christian principle. It’s driven by the followers of Jesus. The high regard for human life, the idea of inalienable rights for every human being, the elevation of arts and music, that’s all driven by the followers of Jesus stepping into dark places and holding up the light of Christ in order to drive back darkness.

If the baby hadn’t been in the barn, we would live in a very, very different world now. We live in a world where so much darkness has been driven back that we no longer even recognize what happened, what caused it, what brought about the change, because we’ve never lived in a world apart from that. But listen, it might have been a thrill of hope. It might have been a small beginning, but the life of Jesus, the birth of Jesus led to the life of Jesus. And the life of Jesus is very important because it was a perfect life. He didn’t commit any sin, and this is really significant because see, the problem is that we’ve all sinned and the result of sin is death. See, in the same way, if you walk away from lights, you end up in the dark. If you walk away from life and God is the source of all life, if you walk away from God by sin, you end up in death.

The Bible says the natural consequence, the wage of sin is death. It’s just an inevitable result for every one of us because we’ve all sinned except for Jesus. Jesus lived the perfect life, which mean he had no reason to die. Well, that’s not true. He had a reason to die. You were that reason. It was his love for you that put him on the cross. It was a voluntary death. He didn’t have to go. He had no sin to atone for, no sin to pay off, but he loves you so much that he went to the cross to pay for your sin. He died in your place because of his love for you.

The death of Jesus led to the resurrection of Jesus proving that he had defeated death and darkness and that he had forgiveness to offer. And thing is in the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t have a thrill of hope. We have a truckload of hope. In the resurrection, Jesus in the empty grave, in that fact of history, we have a title wave of hope, and we have the proof that God loves us. “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.” That’s not a thrill of hope. That’s a truckload of hope right there.

Sin leads to death, but Jesus offers another way, salvation by faith, by simply trusting and what he did for you because of his love for you. And I know a lot of you are here today because you’ve experienced that and you’re here to celebrate that. But I also know that there are many people here listening who have never experienced that. They have never experienced the light of Christ in their lives. They’ve never experienced the freedom of forgiveness in a relationship with God. But that’s what Christmas is all about. If you’re here today and you don’t have that relationship, if you’ve never experienced that, if you’ve never received that gift, then you can have it. It’s what we call the Gospel. People are very simple things. Number one, God loves us. Number two, we haven’t loved him back. We’ve sinned and that sin separates us from him.

God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to die on the cross in our place. Three days later, he rose from the dead and he offers us salvation as a gift. But as with any gift, we have to accept it. We have to take hold of it and bring those things together. And so grab a hold of forgiveness and new life. And if you are listening to this and you do not have that relationship with God, if you’ve never experienced forgiveness, salvation, and the beginning of eternal life planted in you, you can have it right here, right now. Here’s how you’d do it.

I’m going to ask everybody to just close their eyes. And if you’d never received the gift of salvation, the gift of forgiveness of every wrong you’ve ever done, today is the day. Jesus is offering it to you and here’s how you take hold of it. You just have this conversation with God in your heart. You just say this. You say: God, I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’m sorry. I know that the darkness in my life is not your fault. It’s mine. It’s ours. We created it by our sin. God, thank you for loving me enough to send Jesus. Jesus, thank you for dying in my place to pay for my sin. I believe that you rose from the dead and I understand that you’re offering me the gift of forgiveness and salvation. I’m ready to receive it. So I’m putting my trust in you, Jesus. I’m putting my faith in you. Jesus, come into my life, be my Lord, my Savior, and I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.

If you made that decision to accept that gift for the first time today, we’d love for you to just let us know about it. A couple of ways you can do it. Number one, really simple. You just text the word Jesus to 888111 today. We’re not gonna put you on a list. You’re gonna get back one link, it’s gonna take you to some truths, but what it means to have accepted Jesus and what’s true about you now and what it means to have his light in your life and have the opportunity to shine in the darkness and be part of driving that back.

And maybe you wanna go and tell the people at the Welcome Center you said yes to a relationship with Jesus today. They’d love to put some gifts in your hands to help you begin that relationship and help you begin living out the command of Jesus to let our light shine. So we’re here today. So many of us, because we’ve accepted Jesus, we have received his forgiveness, his light is in us. And so now we have the opportunity to each one of us be a spark in the dark, to shine the light of Christ. And so as we go out of this place, we need to pay attention to the example set by the shepherds. They spread the word concerning what had been told them and not just what it’s been told us, but we’ve experienced. And so we go from this place as the light of Christ.