Jesus’ arrival in the manger came wrapped in a proclamation of peace. But during the hectic holiday season, experiencing that peace can seem just beyond our grasp — like the crooked star on top of the Christmas tree that we can’t quite reach to straighten out. This Christmas season we invite you to discover all the joy and hope that God makes possible as he extends to us his promise of peace.

HOPE WILL FIND YOU

DANNY OERTLI

NOVEMBER

27/28

Peter 1:3, Exodus 14:14, Romans 15:13

Today as we enter the Advent season we’re going to talk about Hope. Right now, you may feel there is no hope, that walls are closing in around you. But today, you can know there is hope for one reason above all else. No matter what season of life you’re in, today, hope can find you if you let it. Hope is calling to you, if you listen.

THE WAR OF CHRISTMAS

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

4/5

Revelation 12:1-5

Jesus saw his entrance into the world as anything but peaceful. His coming was a declaration of war against darkness. We may sometimes forget that since a lot of Christmas songs paint a picture of the peace of the season. So which is it? Jesus couldn’t provide peace until war was waged against what made peace impossible.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT
Craig: Well, hey, today is the second week of Advent and traditionally, the second week of Advent, the theme is peace. And so, I decided to mark this occasion by bringing you a message that I’m calling the War of Christmas. And I’m actually just gonna stop there for a second because some of you just got excited because you misheard me. You thought I said the war on Christmas, and you’re excited because you think I’m about to go off and all those Grinches out there who are trying to kick Christ out of Christmas or try to kick Christmas out of our culture.

And listen, is there a war on Christmas? Yeah, there is. You know, are there companies that tell their employees they have to say happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas? There are. Are there holiday evergreen lots instead of Christmas tree lots? Yeah, those exist. And yeah, you know, some people put X instead of Christ in Christmas to say Xmas. But honestly, Christians invented that one hundreds of years ago actually, that’s not really on them even though we sometimes get upset about it. It’s just interesting. Like, yeah, there is sort of this war on Christmas, but I am not all that triggered by it. I don’t know about you. I know some people really are.

I was in line at Walmart several years ago, Christmas time, and the woman in front of me, the cashier was ringing her up. And when the cashier was done, she looked at the woman, a big smile on her face and she said, “Hey, happy holidays.” And the woman, like, blew up. Like, freaked out. I mean, she was yelling at this poor girl. And, like, the nicest thing she said to this woman was, “You are a minion of Satan, in league with all the liberals who are making war on Christmas.” That was, like, the nicest thing she said to this girl, right. And, like, it was uncomfortable. Everybody else was like, “I think I’m gonna go to the self-checkout instead. I mean, this is just…” But it’s so uncomfortable.

And then finally she left and this poor girl…I got up to her. And listen, I don’t know if Walmart told her she had to say happy holidays. I don’t know if she’s just trying to be politically correct. Maybe she just wasn’t even thinking about it, right. All I know is I got up there and she rang me up and she looked at me with these haunted eyes and she goes, “Have a nice day.” Right? Like, Christmas spirit broken, right?

And I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. I’m not sure the best way to deal with the Grinch is by becoming a Scrooge, right. I’m just not sure that’s the best way to do it. But yeah, is there a war on Christmas? Yeah, yeah, there is a war on Christmas. But do you know when it began? About 2020 years ago, actually, because we have an enemy who hates Christmas. We have an enemy who really, really wants to see Christmas go away. And I’m not talking about the Grinch. I’m talking about the Grinch’s spiritual forefather. That creature we know as Satan, as the devil. He desperately wants to see Christmas go away. He’s been declaring war on the Christmas from the very beginning.

But what we often forget is that God started it. God fired the first shots. And in fact, what we often forget is that the first Christmas was an act of war. Do you know that? The first Christmas was an act of war, God declared war with the first Christmas. We forget that a lot. And I think partly it’s because all of our songs about Christmas are so…they’re so peaceful, right? You know, when we sing, you know, “The cattle are lowing.” I have no idea what that means. “The poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus…” How does it go? “No crying he makes.” It’s just so peaceful, right? And we say, “A little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” It’s all peaceful.

But the reality is the first Christmas wasn’t peaceful. Jesus’s entrance into the world wasn’t an act of peace. In fact, it’s interesting. This is the way that Jesus describes his entrance into the world, his purpose in ministry. He says this, he says, “Do not suppose. Don’t think, don’t imagine that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” He said, “My arrival is an act of war, I came to bring war.” And yeah, and this is so interesting. This is also the same Jesus who looked at his closest followers and said this, he said, “Peace, I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” Which feels like a contradiction, right? I mean, which is it? Did he come to bring war? Did he come to bring peace? And the answer is both.

But what we have to understand is that God couldn’t provide peace until he had waged war against what makes peace impossible. God couldn’t provide peace until he had waged war against what makes peace impossible. And that’s why I said the first Christmas was an act of war.

Let me show you what I mean. I wanna take you to the Bible’s third account of the Christmas story of the first Christmas. A lot of people don’t realize there’s three accounts. Most people think there’s only two. In the Gospel of Matthew, we have one of the Christmas stories, we have one set of details about the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, we have another set of details about the first Christmas and a lot of people think that’s the only two accounts, but, in fact, the Bible has a third account of the first Christmas, a very different set of details about the birth of Jesus. And we find it in a place that nobody expects to find this. It’s in the Book of Revelation. If you wanna join me, we’re gonna be on Revelation chapter 12, starting at verse 1 today.

Revelation 12 contains an account of the first Christmas, but it’s from a very different perspective. See, here’s what you need to understand about the Book of Revelation. It was written by a man named John. John’s the same man who wrote the Gospel of John, and it’s interesting in the Gospel of John, we don’t have an account of the first Christmas. But later in his life, John received what we call an apocalyptic vision. And in that apocalyptic vision, he was given actually a vision of the first Christmas. And so, he gives us another set of details about the birth of Jesus.

Now, the interesting thing about apocalyptic visions, we hear the word apocalyptic, and we naturally think, “Oh, that means catastrophic.” And so, like, an apocalyptic vision would be a vision of the end of the world. And there’s a little bit of that in Revelation but there’s so much more than that. And we miss out on it because we don’t quite understand what Revelation is. See, scholars talk about apocalyptic vision, and what they mean is its basically, it’s an uncovering. That’s really what the Greek word apocalypt, apocalyptus or tos or toe means. It means kind of an uncovering, a revealing, it means you kinda pull the curtain back, and you give people a glimpse behind the scenes of what’s going on, right.

See, in some ways, history is a little bit like a play. But there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that we don’t necessarily see. But an apocalyptic vision actually pulls the curtain back and lets you see behind the scenes, what’s really going on in that realm of the world that we don’t always have immediate access and what we see in Revelation 12, is that John was given a vision of a past event, because again, we think Revelation’s all future, but it’s not. It’s got past, present, and future stuff. John’s given a vision of something that’s happened in the past. He’s given a vision of the first Christmas, but God pulls the curtain back and he says, “Hey, I’m gonna let you see what was really going on in that first Christmas.”

And so, we get a very interesting perspective on the first Christmas in that Revelation 12. This is what John says, he says, “A great sign appeared in heaven. And a woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head.” So, he sees a woman.

Now, what we need to understand is that in the Book of Revelation, we have a lot of symbols. And what symbols are, is they are pictures that represent things. They might represent people, they might represent governments, they might represent events in history, again past, present, or future. But they’re pictures that represent things. Now, so John sees this woman. The question, of course, is what does she represent? Well, I’ve already told you that this is a Christmas story. So, you see a woman and what’s the woman that we normally associate with Christmas? Mary, right? And I do think that this woman represents Mary, but…and here’s where the Book of Revelation can get pretty complicated.

A lot of the symbols in Revelation actually represent more than one thing and actually often layers of them. And in this case, the thing that’s going on…we partly know that because this woman that he sees, has some things around her that aren’t associated with Mary. She’s clothed with the sun, she’s got the moon under her feet, she’s got a crown of 12 stars. Well, that’s all language we find in the Old Testament related to the Nation of Israel, to God’s people. And so really, what’s happening here is this woman that John sees, the woman represents both Mary and God’s people. Okay. This woman represents both Mary and God’s people, first the Nation of Israel, but later on in the chapter, she becomes really a representative of God’s people, the church, okay. But this woman represents both Mary and God’s people.

Okay, so what does the woman do? So, she was pregnant, and she cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Now, she’s about to give birth, of course, to Jesus. It’s a Christmas story. But the most important thing we’re supposed to focus on here is the fact that she cried out in pain. That’s what God wants to make sure that we don’t miss, that she cried out in pain. Now, as this is Mary, and she’s literally in labor, it’s not surprising she’s crying out in pain, right? I mean, I’ve never given birth, but I watched my wife do it a couple times. And my impression is it is mildly uncomfortable, right? Is that not even close? Yeah, it’s a pretty painful thing, obviously, right? So, we get that Mary’s in pain, she’s in labor and so she’s going through this pain, but how is the Nation of Israel, how are God’s people in labor? They’re not about to give birth, are they? Well, actually they are.

So, here’s what we need to understand. We have actually a consistent pattern in the Bible. And what happens is the Bible often uses labor to symbolize the pain of waiting for God to move. Let me say that again. It’s important to understand, the Bible often uses labor to symbolize the pain of waiting for God to move. And sometimes, we have to wait for a while for God to move, right. I mean, I don’t know. Has anybody here had the experience that every time you want God to do something, he just does it before you can even ask him? That every time you want God to do something that only he can do, that you’re desperate for him to do, it happens so fast your head spins. I’m not seeing a lot of people going Amen. I don’t see a lot of hands going. Anybody had the experience that you’re asking for God to move and he just seems to be taking his own sweet time?

And we know in faith, God’s good and so his timing is perfect. And whatever God’s causing us to wait for and whyever it is that he’s causing us to wait that there’s a good purpose, there’s good things that he’s doing in that. But the reality is that waiting for God to move can become very painful. And you may be in a place right now where you’re asking for God to move and he hasn’t moved yet in the way that you expect it or in the timing you expect it. And it’s hard. And it’s interesting that the Bible acknowledges that, it recognizes that but it uses a particular analogy to help us think about that pain of waiting. It uses the analogy of labor.

And the point, is to remind us of a truth that we often forget. It’s a truth we’d really like to not be a truth, but it is. Have you ever heard the old phrase “Good things come to those who wait?” Any of us heard of that phrase? Yeah, the Bible’s version of that phrase is actually, good things come to those who push through pain, not just those who wait, but those who trust God and push through pain that they keep moving forward in faith, trusting God. That’s the biblical truth that we’re being reminded of here, that’s the power of the labor. Now you have to push through it to get to the good thing on the other side.

The Bible says the good things come to those who push through pain. And we know this. We know this thing to be true, just on the basis of our everyday lives, right? I mean, when was the last time you got stronger, physically stronger, without working out and having to endure the pain of aching muscles? When is the last time you got emotionally stronger without going through something painful? When was the last time, you just got better at something without the boring, repetitive, often painful process of doing it over and over and over again?

Like, we know from everyday life that good things come to those who push through the pain. In spite of that though, in spite of that, when we encounter pain, our natural reaction is to reverse directions. Our natural reaction is not to push through the pain, it’s to look for a way to get out of the pain, to go somewhere else where maybe we think the pain will be less. Our natural reaction is not to push through pain, it’s to escape it.

And I think that’s always been a human tendency. I think humans have always kind of reacted to pain in that way. But I do think it’s worse in the modern world. I think we have a harder time remembering today that good things come to those who push through pain. Because we live in a world where so many things that used to be hard, they used to be everyday reminders of the need to push through pain to get to good things, we live in a world where so many of the things that used to be hard have now become really easy, right? We don’t have a lot of the daily painful things to deal with.

Like, if I want bread, I go to King Soopers, I got bread, we’re done. Like, I don’t have to harvest wheat. I don’t have to pound wheat into flour. I don’t have to find yeast. I don’t even know where I would find yeast in nature. I know what aisle it’s at at King Soopers. But if I had to find yeast, I don’t even know where I’d start looking. You gotta get yeast, you gotta mix it into flour, you gotta let that rise. You gotta get a bunch of firewood, you got to start a fire. And I’m sorry, Bear Grylls is lying. It is not that easy. Starting a fire is a really hard thing to do if you don’t have matches. And then I gotta put it in an oven that I built by hand, right, so I don’t burn down my house. Like, that’s a lot of work, that’s a lot of pain to go through to get a piece of bread. We don’t have to deal with that anymore, right?

Or I think about communication, talking to somebody that doesn’t live anywhere near you. What do we do now? We just send a text. It’s received instantly. There’s no pain in that. In the past, you had to write a letter. You had to get a piece of paper and a pen and you had to scratch on the letter until you wrote what you wanted. And then you had to fold that thing up, and you have to put it in an envelope. And you had to lick that stupid envelope, which means that best-case scenario, the worst is gonna happen is you’re gonna have a nasty taste in your mouth for half an hour. Worst case scenario, you get a paper cut on your tongue, the pain lasts for days. Then you gotta find a stamp and put it in the mail and you gotta wait. It was a major pain.

That’s not the world we live in anymore. And in so many ways so many of the things that used to be so hard have now become so easy, that it’s gotten really, really easy to forget that good things come to those who push through pain. And so, God reminds us with this analogy.

And I would encourage you to take a moment right now, to think of a place in your life where there’s pain, a place where you’re facing pain, maybe a place where there’s so much pain that you’re kinda starting to look around for escape hatches, ways to get out of it because it’s hard and it hurts. Maybe it’s in your marriage. Maybe it’s in a dating relationship or maybe you wanna be married and you’re not or maybe you wanna be dating and you’re not, maybe that’s the place of pain. Or maybe it’s a struggle with a friend or maybe you’re having a hard time interacting and relating to your parents or to one of your kids. Maybe there’s a struggle there. Maybe there’s a struggle at work. Maybe you’re struggling in school right now. Maybe you’re struggling with anxiety and maybe you’re struggling with depression or fear or anger. But where’s that place of pain?

And the reason I want you to think about that is because I want you to picture what God wants us to picture which is that God is calling us to push through the pain to other much better things on the other side but things that we won’t get to if we don’t push through the pain with him.

That’s the beauty of this labor metaphor, right? At the end of the day after having pushed through the pain, Mary got to hold her baby boy. At the end of the pain of waiting for God to move, but pushing forward and being faithful to him, Israel got to see the Messiah come, they got to see the arrival of Jesus. And I promise you on the other side of your pain, there’s peace, and there’s joy, and there’s good things. But good things come to those who push through the pain, who trust God and keep moving forward with him and not constantly reversing course, not reversing direction, or looking for some way to get out from underneath it.

Re-think, reframe the pain that you’re facing in the way that God calls us to do here, which is, it’s labor. And we have to push through it to get to the other side and the good things are on that other side. That’s the first thing that John sees, as he saw that first Christmas, this reminder that good things come to those who will push through the pain. And so, what I wanna do actually is I wanna encourage you to think about this and maybe start praying a new prayer. And think of that pain and the need to push through it. I want to start praying this incredibly simple, but powerful prayer. And some of you, you’re listening to this message because you just needed to hear this and you needed to start praying this on a daily basis.

And the prayer is just this, “God, give me your strength to push through this pain in faith that what’s on the other side of it is so much better.” Can you just start praying that? “God, give me your strength to push through this pain.” He gave it to Mary and he gave it to the nation of Israel and they got to see so much on the other side they would’ve missed if they hadn’t pushed through.

This isn’t the only thing, of course, that John sees. Here’s another detail of the first Christmas, verse three. He says, “And then another sign appeared in heaven. An enormous red dragon with 7 heads and 10 horns and 7 crowns on its heads.

And I don’t know about you but I have never seen a Nativity scene with a seven-headed dragon in it. Have you? Most of them, they’re so peaceful, right? I mean, you got a baby Jesus, you got Mary and Joseph, you got a Magi or two, some shepherds, maybe you got a donkey, a sheep, maybe a camel, right? How much cooler would it be if there was a red dragon? Like, that would be sweet. There should totally be a red dragon in our Nativity scenes. That would be awesome. And so, here’s we’re gonna do, okay. I’ve got an assignment for you. This is for the men out there, okay, I want you to do this for me, guys. I want you to…maybe your wife or maybe your mom or somebody has put up a Nativity scene. I want you to go and I want you to find a dragon, an appropriate-sized dragon. And I want you to add it to the Nativity scene, okay.
I’m totally serious about this actually. In fact, I want you to remember this throughout the Christmas season. So, if you’ll do this, if you just take a picture of it, post it on social media, tag me on it so I see it…my social media tag is Dr. Craig A. Smith. I hate putting the doctor there but there’s a lot of Craig Smiths. So, Dr. Craig A. Smith, put the picture up, tag me in it. And if you’ll leave it up for the whole Christmas season, I’ll trust that you’ll do that. You just send me the picture, tag me in it. I’ll send you a gift, actually. Totally serious. People are already doing it. I’ve already found a bunch of them, getting the gifts ready to go out. Okay, I want you to do it because I want you to remember this, okay. It’s powerful.

Now, just so you’re clear, you’re probably gonna get some pushback, okay. Your wife, your mom, they might push back. They might be like, “I have searched Pinterest and this is not how it’s done.” And you’re gonna go, “Well, I’ve searched the Scriptures, okay, and the Bible beats Pinterest every single time. And apparently, there was a red dragon there.” Okay. So go ahead and do that. I’ll send you a gift.

Okay, it is a strange thing though, right? He sees this red dragon. Like, what does that have to do with Christmas? What has everything to do with Christmas? Here’s what you need to understand. The dragon represents…first off, the dragon represents the devil. Okay, we know the dragon represents the devil because a little bit later in the passage, you’re gonna drop down to Revelation 12:9. That’s made explicit. It’s made really obvious. He says, “The great dragon was hurled down, that ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” So, no question about it. We know that the dragon represents Satan.

However, like the woman who represents more than one thing, there’s layers to that. The dragon represents a couple other things as well. And we see that with the language of the 7 heads and the 10 horns and the 7 crowns. That was the language we find throughout the Bible to represent governments that Satan was basically using to persecute and oppress God’s people. Okay, and some of those are probably the Nation of Rome in particular. Rome had seven hills around its capital. And so, the sevens probably refers to Rome, which at that time, was the nation that Satan was using to oppress God and to persecute his people.

But really what’s happening is this, is the dragon, he represents the devil and his human instruments. Does that make sense? The devil represents…I mean, the dragon represents the devil and his human instruments. In this case, Rome, but in the future, it’ll be a different government. In the past, it’s been other governments as well. So, it’s the devil and its human instruments. But maybe the most important thing we wanna make sure we don’t miss here is the sequence of events. Why does the dragon show up? Why does the devil show up? Why does the devil suddenly come on the scene looking angry?

And the answer is because of what God has done. God fired the first shot here. God started this whole thing. He sent the woman, the woman’s in labor, the Messiah is about to come. And it’s in response to what God is doing that Satan shows up on the scene. So, God really is the one kind of starting the hostilities. And you get this picture that Satan kinda shows up and in his, you know…he’s got this question like, “God, what are you doing? What are you doing here? This isn’t your territory. This is my territory. What business do you have here?” And this is what he does, we’re told that he swept a third of the stars out of the sky. And he flung them to the earth. He swept a third of the stars out of the sky, and he flung them to the earth.

Now, in my opinion, the stars represent the angels that rebelled with Satan. We actually see that language of stars representing angels at several places in the Scripture. And so, the fact that the devil, the dragon sweeps a third of them out of the heavens is probably talking about those angels that rebelled with Satan and became what we call demonic spirits, or demons, okay. But it’s interesting, he didn’t just sort of sweep them out of the heaven. He didn’t just collect them. It also says that he hurled them to the earth and that word’s interesting. It’s the same word that you use for hurling a spear or for slinging a stone. In other words, he’s kinda sending them to earth as weapons of war, right? He’s basically saying, “Hey, get out there and get busy fighting this battle.” And you have a little bit of an image, it’s almost like the arrival of Jesus kicked the hornet’s nest. And the hornets are mad and say, it’s like, “Get busy, get out there, start fighting.”

And it’s interesting. You know, obviously, there were demons, and Satan was on earth before Jesus came before the first Christmas. But it’s interesting. If you read through the Old Testament, you don’t see that many mentions of demons or Satan. I mean, it’s just a handful of times that demons or Satan, you know, come up in the entire Old Testament. But in the gospels, there’s demons everywhere. Seems like every other page, Jesus is having an interaction with demons. Satan’s really active. Why is that? Well, what John’s giving us here is the reason why that is because the first Christmas started a whole lot more activity in the spiritual realm, in the demonic realm. It kicked up the battle, it kicked up the conflict several notches. And that’s what we see here, that Satan is hurling the demons to earth. Now why? Why is he so worked up about the first Christmas? Because Satan saw the birth of Jesus as an act of war. Do you understand that?

Satan saw the birth of Jesus as an act of war. Because it was, God was invading his territory. See, from the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, and every time that we sin, what we do is we basically, we side with Satan over God, we join in his rebellion. Well, we choose to give Satan authority in our lives, every time we sin, rather than God. We take our cues from him. And the problem is because we were created to be stewards of creation, we’re caretakers of creation. When we side with Satan, we essentially give Satan authority on earth. And the Bible acknowledges that. Jesus actually called Satan the prince of this world. Paul calls him the god, little G, of this age. Because when we side with Satan, we give him authority over this place that we were supposed to be caretakers of.

And so, the reality is that the world is Satan’s territory. And then with the coming of Jesus, with the birth of the Son of God entering into the world, what Satan saw that as, he saw it as an act of war, he saw it as an invasion of his territory. He saw the incarnation as a declaration of war. He saw the incarnation as an escalation of the conflict. And his reaction is, “What are you doing here, God? This is not your place. This is mine.” And so, of course, the hornets are all abuzz. Of course, the activity kicks up. He’s fighting, he’s fighting for his territory. And Satan, of course, isn’t just sending demons. He’s active himself. We’re told the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. Satan’s very directly involved in this.

And we know…if you know the Christmas story, we know how it is he tried to do it at the beginning of Jesus’s life. He stirred up Herod operating under the authority of Rome, by the way, to kill Jesus by killing every male child two years and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. That’s how he tried to devour the child at the beginning of Jesus’s life. At the end of Jesus’s life, he tried to devour Jesus by stirring up some of the Jewish religious leaders to hand him over to Pontius Pilate. Again, another Roman governor to be crucified on a cross. He was attempting to devour Jesus. He was attempting to get rid of Christmas, if you think about it. This is the beginning of the war on Christmas all the way back then. Of course, remember, before there was a war on Christmas, there was God declaring the war of Christmas.

So, did Satan win? Was he able to devour the child? No. That’s how John describes it. She gave birth to a son, a male child who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter, the prophecy about the Messiah from Psalm 2. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. And that seems a little confusing because it kind of sounds like Jesus was born and then immediately taken to heaven. But what John’s doing is he’s summarizing Jesus’s entire life, beginning and ending as a way of saying, the dragon lost, Satan lost, he wasn’t able to devour the child. He says he was born and he was protected, right. I mean, we know how that happened in the first at the beginning of his life at the first Christmas. God told Mary and Joseph by a dream given to Joseph what Herod was about to do. And he provided for them. By the gifts from the Magi, they were able to flee through the wilderness to Egypt, to escape from Herod.

And at the end of his life, of course, Jesus was handed over to Pilate, he was crucified, he did die. And it looked like Satan won but then three days later, what happened? Jesus rose. He rose from the dead, and Satan lost definitively, finally, ultimately, permanently in that moment. Jesus’s resurrection was the defeat not only of sin. He didn’t just die on the cross to pay the price of our sin. He did do that. But he also defeated sin’s agent, Satan. The Resurrection was the final defeat. And then, of course, after that, Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s probably what John saw. I mean, He was snatched up. And it’s interesting that he was snatched up to God, but also, he says, “And to his throne.” Whose throne? I actually think Jesus’s throne. We’re told that because of Jesus’s faithfulness and his willingness to give his life as a sacrifice for our sins, he was raised from the dead. And then he was brought into heaven, and he was seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. He was seated on his own throne. And so, he’s displaced Satan as the ruler of earth. That is now Jesus’s role.

I love the way John summarizes this. In his Gospel at the beginning of his Gospel, he doesn’t have a birth story. He saved that for here in his Revelation letter. But he does at the beginning of his Gospel summarize what he says there in Revelation 12:5, and I love how he says it. He says this, he says, “The light shines in the darkness.” And we could say it this way, the light invades the darkness, the light declares war on the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Satan lost. He didn’t win. He wasn’t able to devour the child. He wasn’t able to contain or maintain his position of prominence, his position of authority. So, if you think about it for a second, God started the war of Christmas and Satan lost the war on Christmas, right? God started the war and Satan lost it.

But the real question that we need to ask ourselves, is the why question. Why did God start the war of Christmas? Why did God send Jesus to invade Satan’s territory? Why did he escalate the conflict? And the answer is because he loves you. Okay, you understand that, right? God started the war of Christmas because he loves you. And he loves you so much, he can’t bear the thought that his son or his daughter is doing life in a world where peace is impossible. Because peace is impossible apart from what God did in that first Christmas.

A world ruled by Satan is not a world where there’s gonna be peace. A world where the standard is sin and selfishness is not going to be a world where peace is a possibility. And so, what did God have to do? God had to wage war on what makes peace impossible, which is exactly what he did. That’s what Christmas is. That’s what the war of Christmas is. It’s a waging of war against that which makes peace impossible, Satan and sin and selfishness. So, if you think about it, Christmas wasn’t just an act of war. It was the beginning of peace. Not just an act of war, it was the beginning of peace because through Christmas, God began to make peace a possibility. A peace, not a peace that comes from our circumstances but a peace that comes from being able to face our circumstances with God. He is Emmanuel, Jesus is Emmanuel which literally means God with us.

And so, it’s not…and this is important to understand. When we encounter pain, and God says, “Hey, good things come to those who push through pain.” He’s not on the other side of pain going, “Come on, come on, do it, do it. You can do it.” No, no, no. He’s with us. He’s beside us going, “Let’s take this step together. I know this is hard. I know this hurts. But I’ve got such incredible things for you on the other side. So, would you take this step with me? Come on, let’s take this step. Come on. Let’s take the next step. Let’s push through it together.” And it’s because of that that peace becomes possible.

So, Christmas wasn’t just an act of war, it was the beginning of peace. But this is an important thing to understand. And this is an important thing that I think John’s story of Christmas tells us. Peace is something we have to fight for. Peace doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just take place. It’s the result of a war. And the reality is that even though God has done the most important fighting for us, He’s already…He’s fought the power of Satan, he’s taken our sin and put it in his son’s shoulders. And Jesus died to pay the price of it. He rose from that, and he offers us forgiveness, a new life and a relationship with God. All that by faith. God has won the most important battle. But the reality is, we’re still behind enemy lines and the fight’s still continuing for us. And because of that, peace is something we have to fight for. So how do we fight for peace. How do we fight to take hold of peace?

Well, let me give you three things today. The first one is just this, we have to seize the source. We have to seize the source. Understand that Jesus is the only source of true and lasting peace. And so, if we’re gonna experience peace, we have to seize the source. So probably, it’s probably useful to ask ourselves this question, “Where am I looking for peace? Is it Jesus? Or is it something else?” Because I know from my own life, how easy it is just to stop holding onto Jesus and looking to Jesus for my peace and start looking, “Well, maybe it’s that possession, or maybe it’s that person or it’s that relationship or if I get that achievement, or that promotion, or this experience or something else. I mean, if I could just get that.” And then we get it and we don’t have the peace we thought so we’re like, “Well, maybe if I could just get a little bit more of it, then I’ll have peace. Okay, that’s not working out so maybe it’s over there.” And we’re rushing around and there’s no peace. And all along the way, there has been the possibility of peace in Jesus, if we would just look to him. So, I wanted to encourage you to ask that question, you know, what am I looking to? Where am I looking for peace? And if the answer isn’t Jesus, then you need to ask yourself this question, “What do I need to do to seize the only real source of peace?” If you’re listening to this message, and you’re not a follower of Jesus, what you need to do to seize the source is you need to put your faith in Jesus. You need to make a decision, you can do it today, to say yes to following Jesus and all that he’s done for you. I’m gonna give you a chance to do that a little bit later today.

But maybe you’re already a follower of Jesus, but you realize that you’re looking to other things instead of Jesus and so you need to somehow refocus today. Maybe you need to identify one of those things you’ve been looking to instead, and you need to say, “I’m gonna stop looking at that and I’ll start looking at Jesus.” Maybe you even need to take a break from one of those things that you’re looking to so you can reorient your mind that that thing is never gonna provide the peace that I’m looking for. What do you need to do to seize the only real source of peace? That’s the first thing we gotta do, we seize the source.

Second thing we do is, we have to, as we’ve already said, we push through pain, remembering that God’s strength is available to us to do that, that God wants to walk beside us through every pain that we’re facing, and lead us into the glory on the other side of that. We have to push through pain. So, I ask this question, what pain do I need God’s strength to push through? Where’s that place of pain in your life that you need God’s strength to push through? Maybe also ask yourself this question. Who do I need to cry out to? And that might sound confusing because you’re like, “Well, I thought I needed to cry out to God?” You do. That’s first and foremost what you do, you cry out to God and that’s a prayer that he will always answer to give you his strength to push through your pain.

But sometimes the way that God provides that strength is by bringing other people around us. You’ve heard Lara’s story. She had to cry to her parents and say, “I’m struggling.” And then God used that admission of need to bring other people into her life to give her the strength to push through that. And it may be that the bravest thing that you can do is to cry out to somebody else in your life and let them know that you’re struggling, that you’re going through something that’s hard and you need help. And God will use that to begin providing you that strength that you need to push through that pain.

So, we seize the source, we push through pain. And the third thing I wanna suggest that we need to do is we need to join the fight. Because we’re living behind enemy lines, even though the outcome of the war is absolutely certain, we’re still in the midst of a lot of one-off battles. And we need to join the fight for peace. It’s not gonna just happen in our lives, we’ve got to join the fight. And a couple of things that I think matter there. One of them is to ask ourselves this question, what unnecessary conflicts am I creating? Because sometimes in our pursuit of what we want, and what we think we have a right to, we’re actually creating conflict in our families, in our relationships and in our communities, in the world. We’re creating conflict that doesn’t need to be there.

We might go, “Well, but I have a right to pursue that thing.” And maybe you do. But I remember that when Jesus came to earth, one of the most powerful descriptions of him is in Philippians chapter 2 that says that even though he was in the very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be held onto. He had the right to be recognized as God, but he set that aside in order to serve us and to bring us peace. So, we need to ask ourselves, you know, what unnecessary conflicts am I creating because you cannot be an agent of peace, you cannot fight for peace when you’re actually creating conflict that doesn’t need to be there.

However, on the flip side of that, we also need to ask ourselves this question, what fights have I been avoiding that I need to join? Because it may be that to fight for peace, you gotta join the battle. Because the reality is, there cannot be peace where there is injustice, there cannot be peace where there is sin, and you might have a place of darkness. And you’re on the edge of it, you see it, and you’ve avoided stepping into it and being a light.

By the way, I love the fact that Jesus is called the light of this world. But Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” We carry his light and you might have that place of darkness. And God’s calling you to step into that place and to shine and to drive back that darkness to fight against injustice or sin. But you’ve been hesitant to do it because that’s gonna be hard. Yeah, but you’re behind enemy lines for a reason. You’re behind enemy lines to be an agent of peace. So, what do you need to do to fight for peace? Do you need to seize the source? Do you need to push through pain or do you need to join the fight?

[Song]

Craig: God we are grateful. We are grateful that you have fought for our peace, that you declared war on darkness, and Satan and sin and death. I am grateful Father. We ask for strength from your Holy Spirit right now, to take whatever step forward we need to take, to fight for that peace that you made possible. Lord I know there are people listening to this message, they need to take that all important first step. They need to seize the source, they need to put their trust in you. And if that is you and if you are listening to this and you know that you’ve never said yes to faith in Jesus, you’ve never made that decision to trust in him, to look to him for peace. Now is the time. There is no reason to wait any longer because you can make that decision to have that peace that comes from a relationship with God, right here, right now. He has done everything necessary. He sent his Son to pay the price for your sin, he rose from the dead to prove that he done it and he offers you forgiveness and freedom, relationship with him and peace just by putting your trust in him. So if you have never done that, you can do it right now, right now, all you have to do is to just have this conversation with God. You can say something like this, in your heart to him. Say God I’ve sinned, I’ve done wrong. I’m sorry. Jesus thank you for fighting for my peace. Thank you for dying on the cross to pay for my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. I am ready to put my faith in you. I am ready to seize the source. Jesus I am going to follow you from here on out. I accept your forgiveness and your peace. Amen.

We have already had several people make that decision this week. Can we just celebrate that together? Hey where ever you are, if you’ve made that decision to seize the source for the first time, man, we would love to celebrate with you. Would you do this for me? Let us know that you made that decision. If you are watching on line you can click the button right below me. If you are on a campus, you can just stop by the Welcome Center. Where ever you are you can just text the word Jesus to 80875. Either way, you are just going to let us know that you made the decision and we can celebrate that with you and we would love to give you some resources to help you experience that peace that comes from that relationship with God. Before there was a war on Christmas, there was a war of Christmas. It was a war against what makes peace impossible and because of that first Christmas, peace is a real option for us. Encourage you to do whatever you have to do to take hold of that peace during this Christmas season.

Why don’t you stand up with us. We are going to head out into a world that does not know a lot about that peace and we need to be agents of it. Before we go, let us spend a moment refreshing, recharging and worshipthe God who has made that peace possible.

GETTING FROM GOOD NEWS TO GREAT JOY

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

11/12

Luke 6:20-23

The birth of Jesus means God is paying attention. He sees us! It means that our sin is not our sentence and this life is not what we’re destined for. Jesus’ arrival means we are destined for peace and that should provide great joy. Is it possible that great joy could crowd out the pain produced by going through difficult times?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT
Craig: Well, hey, as you’ve heard, the traditional theme of the third weekend of Advent is joy, which is not a big surprise. I mean, joy is obviously a big part of Christmas. We sing “Joy to the World.” We sing “A Weary World Rejoices,” but why is that? Why is joy such a big part of Christmas time? Well, it actually goes all the way back to something that happened while Jesus was being laid in the manger while Mary and Joseph were looking over him. Luke tells us this. He says this happened. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night and an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shown around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” And that’s the reason that joy has always been a central part of Christmas because the angel said, “I’ve got good news that’ll being great joy.” And if you think about it, the good news of Christmas should be the cause of a lot of joy, right? Because I mean, think about what it means. I mean, the birth of Jesus means, first off, it means that God’s paying attention. God’s paying attention to us, right? I mean, I know a lot of people who don’t necessarily struggle to believe that God exists but they struggle with the idea that God is paying attention to us. They think, “Well, I mean, right? I mean, what are we? We’re a bunch of people wandering around on this ball of rock. It’s the third ball of rock from a medium-size star.”

There’s 100 billion other stars in our galaxy and there’s like 100 other billion galaxies with their own 100 billion stars. The idea that the God who created all of that would be paying attention to us, people struggle with, but the birth of Jesus basically means that God is paying attention. And that’s really good news. It’s good news that should cause great joy. I mean, Jesus would later go on to say that he’s even counted with the hairs on our head, which is easier for some people than for others, right? But he’s paying attention to that extent. He’s paying attention, not even just to humanity, but he’s paying attention to you, and that’s the good news of Christmas that should cause great joy. God is paying attention. It’s also good news because it means that God’s for us. He’s not just watching us from afar going, “Hey, do your best, figure it out.” Or just constantly disappointed, constantly in judgment. It actually means that God is willing to do whatever is necessary to bring us into relationship with him. That he loves us and longs for that relationship as he intended it to be.

So it’s good news that God is for us and that should bring great joy. It’s good news that brings great joy because it means that our sin is not our sentence. You know, we’ve all sinned, and that means that we’ve walked away from God, as we say all the time here, it’s no different than if you walk away from the lights, you end up in the dark. And if you walk away from God by sin and rebellion against him, because he’s life, you end up in death. It’s just a natural consequence. But God said, “No, I’m not gonna let your sin be your sentence.” So he sent Jesus who ultimately died on the cross to pay the price of our sins so that we could have eternal life. So it’s good news, it causes great joy that our sin is not our sentence. It’s good news, it causes great joy that our pain is not permanent. That as painful as life might be, this is not what we’re destined for. We’re destined for a different kind of life where pain just becomes a very distant and constantly fading memory. And at the end of the day, the good news of Christmas causes great joy because it means that our destiny’s peace, that our destiny is meaning in significance.

You know, our whole theme throughout this whole Advent season has been the promise of peace, and that’s what Jesus is. His arrival means that we are destined for peace. And all that’s good news that should bring great joy, right? But if we’re honest with each other, sometimes it’s hard to get from the good news to the great joy, isn’t it? Sometimes there’s a gap between the good news of Christmas and our experience of great joy in everyday life, partly because everyday life can be really hard. And over the last two years, we’ve had plenty of reminders of that, right? And the reality is you know this as well as I do. And maybe you’re in a place right now where you’re especially aware of this fact, the reality is that hard times crowd out great joy, don’t they? When hard times hit, great joy just seems to vanish. It’s hard to hold onto great joy in the midst of hard times.

I’m gonna be real with you. I’m in a place right now where I feel the reality of that. My dad has been struggling with cancer for 22 years and it’s really only in the last five years that it’s become very aggressive and he’s begun to really feel the impacts of it. But in the midst of trying to get his blood levels right with some new chemotherapy and things like that, they’ve just really been struggling. They could not get his red cell count right. And we just found out last week that the reason for that is that he actually has another cancer in his bone marrow. And prognosis is not good. This is probably our last Christmas with him. And then in the midst of that, my mom and my dad, and my sister are all living in Ohio got COVID and my dad’s been hospitalized. And he’s doing okay, but man, it all comes crashing in.

And it’s interesting, I’ve had several people tell me, “Oh, it’s so sad that that would happen at Christmas time.” Isn’t that the worst time for it to happen? And my first thought was, “Well, yeah.” But then I actually started thinking about it and I realized, “No, it’s actually not.” Christmas might be the best time for it to happen because Christmas is the reminder that there is a good news that can bring great joy in spite of those hard times. So, yeah, I get it. And maybe you’re in a place like that of your own and you know the reality that hard times tend to crowd out great joy, but what we wanna ask today is can the reverse be true? Is it possible that it could go the other direction? Is it possible that great joy could crowd out hard times? That’s the question for today, can great joy crowd out hard times? Because the angel seems to suggest that it can. The angel seems to suggest to the shepherds that there is good news that will bring great joy. So how do we get to that point? How do we take hold of the good news of Christmas in a way that brings great joy even in the midst of difficult times?

I wanna take you today to a passage that I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. It’s a little bit of unusual passage in the sense that what Jesus says here might be one of the strangest things he’s ever said. And I know some people are like, “You can’t say that about Jesus. Whatever Jesus says is holy, and perfect, and true.” And that’s all fair, but sometimes it’s weird. Can we just be honest with each other? And I wanna take you today to one of the strangest things that I think Jesus ever taught. But I think what he says here, actually, if we understand it, actually can be the keys to bridging the gap between the good news of Christmas and the great joy that the angel promise. So I’d love for you to join me. We’re gonna be in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6, starting in verse 20.

This is what Jesus says. “Looking at his disciples, he said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor.'” And immediately you’re like, “Okay. That’s weird.” Right? You feel it? Like that’s a strange thing to say, “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” And it goes on, “Blessed are you who hunger now for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man, rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in heaven.” But that’s weird, right? It’s a strange thing to say because obviously those are all hard times. Those are not good times that we sort of expect to experience great joy in.

But do you notice what he said? He said, “In these hard times…” He say, “If you’re my disciples…” And, by the way, we should talk about that for just a second. That word disciple is really, really important. “He said to his disciples,” that’s the first thing it says. If that’s a new word for you, let me define it. Disciples are people who have basically decided to get disciplined about following Jesus, that they’re making daily deliberate choices to follow Jesus. Here at Mission Hills, we define discipleship, that process as constantly taking the next step of becoming like Jesus and joining him on mission. A disciple’s somebody who’s constantly going, “Hey, what’s my next step, Jesus? What’s my next step in becoming like you and what’s my next step in joining you on mission in the world?” That’s a disciple. And what Jesus says here, we need to understand. What Jesus says here is spoken to disciples. That’s really important because he’s not saying that this is always true of everybody. He’s not saying that everybody who experiences poverty is blessed. He’s not saying that everybody who mourns is blessed. He’s not saying that everybody who is persecuted is blessed. This is only true for the followers of Jesus. This is really important to understand. It’s foundational. You can’t get from the good news to the great joy unless your trust is in Jesus. You hear me? This is foundational. You cannot get from good news to great joy unless your trust is in Jesus. Now, I know that there are some people listening to this who are not followers of Jesus. You’ve never put your trust in Jesus. And you need to understand that nothing Jesus says here is gonna be possible for you until you take that all-important first step of putting your trust in Jesus.

But you can do that even today. I’ll give you a chance to do it today. But a lot of us are already followers of Jesus. We’ve put our trust in Jesus and yet this is a reality we have to deal with. We live in a world that’s constantly tempting us to transfer our trust, to stop putting our trust in Jesus and put our trust in other things. And, you know, the world’s constantly saying, “Well, if you just had a little bit of this, you’d have some joy. If you had a little bit more of this, then you could have joy.” We’re constantly being invited to transfer our trust. And even as followers of Jesus who’ve put our trust in Jesus, we have to fight to keep that trust on him. It’s principles, everybody is true for those who haven’t yet said yes to Jesus as it is for those who have, getting from good news to great joy depends on having our trust in Jesus. But what does he say about those who have their trust in him? Even though they’re in hard times, he says they’re what? What’s the word he uses? Blessed. Because even in hard times, followers of Jesus are blessed.

Now, I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word blessed. Usually, we use the word blessed to talk about good things God has done for us. And so we’ll say, you know, “Well, yeah, I’m blessed to have an incredible wife. I’m blessed to have great kids. I’m blessed with a warm house. I’m blessed with a good job. I’m blessed with a great boss.” We say, you know, “She’s blessed with athletic ability. He’s blessed with, you know, academic ability or whatever it is, you know.” And these are things that God has done for us and that is part of blessing. It is part of being blessed. But there’s another side to being blessed that we don’t pay enough attention to and it’s actually an important part of what Jesus is dealing with here. The Greek word that he is using, this wasn’t originally written in English, it was written in Greek, and the Greek word that Jesus uses here doesn’t just mean good things that God has done full for us. It also refers to how we feel because of what God has done for us. There’s an emotional side to this word. And, in fact, the word that he’s using is sometimes translated as happy or full of joy. And so you could also read this, not only as blessed are you, it’s also happy are you or full of joy are you. And, by the way, I should probably say this. Sometimes in the Christian Church, we’ve made a really sharp distinction between happiness and joy.

And so you might have heard that before and so you might be a little bothered when I go, you could translate this as happy are you or joyful because you’re like those are different concepts, right? And maybe you’ve heard that. Has anybody ever heard that, you know, happiness is, you know, pleasure because of pleasant circumstances, but joy is peace in spite of difficult circumstances? Anybody heard anything like that? Yeah. Sometimes we say happiness is an emotion, but joy is a choice. Anybody heard anything like that? Yeah. And, listen, there there’s some truth to that, but it’s also true that in the Bible, in the original language, joy and happiness are pretty close synonyms of each other. They have very similar concepts. And they are emotions, actually. They relate to how we feel. And so this word blessing, it’s not just referring to good things God has done for us. It’s actually referring to an emotional state because of what God has done for us.

If there’s a distinction to be made between happiness and joy, here’s how I would do it. I’d say this, happiness is pleasure that depends on our circumstances. Joy is pleasure that transcends our circumstances. They’re both the emotions, but happiness really depends on the circumstance. When we have great circumstances, we feel happy. Joy is a happiness or a pleasure that transcends our circumstance. Even when our circumstance are bad, we’re still capable of having this pleasurable sense. And if you go, “Well, that that doesn’t make sense.” How do you do that? Well, that’s actually what Jesus is dealing with here. He’s kind of giving us four keys to, again, to moving from the good news of what God has done to the great joy that is possible even in the midst of those hard times. And here’s what he says. He says, “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” Blessed are you who are poor.

And I wanna acknowledge something here. I know that many of the people listening to this message have really never experienced poverty, but some of the people listening to this message, you are experiencing it right now. You’re living with the daily struggle to get ahold of not what you want, but what you desperately need. And poverty is an everyday experience for you and you’ve experienced the devastation. Poverty is devastating. True poverty is absolutely devastating. Over the several years of… I’ve had several opportunities to see poverty firsthand. I got to go with my family and we took food and fed children living in the garbage dumps of Guatemala City. I’ve seen the devastation to that. I’ve seen in other parts of the world, just how unbelievably destructive poverty is and how hopeless it is. It’s one of the reasons that my family and our church is so committed to our partnership with Compassion International, which is ending childhood poverty in Jesus’ name because I’ve seen the devastation of it.

And many people who have never really experienced poverty can’t understand that devastation. And I’m saying all this because if you’re listening to this and you’re in poverty, I want you to hear that I’ve never been exactly where you are and I don’t completely get it, but I’ve seen enough of it to understand the pain of your circumstance. And I’m saying that because I don’t want you to think that in any way I would ever want to minimize that or trivialize it. But I need to say something that Jesus is getting at here, and that is that… What Jesus is getting at is that there’s an unexpected benefit to poverty. They’re not many, but there is an unexpected benefit to poverty and it’s this. Poverty destroys the illusion of independence. Poverty destroys the illusion of independence. See, the problem with having resources is that we come to depend on those resources and we think of those resources as ours, which means that we tend to think that we have what we need to do what needs to be done. And where we feel like, I don’t have quite enough, there’s a sense that builds in us that, “But if I work a little bit harder, I can get it myself. I can take care of myself.”

Wealth creates an illusion of dependence, but poverty destroys the illusion of independence. It destroys this idea and it actually allows people to go, “I need to look to someone else to get what I cannot get for myself.” I was in Zimbabwe several years ago and we were driving through, we were in a van and we were driving through Harare. It was during a very difficult season in Zimbabwe and some estimates put the unemployment rate at over 90%, tremendous poverty, unemployment. And we were going through a section of Harare and there was just a lot of people kind of ruling them out, unemployed people and we stopped and somebody in the crowd took a look in the van, they saw through the windows and they saw my shining white face. I stood out a little bit in Zimbabwe and he saw me and he goes, “Hey, look at those white people.” And then they mobbed at the van. And, by the way, I just need to tell you, that was probably the first time in my life that I’ve ever been a racial minority in a place and felt the discomfort that comes from that, the uncertainty, the unsettledness that comes from it.

And it really gave me a new perspective on what people who aren’t white feel like in white communities and in white churches. It’s unsettling thing. I experienced that for the first time there. It gave me a new perspective on it. But they mobbed the van. And I’ll never forget what they asked. I expected they were asking for food, they were asking for money, but what they were doing is they actually… I had all the windows going, “Do you have jobs? Can we work for you?” And I thought, “What a weird thing that is to do.” Like how do you get to that place in your life where you can walk up to a complete stranger and go, “Can I work for you?” Because I would never do that. I’m way too independent. Where I have need, my tendency is to try to hide that need, to try to deal with that need on my own to keep that need because there’s something and it feels humiliating to recognize that we have need to admit to other people that we have needs that we can’t meet in our own, right? I think a lot of us struggle with that. Poverty destroys that sense. Poverty destroys this illusion of independence and it frees people up to ask for what they cannot earn.

And here’s the great news of Christmas. The great news of Christmas is that God has already provided for us what we could not provide for ourselves. He sent his Son, Jesus to live a perfect life, to die on the cross, to pay the price of our sins. He rose from the dead three days later and he offers us forgiveness of sins. He offers us a relationship with God and he offers us eternal life simply by putting our faith in what he’s done. But how do you take hold of everything he’s done. You got to ask for it. You have to look to him and say, “Hey, I can’t earn my way there. I can’t be good enough, so I need you to do for me, but I can’t do it for myself.” And that’s impossible when we labor under the illusion of independence. And that’s what Jesus is getting at here. See, the good news of Christmas, the good news becomes great joy when we embrace our dependence on God. The good news becomes great joy when we embrace our dependence on God. But so often the resources that we’re blessed with attract our trust and they become things that they create in us this illusion that we don’t actually need God, which is what makes it impossible to bridge the gap between the good news and the great joy.

So here’s a question I want you to wrestle with. Maybe as you’re listening to this, you’re not in poverty. Maybe you are and you understand what I’m talking about, but maybe you’re not really in poverty, but there’s a place in your life where you’re lacking something. There’s a place in your life where there’s an insufficiency, where you realize that you don’t have it, whether it’s money, or intelligence, or experience, or strength, or emotional, you know, capacity or just energy, whatever it is, there’s a place in your life where there’s an insufficiency. I want you to think about that place right now and I want you to ask yourself this question, where is an insufficiency giving you an opportunity to embrace dependency? Because it’s in those places that we can set aside this illusion of independence and cry out to God who’s the only one that we can get these things from. So where in your life is an insufficiency creating an opportunity for embracing dependency?

Jesus says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” And it’s important that we understand that he’s not just talking about physical hunger. And part of the reason I know that is because in a very similar sermon that he preached that was captured in the Gospel of Matthew, we have a couple of additional details that help us understand what Jesus’s talking about. Matthew 5:6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” But Jesus isn’t just talking about physical hunger. He’s talking about higher hungers. He’s saying blessed are those who have higher hungers, not just hungers in the stomach, hungers of the heart, hungers of the mind. Ultimately, hungers of the Spirit. He’s saying, blessed are those who hunger for peace with God. Blessed are those who or for living right and being righteous. Blessed are those who hunger to experience life the way God intended it. Blessed are those who hunger for more than this world can provide. That’s what he’s saying, is blessed are those who have these higher hungers.

But the problem is we are prone to substitute satisfactions. We’re prone to substitute satisfactions. We often don’t feel the higher hungers because we satiate those higher hungers with other things that feel like maybe they’ll settle the knawing. In fact, they won’t. I mean, here’s what I mean. How many of us have a comfort food? Come on. Yeah. And what is a comfort food? Well, it’s a thing that we eat when we’re feeling sad. That’s a weird thing to do, right? Like my heart is hurting, cheesecake will help, right? That’s mine. I don’t know about yours. That’s mine. I mean, just a couple of weeks ago, the new, you know, the mask mandate from Arapahoe County came out and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s another really huge decision. We have to figure out what to do, right?” I mean, like if we say, “Yeah. We’re gonna enforce the mask mandate.” There’s a bunch of people are gonna say, “Well, I’m not gonna come to church anymore.” And if we don’t enforce it, people would go, “You’re not protecting the community. I’m not gonna go.” And, you know, it’s complicated. How do we honor, you know, our governing officials, but how do we move forward as a church and how do… Oh, what do we do? And so I was like, “What can I do? Well, I can pray. I can do that. I can definitely call the elders and get them talking about it. I can talk to my exec team. Or I can have French silk pie.”

And how often do we do that? How often do we go that route? And you understand what’s happening, is we’re kind of masking the higher hungers with lower foods, right? And that’s kind of what Jesus is getting at here when he says blessed are those who hunger. See, the great news of Christmas is that God has sent Jesus to satisfy the higher hungers, all of them. I love the way Jesus describes himself. He says this, “Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. I’m the bread of life and whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” He’s obviously not talking about actual bread. He’s talking about the fact that Jesus came to satisfy our higher hungers, those spiritual needs that we’re all built with, and that we find nothing in the world can satisfy. Jesus can satisfy them, but we’ll never take hold of them unless we allow ourselves to feel the higher hungers. And there’s lots of ways that we turn to substitute satisfactions, right? I mean, yeah, there’s food, but there’s other kinds of things, right? We binge-shop. I won’t ask anybody to hold up hands on that one. We hit up Amazon, right? We binge-watch Netflix. We turn to sex. We turn to alcohol. We turn to drugs. There’s all kinds of these things that we use as substitute satisfactions to mask these higher hungers that we feel. The good news of Christmas is we don’t need to mask those higher hungers. It’s okay to feel them because it’s in feeling them that we’ll turn to the only one who can satisfy them. And so really the good news becomes great joy when we allow ourselves to feel our higher hungers. That’s what Jesus is getting at here.

So the question I want you to wrestle with is this, what substitute satisfactions are masking my higher hungers? Maybe one of the ones we already mentioned there, but maybe there’s something else that comes to mind, you’re like, “You know, I’m using that to mask this hunger for something that’s…it’s not gonna be met by anything in this world or anything and in my relationships with other human beings.” That hunger is actually a gift.

The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said that there’s a God-shaped hole inside every one of us and we feel it. Or we can if we’ll allow ourselves to, and it can be satisfied. That’s what Christmas means, these higher hungers can all be satisfied. But we’ll never turn to the only One who can satisfy them if we don’t feel the higher hunger. So what substitute satisfactions are you using to mask that higher hunger? Identify those and set them aside. Let yourself enter into that place where you feel it and can be fed what you actually need. He says, “Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh.” And it’s important we understand that when he talks about weeping there, what he means is mourning. Jesus is talking about the act of mourning. And I say it that way because there’s a difference between just crying and crying as an act of mourning because there’s a difference between grief and mourning. And we often kind of mix them all together. We go, they’re crying, they’re grieving, they’re mourning, it’s all the same thing, right? It’s not, actually. There’s actually a very significant difference between grieving and mourning. Here’s probably the best way to understand it. Grief is the sadness we feel because we’ve lost what we’ve loved. Okay? It’s an emotion. It’s the sadness we feel. Mourning isn’t an emotion. Mourning is the process of letting go of what we cannot keep. Mourning is the process of letting go of what we’ve lost.

The Bible talks about this a lot. It’s not something in the modern world that we really have a very good sense of. We tend to think that grief and mourning, they’re kind of not the same thing. You’re just feeling sad. And the Bible goes, “No, no, no. The sadness is one thing, but the process of mourning is another thing entirely.” The Bible also calls it lamentation, by the way. There’s an entire book in the Bible that talks about how to do it well, models how to do it well. Well, why would we do it well, why do we wanna mourn well? Because mourning is the process of letting go. It’s the process of taking our hands off of the things that we can’t have anymore. Why? So that they’re open to take hold of what’s next. And listen, as a follower of Jesus, there’s always a next. God always has something next for you. And it’s always good.

But if we can’t let go of what we’ve lost, we can’t take hold of what’s next. And that’s why Jesus says, “Blessed are those who weep,” who engage in mourning and go through the process of letting go so that their hands are free to take hold of what’s next. See, the good news becomes great joy when we let go of what we cannot keep to take hold of what’s next.

And I know that there’s some people listening to this right now that need to do that. You needed to hear that today. You’re struggling with the loss of something. And I’ve certainly experienced that. It’s amazing to me how much of my life feels like a process of letting go of one thing so I can take hold of something else, and it’s always painful. I’ve always… I don’t know if I’ve told you guys this. I’ve always been a little jealous of the guys who have like Latin phrases for their motto in life.

Have you ever known anybody like that? They’re actually pretty annoying on some level. Like I had a friend, his motto in life was carpe diem, which means seize the day. And I was like, “That’s cool. I need one of those.” And it took me years to figure out what my motto in life is, but I know what it is now. You wanna hear it? Here’s my motto in life. Oh. Okay. If I could say it in Latin, it would probably be better. I don’t know. But see, so much of my life has been a process of letting go of things that I’ve loved, things that have been good, but that God was saying, “Hey, you’re gonna have to take your hands off that because I’ve got something else and you’re gonna have to let go of that if you’re gonna take hold of what’s next.”

I mean, even just in vocational ministry for me, I started in youth ministry and I loved working with students. I loved seeing God get a hold of students. I loved that. Then God called me out of that into worship ministry and I became a worship pastor and I had to let go of being a student ministries pastor so that I could be a worship pastor. And I love worship ministry. I love worshiping God. And I love helping people to see God and to worship him. And that was powerful, but then God led me out of that and I became an itinerate speaker. And that was hard, but I love that too, because I got to see what God was doing all over the world and I got to be part of, you know, helping people see God in a new way. And that was really cool. And then the church that I was still part of back in Castle Rock called me and said, “Hey, could you come off the road and become our lead pastor?” And so I had to stop being, you know, a speaker, and I had to go to this small church in Castle Rock. And that was a hard thing to let go of, but oh, I loved it. I loved seeing people like week in and week out take new steps of becoming like Jesus and join them on mission and being able to be there with them and their pastor. That was amazing. I was like, “This is great. Let’s do this forever.” And God’s like, “Yeah, whatever.” And then five years ago, God called me to let go of that to come to Mission Hills. And that was a really difficult thing. But this is what it looks like to follow Jesus. He constantly says, “Hey, come on, we’re gonna go further up. We’re gonna go further in. I have better things for you.” But we can’t take hold of them until we’re willing to let go. So what is it for you? What do you need to let go of so that you can open up your hands to take hold of what’s next?

He also says, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, and insult you, and they reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your award in heaven.” And understand, you may not know that the phrase Son of Man, he says, “Blessed when they do all these horrible things to you because of the son of man.” Son of man is his favorite title for himself. Jesus loves to call himself the Son of Man. He calls himself that more than anything else. And that might seem like a strange title because you’re like, “Well, I thought he is the Son of God.” He is. So why does he say Son of Man? And the answer is because he’s actually borrowing something from the Book of Daniel. About 600 years before Jesus was born before the first Christmas, the Prophet Daniel got a vision of Jesus. He got to see a little bit of Jesus and who he was. And this is what he wrote. He said, “In my vision at night, I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man.” Meaning clearly more than just a man, but a man too. He said, “One like a son of man.” And he said, “Coming with the clouds of heaven and he approached the ancient of days and he was led into his presence. The ancient of days was God, the Father. And so he saw Jesus going to the presence of God. And he was given authority, glory, and sovereign power over all nations and people of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Why does Jesus use that title for himself? To take us back to Daniel and to remind this of everything he has to offer. It’s so important to understand. See, the title Son of Man reminds us of what Jesus has to offer those who trust him. What do we see that Jesus has to offer? He has access to God. He’s in the very presence of the ancient of days and you and I through faith in Jesus have that same access. He has that to offer us if we trust him. He has glory and honor and he bestows that on those who trust him. The world might take it away. That’s what’s going on when he talks about, “They might persecute you and say nasty things about you.” The world will not give glory and honor, but Jesus has glory and honor and abundance to give if we’ll trust him. He says he has dominion that will never end. Listen, anything the world offers you is going to come to an end. None of it will last. But everything that Jesus offers will last forever.

And so he uses the title Son of Man to remind us of what he has to offer those who trust in him. He talks about being persecuted because of our faith when our faith creates friction with the world. And our faith always creates friction. And when that happens, our temptations go, “Well, if I keep following Jesus, if I keep allowing this friction to build, then, you know, the world’s gonna take a bunch of stuff away from me and I really like that stuff.” And so Jesus goes, “Hey, don’t forget about what I have to offer.” So here’s the reality. See, the good news of Christmas becomes great joy when we focus on what Jesus has to offer instead of what the world threatens to withhold. Does that make sense? That’s why Jesus says, “Blessed are you when all these horrible things happen,” because it means that you’re on the right track. It means that your focus is where it should be. And that’s one of the ways we turn the good news of Christmas into the great joy that it’s supposed to be. It’s because we focus on what Jesus has to offer instead of what the world threatens to withhold. So my question to you is this, is my focus on what Jesus offers or what the world could withhold? Where’s your focus?

He says, “Rejoice in that day, rejoice in that day and leap for joy.” And it’s interesting, those are commands. He says, do this. He says, “Rejoice, take hold of joy, and leap for joy on that day for great is your reward in heaven.” What Jesus offers is so much better than what the world threatens to withhold. And so he says, “You got to take hold of it.” That’s why he gives those commands, rejoice and leap for joy. And, by the way, the fact that he gets commands about joy there is a really important reminder. Some of you have heard this before. You’ve been going to church for a while. Maybe you’ve heard this. You just need to hear it again today. Some of you have never heard this before and you need to understand this for the first time. Joy is a choice. It’s why it is that Jesus can command us to rejoice and to leap for joy. Joy is a choice. It doesn’t just happen. It becomes possible when we make choices to do what? To trust Jesus. To keep our trust in Jesus and what he offers us. I mean, the bottom line here is that that we can have great joy even in hard times if we choose to remember the good news. We choose to remember that good news.

Yeah. Is it hard to be thinking through the fact that this is probably my last Christmas with my dad? Is it difficult to be dealing with COVID and the family and not know what we can do to help and all those things in the midst of Christmas? Yeah. That’s hard, but I’m not sure I’d really pick another time to do it because it’s in this Christmas season that I’m so focused on that good news that brings great joy. Yeah. I mean, I had the conversation with my dad and he said, “Yeah. I’m not afraid to die. I know where I’m going.” My dad’s been following Jesus for a really long time. And the joy of knowing that, well, that comes from the good news that we’re celebrating at Christmas. Yeah. Good news can become great joy and it can crowd out even the hard times if we keep our focus on Jesus. So how are you gonna do that this season? Well, let’s review the questions we’re gonna wrestle with this week.

Number one, where is an insufficiency creating an opportunity to express dependency? Second, what substitute satisfactions are masking my higher hungers? Identify those, set them aside. Let yourself feel the need for what only Jesus can provide. Number three, what do I need to let go of so that I can take hold of what’s next? What do you need to mourn so that you can take hold of what’s next? And then last, is my focus on what Jesus offers or what the world could withhold? We need to shift that focus.

Could you pray with me? Jesus, we thank you for the good news of your birth. We thank you for the good news that brings great joy. Well, we ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we allow our focus to drift away from you, we allow our trust to slip away from you. And so we create this gap between the good news and the great joy, and Lord, we ask that you help us to close the gap today. Holy Spirit, we invite you to speak to us, show us what we need to do to put our focus on Jesus to remember this good news and let that good news be great joy. If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do something for me? Would you pray for those that are listening to this message that are not followers of Jesus yet? Would you pray the Holy Spirit would speak to them even in this moment? And if that’s you, if I can speak to you. At the beginning of this, we said that everything Jesus promises here is only possible with our trust being in Jesus. And if you’ve never put your trust in Jesus, that’s your step. That’s what you need to do to turn the good news of Christmas into the great joy that we’re talking about. The good news is that Jesus has come for you. He’s come to rescue you. He lived a perfect life. He died on the cross to pay for every wrong you’ve ever done, everything that would separate you from a perfect and holy God, Jesus paid the price of it. He rose from the dead three days later and he offers you salvation, forgiveness simply by putting your trust in him.

And if you’ve never done that, you can do it right now. Wherever you are, you can say this out loud. You can say it in your heart. God’s gonna hear you either way, but you’re gonna say something like this. I’ll lead you in it, but say something like this to God right now. “God, I’ve sinned and I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming to rescue me. Thank you for dying in the cross to pay the price of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead and I’m ready to receive your forgiveness. I’m ready to receive a relationship with God. I’m ready to turn the good news into great joy. So, Jesus, I’m putting my trust in you. Jesus, I’m gonna follow you from here on out. Amen.”

Can we celebrate those who’ve made that decision this weekend? We love that. And if you’ve made that decision for the first time this weekend, we’re so excited. Would you do me a favor? Would you let me and would you let this church here celebrate with you? Would you just let us know you made the decision? A couple of ways you can do that, if you’re watching online, click the button right below me. If you’re one of our campuses, you can stop by the Welcome Center and tell them, “I said yes to Jesus today.” Or you can always text the word Jesus to 80875. But do one of those things. Let us know you made the decision. We wanna give you some free resources to help you begin experiencing this great joy that’s possible because of the good news of Christmas. And it is good news, right? Can I get an amen on that one?

Congregation: Amen.

Craig: Hey, why don’t we stand up before we head back out into the world that desperately needs to hear that good news that leads to great joy? Let’s worship the God who has given us such good news.

LOVE

REZA ZADEH | read his bio

DECEMBER

18/19

John 3:16-17

God loves the world so much! Love is all over the story of Jesus’ birth. He sent Jesus to be Good News for us. God sent his son that through him you might be brought into relationship with God. And that gift is available to anyone who will believe.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT
Reza: Hi Mission Hills, it’s so fun, it’s so great to be with you all here today. And I love the fact that we are in the Advent season. There’s a part of me that is sad that it’s almost over. And Christmas is going to come, which is wonderful, but then it’s going to be over. And it’s sad to me, but it’s great if we’re here. I want to talk about this thing, Advent. Because for a lot of us, I think, you know, even the idea of Advent, we’ve been talking about Advent here the last couple of weeks, and these different Sundays we focus on a different theme of Advent. I think it’s important for us to remember what Advent is because Advent does not mean preparation for Christmas the way that we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting. That’s what the word Advent means. It means to wait. And what Advent represents, Advent represents the fact that God’s people faithfully waited for a period of about 400 years for the Messiah to come. And so we celebrate Advent by simply recognizing the fact that there was a waiting that had to happen for Jesus to come. And so the four weeks of Advent, Advent actually launches what is called the church calendar. You see, we orient our lives around our calendar. Oftentimes you’ve heard a phrase that you can tell a lot about a person by where they spend their money and where they spend their time.

And so, for us, we orient our calendar around things that are important. Society and the economy will try to have us orient our calendars around the shopping calendar of Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and whatever that Amazon day is in July that we’re supposed to buy a whole bunch of stuff. Hallmark has a calendar as well of Valentine’s Day and chocolates and all of these things, cards that we’re supposed to buy, Mother’s Day, Father’s, all these great celebrations. But the church has developed a calendar as well. And this calendar has been observed for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. And the church calendar actually starts… A church calendar doesn’t start on January 1st, but it starts with Advent because the church calendar is oriented around the life and the ministry and the message of Jesus. So, the church calendar starts the fourth week before Christmas. Before Christmas Eve, you have the first Sunday of Advent. That’s when the church year starts. And the church year starts so you have the Advent season, which is a season of waiting that I’ll talk about in a moment. And then you have Christmas that starts on Christmas Day that goes on for 12 days, there’s 12 Days of Christmas. And then we celebrate what’s called Epiphany, which is the day that the wise men came. And we celebrate the fact that they came and they brought these gifts to Jesus, the child.

And then Epiphany leads us into Lent. Lent is the days leading up to Easter. And then we have the Easter celebration. And then the church calendar continues with this awesome title called ordinary time because there’s really no other celebrations. So, it’s ordinary time. But yet for hundreds of years, people have oriented their prayers, and Scripture readings, and the things they contemplate around about Jesus around this church calendar. So, we’re at the tail end of Advent. And here’s what’s interesting for us as Christians today as we celebrate Advent, because for us as we celebrate the four weeks of Advent with these different themes, and today’s theme is love, the interesting thing for us is that we observe and we celebrate the fact that our spiritual ancestors waited for Jesus, and we’ll talk about that waiting in a moment. They waited for the Messiah for 400 years. For 400 years, they waited and waited. And so when we observe Advent, it’s almost like we’re observing the reality that sometimes we are to wait when it comes to our relationship with God. And yet, for us, we recognize that Jesus has come, but yet we’re also in a second Advent, but we’re waiting for him to come back to restore all things back to the way they were intended to be.

And so we have this interesting perspective of celebrating and recognizing the first Advent while we are also in the midst of the second Advent waiting for Jesus to return. And so that’s where we are at. And that’s why Advent is a beautiful season that has God’s fingerprint all over it. And so I mentioned that there was 400 years where God didn’t speak. You see, in the Old Testament, as you take a look at the Scriptures, the Bible, many of us are familiar with this. The Bible is split up into two parts. You have the Old Testament, which is older. And then you have the New Testament, which is newer. I know, really profound, people go to seminary to learn that type of stuff. In the Old Testament, God interacted with his people with specific individuals that he anointed with his Holy Spirit to speak on behalf of God to the people. And those are what we call the prophets. And so God’s people were… it’s almost as if they were comforted knowing, “Okay, like, there’s somebody here that’s an ambassador of God, like, everything’s gonna be okay.” But yet 400 years before Jesus came, the prophet stopped speaking, but God didn’t speak to his people through prophets. And it was silent, and it was dark.

Could you imagine 400 years? Like, because of, like, age expectancy or life expectancy, you’re probably talking seven, eight, nine, I don’t know, lots of generations of people. Could you imagine being like in year 320 and sitting there thinking like, “Oh, man. That old desert religion? Yeah, that’s all bogus. Like, our ancestors kept talking about a Messiah. Have you seen everything that’s happening right now in our current world? Have you seen the chaos? Have you seen the disease? Like, no way God is totally absent. There is no God.” Could you imagine how much faith was lost in the midst of those 400 years? And that’s why here, in a few days, when we celebrate Christmas Eve, in this building, and in buildings all over the world, people will celebrate the fact that a light showed up in the darkness, that Jesus was born, and finally light returned. It’s because there was 400 years of that darkness. And that’s what we celebrate. And that’s what we recognize during the Advent season. And so today, the theme, the fourth week of Advent that we’re celebrating, is this idea of love.

You see, love is all over the story and Gospel of Jesus. You know, nobody expected God to come in the manner that he came to us. But I wonder if the way that he came to us is actually as much of a message to us as the fact that he came in the first place.

You see, people when they thought the Messiah was coming, there was this thought that the Messiah was going to come, and he was going to rule, and he was actually going to overthrow the government. And the only way a revolution could happen is if there was a change at the top, a government or a military change. But Jesus wasn’t born in a palace, although he’s the Prince of Peace, he should have been born in a palace because he’s a Prince, but he wasn’t. He was born in a manger. That’s where peasants and servants are supposed to be born. I wonder if that’s the point. I wonder if the point is, yes, he’s a Prince that should have been in a palace, but yet he came in a manger so that everyone would have access to him. You know, you got to do something pretty important to be able to go to a palace. Anybody can walk in and out of a manger. And I wonder if that’s the point that there is now…there is like a level playing field with Jesus and that he came in that way because of his love that we have access, not because of what we done right and wrong but because he came as a gift to everybody. And, you know, one of his core attributes of his character is love.

So, when Jesus was born, Jesus was love incarnate. Incarnate is just a fancy theological word for simply meaning God in the flesh. God came as a human. Do you know when Jesus was born in Jesus’s ministry, he fulfilled about 574 prophecies that the prophets in the Old Testament that we talked about spoke, that the Messiah would fulfill all of these things? Do you know Jesus fulfilled about 574 of those prophecies, affirming that he was the Messiah, the One to come? And so the Prophet spoke, and there was silence, and God no longer spoke to the people. And there was 400 years of that darkness. And the next voice they heard from God was the cry of a baby. And that’s where we find ourselves. So, I’m going to take us back into a passage that many of us are familiar with. If you’ve ever been in a church for Christmas Eve, you have heard this verse. If you have ever watched “Charlie Brown Christmas,” you have heard Linus eloquently describe the scene of the shepherds and the angel. In Luke chapter 2, verse 10, “The angel shows up to a group of shepherds.” See, these shepherds weren’t doing anything spectacular. The shepherds were just tending sheep. But an angel shows up, and the angel didn’t show up in a Bible study, the angel didn’t show up in a church service, the angel didn’t show up when the shepherds are doing something religious, the angel showed up when the shepherds were going about their business.

I wonder if that represents to us that God doesn’t always show up in the spectacular but in the mundane, when we’re doing our emails, when we’re running our errands. “The angel said to them don’t be afraid.” Because people were afraid of angels because angels aren’t little babies with wings and diapers throwing arrows, like, they’re big creatures. “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” Like, we got to talk about this, friends. Like, the angel shows up, and the first thing the angel…well, the second, the first thing he said, “Don’t be afraid.” Because I’d be afraid if an angel showed up and I’m in the middle of a field. But with the angel’s message was it’s good news. And there is good news. I’ve got some good news for you. And this good news, it can actually produce great joy. Last week, Craig talked about the gulf that exists between the good news and the great joy. But the angel says, “I’ve got good news.” Now, if I walk up to you, and I say, “Hey, man. I got some good news for you,” our response typically isn’t, “What’s the catch? What do you want from me?” Like, when I say I’ve got good news for you, that’s simply…it’s like, okay, you have something for me, it’s either gonna make my life better, or it means somebody has done something I no longer have to do. Like, maybe you’re on Christmas, good news is, “Hey, your family called. No one’s coming for Christmas.” Like, it’s all good.

But whatever the good news, good news is good. That’s what the angel said. Now, here’s the truth. For some of us, the story of Jesus, the Bible, church, it doesn’t seem like good news. Because many of us have an experience, whether we’ve been hurt by a church in the past, maybe we’re in a relationship with maybe Christians, maybe we used to be married to a Christian, or we’ve done business with a Christian, and it didn’t go so well. And so we’re pretty hesitant on this whole Jesus, church thing. And I want you to know, I get it. I fully understand. If what happened to you would have happened to me, I probably would be in the same boat you are. But I want to say you’re totally welcome to keep coming here. But I really want you to understand what this good news is that the angel declared because this good news is gooder for us than anything we can ever imagine. And here’s the beauty of it. If it’s good news, it’s not straightened up. The good news is not get back to church, and the good news is not read your Bible. The good news is not the… All those are good. But the good news goes deeper, and it’s greater than all of these things. And so that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the idea of this good news. If you have a Bible with you, I invite you to turn to John chapter 3.

If you have a device, pull out your device, so go to John chapter 3 because I want to talk about a verse that many of us are very familiar with in John chapter 3, verse 16. Like, John 3:16 is one that many of us have heard. Like, if you’ve ever seen Tim Tebow play football, like, you’ve heard John 3:16 in some way, shape, or form. But we’re going to be in the Gospel of John. But before we dive into John 3:16, I want to talk about the Gospel of John for a moment because there was a disciple who walked with Jesus, and his name was John. And he was incredibly tight with Jesus. Like, he was so close to Jesus that Jesus had his 12 disciples, but within the 12, he had a core team. And this core team, John was a part of that. He was, like, on the inside with Jesus. Look, he was so close with Jesus that when Jesus was up on the cross, like, about to give his life for all of humanity, he looks down, and he sees his mother, and he sees John embracing his mother. And he says, “John, would you take care of my mom? Like, just please, here’s your mom, would you take care of her for me?” Now, guys, I gotta tell you, I got some really close friends, really close guys in my life. Like, I’ll let them borrow my car. Like, I’ll even give them a car if they need one. They can stay at my house. It’s got to be someone pretty special for me to entrust my mother, you know, to somebody. But that’s the kind of relationship John and Jesus had.

And so I imagine, as John witnessed, and he heard the conversations, and he heard the sermons, witnessed the miracle, saw the healings, as he watched all this unfold, throughout the course of his life after Jesus ascended into heaven, I bet you there was a plethora of people that came to him and said, “Dude, would you tell us about this? Like, someone told me about there was like fish and loaves and someone stole like a fish sandwich from a little boy, then Jesus fed 5,000 people. Can you help us with this?” So, John would tell the story. And then they would say, “Hey, was there really a guy named Lazarus? Did he really die? Was he really buried and then he came alive? Like, tell us that story.” So, I bet throughout the course of his life, John recounted and recounted and recounted and told the stories of what he’s seen and what he’d heard. And, finally, towards the end of his life, he was probably, probably about 50 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, John writes what we now know as the Gospel of John. He writes down his account of everything that he saw. But his Gospel is very different than the other Gospel accounts. There’s four accounts of the life of Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their Gospels specifically because they wanted to give people an account of everything that had happened and everything that Jesus had said that was really significant to his ministry. John came from a different angle. You see, John wrote his Gospel many, many, many, many, many years, decades after Jesus had been crucified. And he wrote his Gospel specifically so that people would understand the depths of Jesus’s love and the fact that he was the Son of God, that he himself was the Messiah. And so John wrote down this Gospel that we have.

And then other people wanted to know it, and they wanted to distribute it, so they all hand-copied. So, there was a very meticulous process of writing down religious texts. They were done…they were handwritten. So somebody would hand-copy it, another person would hand-copy, another person would hand-copy, and another person would hand-copy. And those would be distributed in the different dialects and in the different languages that were spoken, but the majority of them were spread in the language of Greek. And so I want you to think about this, we had these original manuscripts that people hand-copied, and they were distributed and distributed. They didn’t have email. They didn’t have, like, copy machines. You couldn’t quickly change a text and then send it off. But we can understand that these stories that we have from John and the other Gospel writers and the other ones that penned the words of the scriptures are accurate because we can actually go back and find these original manuscripts, and they all match. If one of the religious texts that was copied down was incorrect and 10 of others were correct, they would throw that one out, and that wouldn’t have been preserved. But the fact that they have been preserved for us, we can trust the validity of these Scriptures. And even right now archaeologists have found 5,700 original manuscripts of what we’re reading right now in the Greek language. And one of the accounts that we have, one of the accounts that we have that John wrote down, is a conversation that Jesus had with a man named Nicodemus, who was a religious leader. And in this conversation, I believe this conversation, it encompasses the good news that the angel told the shepherd. This is what the good news is all about.

John chapter 3, verse 16, join with me, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” And I just want to stop right there. Like, this in itself is good news, that God loved, and God gave. Like, God did what people who are in love do, he gave. Like, people that you love you give gifts to. And we could put a period right here, and that in itself, that, like, qualifies good news because God loves and God gives. Let me remind us a little bit of what’s happening culturally in this first century. You know, there is a group of people, the Greeks and the Romans, that worshiped these mythological gods. You have Zeus, and Athena, and you’ve got Mount Olympus, and that’s how people, majority of the secular culture would worship. And guess what? Zeus doesn’t love people. Like, sure, Zeus gave fire, and he gave some things, but there was always a catch. So, the fact that Jesus was telling Nicodemus, and John was spreading this throughout the first century, the fact that, hey, actually, God loves and God gave, was completely countercultural to what people understood. Because in their context, the Greek gods, man, they don’t love people, and they don’t give to people, and they absolutely don’t sacrifice for people. Actually, people are supposed to sacrifice for God. So that’s why the angel shows up. It’s like, “Nope, none of that’s right. I’ve got some good news for y’all. And I got good news, and this good news is for everybody. And this good news can lead to great joy.”

So God loved, and God gave. What did he give? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” which, again, gods aren’t supposed to do in that culture. And then here it comes, “That whoever…” it doesn’t matter who you are, whoever, everybody, like, red, yellow, black, white, all are precious in his sight, everybody, whoever. And then John is going to actually lead us into something that’s pretty weighty. And he comes with this phrase that he uses. And it’s almost like he’s writing this verse, and he says, “I got to get this perfect phrase in.” And he uses a phrase that other people that wrote scriptures actually use, but John uses this phrase more than anybody else in all of Scripture. And this phrase and he says that whoever believes in him, believes in the Son of God, something significant is going to happen. Before we get to that, I want to talk about this idea. What does it mean to believe in? Because believing in is completely different than believing that. Let me illustrate. Let me use this chair right here. Because believing in means putting your trust in something. Believing that means you acknowledge something. So what John is saying, “For God so loved the world,” this is the good news, the angel said, God said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him” not acknowledges him, whoever believes in him something significant is going to happen.

Now, I can acknowledge this chair is black. I can acknowledge this chair folds. I can know everything there is to know about this chair, the manufacturer. I can sing songs about this chair. I can, like, put this chair on a chain and wear it around my neck. But acknowledging that this chair exists and believing in the chair are not the same thing. Acknowledging that Jesus exists is not the same thing as believing in him. How would I believe in this chair? How would I trust in this chair? What do I have to do? I gotta sit in it. You see, friends, this is almost, I was gonna say almost, this is almost the picture of what it looks like to believe in Jesus, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him to put my trust in. Let me ask you all a question. Am I trusting in this chair? Some say yes. Some say no. It’s a trick question. Pastors always use trick questions. Friends, I’m not fully trusting in this chair. Why not? Because my feet are still on the ground. Y’all, this is the picture of I believe, and I’m putting myself in this category. I’m not, like, saying anything to you all that I’m not taking on myself because I’ve experienced this in my own life recently, that many of us, the picture of what it means to believe in Jesus is not this posture. It’s this posture. Putting the full weight of your trust in is what John is talking about. He’s not talking about acknowledging the chair. He’s not saying, hey, sing songs about the chair or wear the chair around your neck on a chain. That doesn’t mean… This is what it means to believe in, to put the full weight of your trust in.

And I wonder if many of us are going about our life. And I wonder if we have settled for him. And I acknowledge Jesus. Of course, I’m a Christian, like, “Dude, my mom wants me to go to church. I go to church. Ah, that person I want to date, they’re Christian, I’m gonna go with…” No, like, as long as we’re sitting with our feet on the ground, we’re not putting the full weight of our trust in the chair. We’re still trusting in our own strength. And we’ll walk around with Jesus, and then when we get tired, we’ll lean on him. It’s, like, I’m gonna lean on him. Or you know what? Yeah, yeah, there are seasons in my life where I kind of feel like, yep, I should probably just take a seat, I should probably sit down. But I would guess the majority of us, we’re not sitting like this, putting the full weight of our trust in him. And, you know, I understand, I understand how scary that sounds. I get it, I get how scary it is. Because we think to ourselves, “Is God trustworthy enough for me to actually put the full weight of my trust in him? Like, really? Can I trust him? Because there’s things that happened. Like, didn’t you just tell me that God was absent for 400 years? What if I only lived to the, you know, 399 years? Can I really trust him?” And I understand how scary it is to do this, but, friends, this is the scariest place to be and the safest place to be at the exact same time. And I wonder if symbolically some of us have just simply got to take our feet off the ground and say, “I’m putting the full weight of my trust in him.”

Guys, I understand that sometimes we think, “I’ve got to figure out life on my own because God is scary. Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes God seems absent.” And sometimes I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I tried to trust, but he didn’t show up, so I’m putting my feet back on the ground because I know what I can control.” You know when I said that God was silent for 400 years and there was 400 years of darkness? Remember when I brought that all up about Advent? You see, God may have been silent, but that doesn’t mean God was absent. God being silent and God being absent are not the same thing. Do you know what was happening in those 400 years? This blew my mind, and I don’t mean to go into a full history lesson here. But here’s what blew my mind, in those 400 years where God was “silent,” you know what he was doing? There was different empires that were kind of jockeying for position, for control of the known world at that time. There was this group of people called the Greeks. And the Greeks defeated the Persians, which my Iranian family, we don’t like that story. So the Greeks came, and they conquered the Persians. And so the known world at the time, from what we now know as Spain all the way down to India, the Greeks oversaw that whole empire. Guess what happened. Everyone spoke Greek because the Greeks were controlling everybody from Spain all the way to modern-day India. The Greek language is infiltrating all over the place.

And then comes the Romans, and the Romans conquered the Greeks. And you know what? The Romans were famous for a lot of things. There’s a lot of contributions, a lot of good and bad contributions. You know, one of the greatest contributions the Romans gave the world? Roads. All roads lead to Rome. Think about this. First, the whole world is speaking Greek, from Spain to India, and now there’s roads that connect all the different places to one another. And then comes Jesus. Jesus was born, Jesus ministered, he was crucified, he was resurrected. And then, guess what the apostles and the disciples, guess what language they used when they went all around to spread the message of the Gospel. Greek. Guess what avenue they used to travel when Paul went to Spain and Thomas went to India, guess what they traveled on. Roads. Just because God was silent in those 400 years does not mean God was not working. Friends, just because God is silent in your life does not mean he is not at work in your life. He’s not absent, he is working although he’s working behind the scenes. Friends, this might feel like the scariest place to be, but you can trust that it’s the safest place when we put the full weight of our trust in him. And then as John is recounting this conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, he finishes this passage, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever, anybody believes in him, puts the full weight of their trust in Jesus, in him, in the Son of God, in the Messiah, guess what, they’re not going to perish, they’re going to have eternal life.

So, here’s the good news. God loved, God gave, we believe in, and we receive. And we receive this beautiful thing called eternal life. We better understand what eternal life is if that’s the gift that we receive. That’s part of the good news. I wonder if I asked 100 of us here in this room what is eternal life, I would guess, I’m just guessing here, I’d guess at least 97 of us would say heaven. That’s what the verse mean, doesn’t it? Trust in Jesus, put your faith in Jesus, surrender to Jesus, whatever, pray the prayer to Jesus, whatever, what you get is heaven. Can I tell you that eternal life does not mean heaven, like heaven is thrown in. Heaven is a byproduct of it. Heaven is a glorious thing. The goal of our Christian life is not to get to heaven. “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.” And eternal life does not mean going to heaven. Here’s the beauty of Scripture, Scripture interpret Scripture. Listen to how Jesus himself defines eternal life. Jesus told us what eternal life is all about, and John recorded it for us as well. It’s found in John chapter 17. This is the night that Jesus is going to be betrayed, so he’s praying for us. On this night, Jesus prayed. All of you sitting here in this room, Jesus prayed for you specifically. Everyone hearing my voice on the stream, or on the app, or podcast, Jesus prayed for you specifically right here in John 17. He supernaturally prayed for every one of us, and this is what he prayed, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people, that he might give eternal life to all of those that you have given him.” And here it is. And he says, “Now, this is eternal life.” Here’s the Jesus’s death. If Jesus defines something, like, we better listen. Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

So, guys, eternal life does not mean going to heaven. Eternal life means knowing the Creator of the Universe in a relational way. It’s having our eyes, and our souls, and the scales falling from our eyes to be able to see life clearly, that life isn’t about us. Eternal life means being connected to the Father. And it means being connected on the Father on this side of eternity, on this side of death, and the other side of death. Eternal life is available to every single one of us today. So, we can trust the validity of what has been written, we can trust the words of Jesus, that whoever believes in him, whoever puts the full weight of their trust in him, you’re not going to perish, you can experience eternal life right now, today. And bells aren’t going to be ringing, and angels aren’t going to be singing, and you’re probably not going to feel any different, you’re still going to be hungry because it’s almost lunchtime. And there’s still going to be relational conflict, and there’s still not enough money to buy gifts, and there’s still supply chain issues, so everyone’s getting gift cards in your family. Like, all of that stuff is still going to be real, but you get to know the Creator of the Universe in an intimate way right now. If the goal of our Christian life was to go to heaven, if that was the goal, let’s just say that was the goal. As soon as we do this, as soon as you put the full weight of our trust in him, guess what would happen to us? Poof, we disappear and go to heaven. Like, that’s not the goal.

The fact that we’re still here, even though we put the full weight of our trust in him, tells us there’s something much deeper for us to experience. And that’s relationship with him. Experiencing. There’s a prayer that Jesus and his disciples prayed. And it was a prayer that presumably people in the first century, even before Jesus taught his disciples they were praying. We know it, it’s the Lord’s Prayer. And in the Lord’s Prayer, there’s this little passage that says, “Your kingdom come,” to God, “God, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” You know what eternal life is all about? It’s being able to participate in heaven coming to earth, heaven being expressed on earth. You and I get to participate in that. Like, we get to express to other people the goodness of who Jesus is. And that’s not like just leaving tracks instead of money at the restaurant. That’s literally loving your neighbor. That’s expressing the same love that God has extended to us that we get to express to other people. That’s eternal life. And it’s the same John, the same Gospel writer, in John chapter 1, verse 12 that he writes, and he says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, took their feet off, believed in his name, guess what? He gave the right to become children of God.” Like, that’s the good news. That’s why the angel came to say, “I got good news of great joy for all the people.” That’s why the good news isn’t get your act together, stop sinning, go to church, read your Bible. That’s not the good news. That’s stuff we should engage in, but the good news goes much deeper. The good news means we have the opportunity to participate with a God of the Universe here in this world.

One more point I want to make. John 3:16 is one we’re very familiar with, but I wonder if we’ve ever considered what comes right after it, John 3:17. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Like, Jesus didn’t come to shake his fist at us. And if you’ve ever felt condemned by a church, or condemned by Christians, or condemned because of your actions, I’m really sorry. That’s not the reason Jesus… “Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” That’s why he came. He came to save us, not to condemn us. Now, my question is, how was that bad news? How was that not great news? That God loved, that God gave, that if we believe in, and we receive eternal life, and we never have to… If you’ve ever worried, “What does God think of me?” friends, it’s written right here. God thinks so much of you that he sent his Son to be here on your behalf. And you might say, “No, man, no, God sent his Son for other people, other people that do better than me, other people that act better than me, other people that, you know, believe different things than me. He didn’t come from me.” No, he came for every single one of us. Scripture reminds us and lets us know that somehow supernaturally he’s not limited by the ways of human, he knows every single part of our lives, and he cares intimately for us, and he came for us.

So a couple of points I just want to illustrate as we wrap up here, some things that we’ve talked about. First, God did what people in love do. God gave, that he gave us his Son. Then again later on this week as we celebrate Christmas Eve, we’ll hear passages like Isaiah 9, “For to us a child is born, and a Son is given.” A gift has been given to us because God loves us. Second point is this, believing in does not mean believing that. Believing in does not mean acknowledging. It means putting the full weight of your trust in something.

In a few moments, when I pray, I’m gonna ask us to do something really weird. And if you got to stretch before, I encourage you to start now. But when I pray, I’m going to count to three, and I’m going to have some of us that want to respond literally take our feet off the ground as an act of just response. We’ll do that here in a moment. But believing in means putting the full weight of your trust in. Third thing we talked about, eternal life is not waiting for heaven, but participating in his kingdom being expressed on earth. That’s what eternal life is all about. Eternal life is simply knowing God. You can experience that here today. And the fourth and final point that I want us to walk away with on this fourth Sunday of Advent is Jesus came to save the world, to rescue the world, not to condemn it. You see, this was the beautiful part of the Gospel message. And this is why the angel said this is good news.

Y’all, I was talking to a group of athletes. I work with an organization called Athletes in Actions where we minister to athletes. So I was talking to some college athletes literally last week. We’re talking about this very passage, this very principle. And we’re talking about this gift of eternal life. One of the guys goes, “Dude, I don’t deserve that. Like, that seems too good to be true.” And I was like this close to be like, “I know, I’ve seen the way you live.” Like, again, no, I didn’t say that. I promise. But I said, “That’s the point. You don’t deserve it because actually if you deserved it, it wouldn’t be a gift to be a reward.” We don’t get rewarded by God for doing good things. It’s not by works, it’s by faith. If we earned it, it wouldn’t be a… You don’t earn gifts, you’re just given gifts out of the way someone feels about you. You know, there’s a hymn that is sung around Christmas time that I absolutely love. The history of “O Holy Night,” the words of “O Holy Night,” the message of it, it captures me. And I’ve got every rendition by every artist on one playlist that I listen to over and over again. And I’m struck by the second verse, and I just want to read this verse. And then I’m going to pray for us, then we’re going to actually do a response for some of us that want to in the midst of this prayer. Try to listen to these words from “O Holy Night. Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love, and his Gospel is peace. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we let all within us praise his holy name.”

Let’s pray, friends. Father, I ask that you would continue to reveal your presence and your goodness to each and every one of us. And as we come upon this week that we would remember that the message of the Gospel, the core of what it represents is good, it’s good news, that good news is available for every one of us. So here in a moment, God, I know that there’s some of us that are stirred, stirred to respond in a certain way, stirred to recognize that, “Man, I’ve just been acknowledging Jesus my whole life. I’ve never been trusting in.” Lord, would you show us that even if we have messed up, even if we know that we…maybe we think we’re eliminated, we’re not. So, God, would you just reveal your continual love to us? So, friends, I’m gonna count to three. And on the count of three, if you feel that you want to respond in your own way, I just invite you to pick your feet up off the ground as a posture and a statement that you want to put the full weight of your trust in him. One, two, three. Lord, I thank you. I thank you for your grace, and I thank you that this is not a moment that we’re supposed to feel any different, but yet, in our minds, we choose to recognize that we belong to you and that we trust you. And this is the posture that we want to live our lives with you. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Y’all, put your feet down. I didn’t say that last time, and someone after service said their abs were sore. So would you join me and stand with me as the team’s going to lead us in a prayer? And let me encourage you this. If this is a morning that you did take your feet off the ground, we want to know because we want to journey with you. Just like we do every week, you have an opportunity to respond. I’m going to ask you to go ahead and text “Jesus.” Don’t text him, Jesus, but text the word “Jesus.” Text the word “Jesus” to 80875. We would love to connect with you this week. Would you join our team as we sing this last song and allow these words to resonate in our hearts?

CHRISTMAS EVE

CRAIG SMITH | read his bio

DECEMBER

24

Matthew 1:18-2:11

The birth of Jesus is the promise of peace, but we have to take seize that promise for ourselves. This Christmas Eve, we look at what might be a familiar part of the Christmas story to see what it says about taking hold of the promise of peace available to us.

SERMON TRANSCRIPT
Craig: Well, hey. Welcome to Mission Hills and Merry Christmas. So good to have you with us today. This is a special day in a lot of different ways. One of the ways that we’re really excited today is that we have thousands of people who’ll be gathering as a Mission Hills family, not only here at the South Littleton Campus but in two other campuses, Mission Hill en Espanol and our new North Littleton Campus launching today at 4:00 o’clock. Super exciting. And we also know there are thousands of people joining us from around the world. And our prayer is that no matter how you’re joining us that you would have an opportunity today with your time together to experience just a little bit of something that was promised to a group of shepherds almost 2,000 years ago.

As one historian puts it, while Jesus was being born in Bethlehem, there were some shepherds out in the field watching over their flocks and he says, “Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with an angel praising God and saying glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” And our prayer is that somehow today you would experience a little bit of God’s promise of peace. And I don’t know about you but I think of all the things that have been in short supply recently. Peace seems like it’s at the top of the list. Yeah? And whether it’s things going on in your personal life or just things going on in the world, it just doesn’t feel like peaceful as how we would describe life over the last year or so, right? Yeah. And yet I believe and I think you believe or at least you want to believe and that’s why you’re here today that God’s promise to the shepherds is actually God’s promise to us and it’s possible to experience peace because of the birth of Jesus. And so, what I wanna do today is I just wanna read a portion of the Christmas story and look at it through the lens of what it teaches us about taking hold of this promise of peace that God’s given us. If you wanna follow along, I’m gonna be in Matthew starting in chapter 1, verse 18, maybe a familiar story.

This is how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Now because Joseph, her husband, was faithful to the law and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” And all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel which means God with us.”

I’m gonna pause there for a second because I think in that name…well, we’re given two names for Jesus there, right. First, Jesus which means God saves because Jesus ultimately came to live and to die for our sins and to save us from them but he’s also called Emmanuel which is Hebrew for God with us. And this is a really important thing to understand about God’s promise of peace. It’s that the foundation of God’s promise is God’s presence. Let me say that again. The foundation of God’s promise of peace is actually his presence. This isn’t a peace that God gives at a distance. It’s a peace that comes because God is with us. See, because of our sin, we ran from God but in the person of Jesus, God came running after us. He came running to find us and to be with us and that’s the foundation of his promise of being able to give us peace. It’s his presence.

I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to try out one of those FlowRiders. Anybody know what I’m talking about? It’s one of those artificial surfing simulators. Always wanted to try it, never really had the nerve and then there weren’t many people in line. I was like, “This is perfect for me. Nobody’s gonna be watching.” I don’t really like to do things in front of people which I know sounds strange for me to be saying right now but it’s really true. And so, there weren’t many people and so I got behind a couple of people and then a bunch of people showed up. I was like, “Oh, I don’t want…okay, I’m gonna go ahead and go for a ride.” And so, I got my opportunity. I got up at the top and I got my little boogieboard and I got my knees on and I slid down the slide and the water comes at you really fast, kinda simulating a wave. And I’ll be honest. I was doing pretty good. I was doing it. I was able to keep my balance. I was able to actually even move back and forth a little bit and I was feeling pretty good but I didn’t really wanna just, like, kneel on it. I really wanted to stand up. That’s what all the cool guys were doing. I wanted to be a cool guy. So, I started…and every time I started to even think about standing up, like, it would dip and the water would stop coming over the lip and I was like, “This is just really hard. I don’t know how I can do this.” And there was a lifeguard kinda standing not too far away and he could tell what I was trying to do and so he leans over and he goes, “Hey, do you wanna hold my hand?” And I was like, “No. I am a guy, I am a man. I’m not going to hold your hand, no.” I was like, “I got this.” So, I went to stand up. As soon as I did that, the board dipped. The wave took it out from under me. I washed out, washed up flying at the back of this thing. And of course, everybody watching laughed. I knew they were going to.

Got back in line. Get back up. Slid down. Got it. And the guy reached out again. He goes, “You sure you don’t wanna hold my hand?” I was like, “Fine.” I grabbed his forearm because I felt like that at least I’m able to keep a little bit of the man card in that moment. And I have to say it was kinda weird. Just that touch changed things. His presence changed my experience, actually. I was able…while I was holding his arm, I was actually able to get to my feet. I was able to stand up and I was like, “Oh, I’m doing this.” It’s remarkable how his presence changed my experience. He wasn’t actually doing it for me. He hadn’t taken over but his presence completely changed the experience and at a certain point, I was like, “I got this.” And I looked at him and said, “I got this.” And he goes, “Huh?” I was like, “No, I got it.” I let go. Immediately faceplanted. Came that close to losing my swimsuit as I was washed up at the back of this thing.

And I hadn’t thought about that for a long time until I was looking at this passage just this week and going, “Jesus is Emmanuel, he’s God with us.” And God saying, you know, “The peace that I’m promising, it doesn’t come from the end of all the conflict. It doesn’t come from the end of all the chaos. It comes from my presence. My presence will change your experience. My presence will allow you to have peace even in the midst of chaos and conflict.” Kinda like riding that thing. Touching his hand didn’t change the force of the water coming. It didn’t change the chaos and the turbulence of the water. It just changed my experience of it. And that is who Jesus is. He’s God with us and you can have peace in the midst of chaos. But what do you have to do? You gotta take his hand. I’ve had this image today of God standing next to us going, “I gotcha. If you’ll just reach out and grab my hand.” So, I wonder today if you find that you’re not experiencing the peace that God promises, because you’re still saying to God in one way or another, “I got this.” And listen, we’ve tried that and we don’t got this. But he’s got us if we will just reach out.

And when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and he took Mary home as his wife but he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son and he gave him the name Jesus. Now after Jesus is born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem. And we’ll stop there for just a moment because there’s another incredibly important truth about God’s promise of peace there. And here’s the way I would say it. I’d say you’re never too far from God to find peace with God. You’re never too far from God to find peace with God. And I think that’s important to understand because I know that there are some people listening to this message today. You came with somebody because it’s what you do at Christmas and you wanted to make them happy but honestly, you’re here and you’re uncomfortable or you’re watching online and you’re uncomfortable because you feel like everything we’re talking about doesn’t apply to you. Because you feel like you’ve gone too far, you’ve done too much for God to ever give you peace, for there ever to be peace between you and God.

And I want you to hear this today. You’re never too far from God to find peace with God. And you go, “Well, okay. That sounds great but why do you say that? How can you know that?” And I can say it because of these Magi. It’s so interesting. The Magi were far from God, you know that? The Magi, almost by definition, were people who were far from God. First off, they were far from God physically. They were far from Jesus physically. I mean, they didn’t come from Israel. They weren’t from there in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or anywhere in the nation of Israel. Probably they were from what we think of as Babylon or Persia. They’d come a long way. They were physically far and they weren’t part of God’s people. In fact, traditionally, the Babylonians had been the enemies of God’s people. They were very far from God. And then on top of that, they were Magi. And I know we don’t think of the word Magi as necessarily kind of equaling somebody who’s far from God but the reality is we just…we’ve sanitized it. We’ve cleaned them up. When they show up in our little nativity scenes, you know, they’re the three wise men or they’re the three kings but that’s not how Matthew describes it. He calls them Magi. And the word Magi is a Persian word that means magicians. And to be really clear on this. We’re not talking like David Blaine or Zach King kinda magicians. More Voldemort than anything else, okay.

What I mean is they were practitioners of dark arts. These are the people who…they cast spells and they summon spirits and they tried to read the future by looking at the entrails of animals that had been spilled out. It’s interesting. All those things are explicitly forbidden by the Old Testament Scriptures. Explicitly forbidden by the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, the punishment was death. And so, this is a group of people who made their living by serious sin. They were as far from God as you can get and yet, what do we see? We see them seeking and ultimately finding God here. God led them. Well, that’s not quite right. Actually, God didn’t just lead them. He led them every single step of the way. He began to call them and then every moment, every step along the way he said, “No, turn here, turn here, go here.” Until they found him. Listen, if that’s true of the Magi, I promise you it’s true of you. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how far you think you are from God, you are never too far from God to find peace with God. And some of you, you’re here today because you just needed to hear that. God’s peace is a possibility for you.

The Magi came and they asked, “Where is the one who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.” A really important statement there about peace. Notice what it is they said they came to do. They came to what? To worship. They came to worship him. And an interesting thing about worship, in the modern world, we hear the word worship and we immediately think, like, church services. We think songs, right? But in the ancient world, worship wasn’t necessarily a religious word because the word that’s being used there literally meant to kneel down. It was used to describe an action of kneeling down in front of somebody, somebody who had authority. And so, the action of kneeling was really…it was an attitude of saying, “I get it. I recognize your authority and I respect it. And more importantly, I submit to it.” That’s what the Magi came to do. They said, “We came to worship him. We came to respect him. We came to submit to him because we recognize his authority.”

And that’s so foundational because here’s the reality. Submission opens the door to peace. Submission opens the door to peace. We can’t have peace from God if we’re unwilling to submit to God. It just doesn’t work. And it’s not because God, you know, refuses. It’s that we’re not in the place that we can actually experience it until we’re willing to submit to God. When I was a freshman in college, I remember one morning I got out of bed in my dorm room and I went to go to my first class and I went to open the door and it just wouldn’t open. And I remember you could move the handle. The handle works find. I could hear the lock disengaging but when I went to pull, it just stayed where it was, and in fact, the harder that I pulled, the less that it moved. And I’ll be honest, I was ticked. I immediately got mad. And I figured somebody was pranking me. Somebody in the dorm, one of my friends in the dorm had come and they’d done something and I couldn’t figure out what it was and the door opened inwards so I couldn’t even figure out how they pulled that off from the outside. But I could not open it. And I was that close to calling maintenance and I decided to try one last thing before I called maintenance and that is I knelt down and I looked at the bottom of the door. And it was interesting. From this position I had a different perspective and I saw something that I hadn’t perceived before. I saw a little wedge of wood. It’s a little triangle of wood that had gotten under the door and it was kinda positioned just in such a way that the more I pulled the door, the more it dug into the carpet and kept the door from going anywhere.

And then I remembered I did that. Not on purpose. But my roommate was an architect major, he was constantly making things with little wooden things and I had stepped on one of them on my way into bed and the pain was incredible. I mean, not LEGO level pain. And if you ever stepped on a LEGO, like, you know, I’m not quite that level but right below that. And so, what did I do? I kicked it. I kicked it and it went under the door and I was like, “Perfect.” Well, it wasn’t perfect. It actually was exactly the thing that was keeping me in place. And the reality is I didn’t see what the problem was until I knelt. My position changed my perspective. My perspective opened up the door to doing what needed to be done so that I could actually get free. And that’s what’s going on here with the Magi. They came to worship. They came to recognize the authority of Jesus and to submit themselves to it. And I believe it is because of that that they ultimately came to experience the peace that God promised them. Same is true for us. Until we’re willing to submit to God, we’ll never have the peace that flows from him. Submission opens the door to peace.

Peace or submission is not an easy thing, though, right. Recognizing someone’s authority, respecting it, submitting to it. It’s not an easy thing and not everybody in the Christmas story was able to do that. Matthew tells us that when King Herod heard this, he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him. The Bible wasn’t written in English. It was originally written…the New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word for disturbed…there’s really interesting…it’s an unusual word. It’s a very powerful word. It means something like highly agitated. It’s basically the opposite of peace. It’s to be in turmoil. And some of us know what that feels like, right? How many of us at some point in our lives have dealt with a series of situations and what we felt inside was just turmoil. How many of us have ever felt like that? Yeah. That’s what Herod was feeling. And the question you guys wanna ask is why? What was wrong? What was going on that caused him to have such an intense feeling of a loss of peace? And the answer is that he understood that Jesus was a threat to his power. And you need to understand this about Herod. Herod loved his power. Herod’s entire life was a fight to get and keep power. So much so that Herod actually, he murdered three of his own sons and his favorite wife because he thought they were a threat to his power. That’s how committed he was to fighting for power.

And here’s an important thing. You can’t fight for power and find peace. It just doesn’t work that way. You cannot both fight for power and find peace. The pursuit of power and the pursuit of peace are fundamentally opposite pursuits. You can’t fight for power in your relationships and experience peace in those relationships. You can’t fight for power in your relationship with your kids and find peace in those relationships. You can’t fight for power in your relationship with your parents and find peace in that relationship. You can’t fight for power in your community or in the world and experience peace in the world. It just doesn’t work that way. The reason Herod couldn’t have peace is because he was so intent on fighting for power.

Now I didn’t say you can’t have power and have peace. It’s one of the paradoxes of Christianity. It’s actually possible to have power and have peace. We know that because Jesus had all the power. He was God’s son. He was God in the flesh. We see him have all the power. I mean, he told demons to leave and they left. He told storms to chill and they chilled. He told dead people to come out of graves and they came out of graves. That’s all the power. But Jesus didn’t fight for the power. In fact, my favorite description of Jesus is found in the book of Philippians and it basically says this, that though he was in the very form of God by the very nature of who he was, he was God. But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, something to be held onto, something to be fought for. But he emptied himself. Thinking on the nature of a servant, to serve us. So, Jesus had all the power but he wasn’t constantly fighting for it. So yeah, you can have power and have peace but you can’t fight for power and have peace. And many of us failing to experience peace even though God’s promise is simply because in so many of our relationships we’re engaged in a fight for power.

And when he’d called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Well, in Bethlehem in Judea, they replied for that is what the prophet has said…has written. But you Bethlehem and the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people, Israel. And then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and he said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon you find him, report to me so that I too may go and worship him.” And after they heard the king, they went on their way and the start that they had seen when it rose went ahead of them and it stopped over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

By the way, I’ve always loved that description. When they saw the child, they were overjoyed. They saw Jesus, they were overjoyed. I love the description in part because in the original Greek what it literally says is they had mega joy which is, like, the coolest thing ever. How many of us want mega joy, right? That would be awesome. Why so much joy? And the answer is…well, partly it’s because they found what they were looking for but I think it’s also because of how they found what they were looking for. It’s because God led them. They didn’t spend a lot of time looking, right? God led them directly to Jesus and how did he do that? Well, first he sent them the star, right? That’s what started the journey moving. We don’t know what the star was. I mean, people have hypothesized that it was a comet. It might’ve been a constellation of planets. It might’ve been a supernova. Might’ve been supernatural. We don’t really know what it was. We just know it was a sign. And that sign got them moving. It got them heading in the right direction.

And it’s interesting. I really do believe that God gives every one of us a sign or many signs to get us moving in the right direction. Many of you have a relationship with Jesus. If you look back on how that happened, there was probably a sign that got you moving. It might’ve been somebody that got brought into your life, it might’ve been an event or an experience in your life, it might’ve been something just began to stir in your heart but there were these signs that God was calling you, that God was inviting you and then you began to move towards him. But it’s interesting. The sign the Magi had wasn’t enough. They needed more specific information than the star, right? The star led them and they went where they thought they should look. They went to the palace but that’s where a king should be and they didn’t find him there. But they found the specifics they needed, right? They got information from the Scriptures. The religious scholars of his day opened up the Word of God and they said, “Well, here is where it’s supposed to happen.” And they now knew exactly where to go which is incredible news because it meant that they didn’t have to go wandering around Israel going, “Hey, you got a Messiah in there? No? Okay, have a nice day.” No, I mean, they were able to go exactly where they needed to be because they had both the sign but they also had the specific directions. And God gives us those too. Whatever signs might begin us moving towards God, it’s in God’s Word that we find that God loves us. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. That’s specific information we need. It’s not a generic God. It’s a very specific Messiah.

And so, in Scripture we find that there’s no other name under heaven by which we may be saved but the name of Jesus. It’s in Scripture that we find this incredibly important statement that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, that you will be saved. It’s in Scripture that we find those specific details. And between the signs and the specific details, God is inviting us. He’s inviting us into a relationship with him and he’s inviting you to experience peace with him. But like any invitation, it has to be accepted, right? His directions have to be followed. And the reality is that God leads us to peace but we have to follow his directions. The Magi did. And they found Jesus and they found peace. Herod didn’t. The Magi followed his directions. Herod kept his distance and because of that, he never experienced the peace. But the Magi had a completely different experience. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and they worshiped him.

I love that. They came to the house. But by the way, this would’ve been a little bit after the night that Jesus was born. By the time the Magi got there, they’d kind of upgraded from a barn to a house. But whatever house they were in, I promise you it was a far cry from the palace that the Magi expected to find the King in. And I think there’s probably an important truth in this. We often go looking for peace where the world tells us to look, right? The world tells us, “You can expect to find peace in possessions or in money and power, in influence, in experiences.” But what the Magi show us here is that we won’t find peace where the world teaches us to seek it. Nothing the world tells you about peace can actually provide you peace. That’s only gonna be found in God.

And then they opened their treasures. And they presented him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh which are weird gifts for a baby. I mean, they just really are, right? I mean, I’ve had a couple of kids. Nobody gave me gold. Nobody gave my kids frankincense and frankincense and myrrh, by the way, they both come from a tree. Basically, it’s sap. The frankincense gets hard. You know what a baby would do with a hard piece of tree sap? Choke on it. Myrrh actually is still sticky typically. It’s a sticky, gooey resin. They’re just weird gifts for a baby. And they’re appropriate for a king but they’re weird gifts for a baby. And I try to imagine, like, you know, the Magi showing up and, like, dropping those into the crib. And I imagine Jesus didn’t really have much interest in them. He didn’t have much interest in them as an adult either, though. He was never looking for the trappings of wealth and power and all that stuff. He never asked people to come to him and bring things that are of value. Well, that’s not true. There’s one valuable thing that Jesus was always hoping people would bring him. Themselves. That’s why Jesus came, to get…he came to get you. He came to get me. That’s the only thing of value and as far as he’s concerned, that is of infinite value.

And ironically, it’s in giving Jesus the only thing that he really is interested in that he really wants that we find the peace that we so desperately want. Peace comes from giving Jesus the only thing he really wants. You. Some of you are here today and you’ve given Jesus the gift of yourself at some point in your life and maybe you’ve had moments where you’ve experienced the peace that comes from that. Maybe you’re still experiencing it in spite of what’s going on around you. You’ve got his hand and his presence is bringing you peace. Or maybe you’ve given him your life and right now you’re not having a lot of peace. You’re struggling. And I promise you Jesus is standing next to you going, “I gotcha. Just reach out. And trust my presence.” And some of you are listening to this and you’ve never had that experience because you haven’t taken that incredibly important first step of saying yes to trusting Jesus, to giving Jesus yourself. Jesus came, he lived, he died, he rose from the dead to pay the price for all the wrong that we’ve done that separates us from him. He is Emmanuel. He’s God with you. He is standing beside you. He’s offering himself to you if you’ll just return the favor and offer yourself to him. Would you pray with me?

Jesus, we thank you so much for coming after us. We thank you for your birth that we celebrate today. We thank you for who you are, that you are God with us. And we thank you that because of your presence, we can have peace. And for those of us who have experienced that, we just thank you so much. In the midst of everything we’ve been through over the last couple of years, we’re just so grateful to have peace with you when nothing in the world is necessarily offering peace. We thank you for being God with us. We love you and we recommit ourselves to you. We reach out, we take hold of your hand. We know…yeah, we don’t got this. But you’ve got us. And we’ve got you and that changes everything.

Lord, those of us who’ve experienced that peace, we pray for those that are listening to this that have never experienced it. And if that’s you, if I just could speak to you for a moment, let me give you the opportunity right now to take hold of his hand. He is standing right beside you. No matter how far you think you are from God, the moment you turn around and look, he is right there. He’s reaching out his arms and he’s offering you peace with him and peace in the midst of the chaos of the world because he’s done everything necessary to make that possible. And if you’ve never taken hold of his hand, if you’d never put your faith in him, you can do it right here, right now. You’re gonna say something like this to him right now. Just do this with me. You can say it in the quietness of your heart. You can say it out loud. It doesn’t matter. He’s gonna hear it either way because he is listening. It’s what he wants to hear more than anything else. Just say something like this with me. Jesus, I know I’ve sinned. I’ve run hard away from you. I’m sorry. Thank you for coming after me. Thank you for dying on the cross to pay the price of my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. And I’m ready to put my trust in you. Jesus, I’m saying yes to following you from here on out. Jesus, I am yours. Amen.