Advent Week 1: No Ready Made Box
The Christmas story. We hear it every year, but sometimes we can tell a story without fully knowing the story. To truly understand it requires us to know more than just the narrative itself. It requires a larger story, a greater story, a grand story. Narratives are powerful, but even more so when they are thoroughly understood. This Christmas, we are going to explore the Christmas story through the lens of a larger story. And when we do, we will fully understand advent.
Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We are beginning a new series this weekend called “Advent.” It’s going to run us right up until Christmas. There are three things that I know about Christmas season. One as a father, one as a pastor and one as a professor. As a father, let me tell you something. Around my house, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. I mean, we have kids running everywhere. It’s so much fun. I don’t know how your tradition is at your house, but the day after Thanksgiving, we go out and get a tree, we decorate the tree and the kids run, drop ornaments and shatter ornaments. All that stuff. But it’s fun. They slip and fall and beat up each other. It’s just great.
There are candles going and all of this stuff. It’s just a wonderful time. And, on top of it, we live in Sarasota, Florida. Can I get an amen on that one? I mean, goodness gracious. Awesome. And, on top of that, we have UTC Mall that goes full Disney for Christmas. Right? It’s great. With my kids, we put them in the Honda Odyssey, we tell them they’re going to Disney, we put Doritos and Mountain Dew in the Odyssey and we just drive up and down until they fall asleep. They think it’s great. It’s a Kentucky thing.
Anyway, it’s just awesome. Christmas is just a fun time. There’s no doubt about it. I hope that it’s great for you all as well. As a pastor, however, I also realize that it’s a great time for many people, but for some people, Christmas is a really, really challenging time of loneliness, depression and just a difficult time. We know that as we talk to people during the season. So, we want to be aware of that as a church, as people, as a pastor.
And then, as a professor, I have my most challenging part of Christmas because, of all the calendar year — we have, as Christians, different things that we celebrate during the calendar year — the Christmas season is the one that we do the worst job of interpreting Scripture across the board. I mean, it’s bad. It’s really bad. The stories that we tell about Christmas are not really biblical.
So, this happened for me over a little period of time. I became a Christian right before my senior year in high school. I had a radical conversion. I really started reading Scripture. One of the things that I was challenged with, especially as I went to college, and went on to graduate and post-graduate degrees, is I would read Scripture that the Jesus that I was finding in here was a lot different than the Jesus that I had heard about in church. I was constantly having to go back and go, “Wow, man. He was a lot different.”
It’s challenging because, over the last couple of years, I’ve taken Matthew 2, Luke 2 and I’ve explained that those are at two different times. We can’t conflate them. In the Matthew 2 passage, Jesus is probably a year and a half or so old when the magi come. There’s not three wise men. There’s probably hundreds of them. They wouldn’t have traveled, three people, across the desert. They’d have been mugged, killed and robbed. It wouldn’t have worked. So, they would’ve had hundreds of them. That blows the three wise men up. And then they come in and Jesus is a young man. He’s probably a year and a half old. Herod kills the babies two years and younger. That’s why, because he ascertains the time from the magi.
Then you have Luke 2, which is the real infant scene. They’re not rushing to get to the town. They’re already there. The Scripture says that. “While they were there, she gave birth.” They weren’t rushing there. They weren’t abandoned. They would’ve stayed in a house. He was in the lineage of David. There would’ve been people around. Mary would’ve delivered with women around. None of these stories that we tell are really that biblical, so I got the unfortunate nickname of being the Nativity Destroyer over the last couple of years. I’m not trying to destroy anybody’s nativity. I’m just trying to be honest with Scripture. Put your nativity things up. I’m not coming to your house and making notes as a pastor or anything like that.
So, since I got that, I just figured why don’t we just go ahead and look at the whole story this year and just bomb the whole thing? So, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to just sort of take the whole Christmas story and expand out. Here’s the reality. As I studied Jesus, as I looked at Jesus and as I looked at this story, what I found was this: I found that the story of Jesus was far more complex, subversive, challenging and disturbing than I had previously thought, but far more meaningful than I could’ve ever imagined.
So, what I want to do is, over the next several weeks, take the Christmas story and look at it in its entirety. Why did Jesus come? I think we’re going to have some real challenges because I think some of the things that we’ve sort of put together in our little boxes don’t really fit the narrative of Scripture, nor do they fit the narrative of what’s going on in the Old Testament that leads up to the reason that Jesus came. We’re not going to all of a sudden find out that Jesus didn’t ever exist. He did. We’re not going to find out that He didn’t really rise from the dead. He did. We’re not going to find out He didn’t die on a cross. He did. All those things are true. I don’t want to take away from any of those things. But I want to say that there’s a far deeper undergirding of the Christmas story, and I want us to experience it.
The problem that we have, though, is that we all have boxes. Every single one of us. We like our boxes. In the first century, the big box that they had to overcome was the box of tradition. They had so much tradition that when Jesus came, they could not fit Him in a box. Everybody misunderstood Him. We’re going to look at that today, together, to give us some hope that, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we misunderstood some things, but there’s hope.”
So, they had the box of tradition. We have a double-edged box living in the west. We have the box of tradition, because we’ve all heard the stories and that’s what we’ve sort of come to believe, and then, when we read Scripture, we tend to find the story in there. Even when somebody then goes through it slowly, we start going, “Whoa. I missed that. I missed that. I missed that.”
Why? Because we tend to read our tradition into Scripture. But we also have a culture that creates a problem for reading Scripture. Our culture likes to compartmentalize things in different boxes. We like that. I don’t know if you know this or not, but in the first century, everything was blended together. There was no division of anything. I mean, everything blended together.
But there was a group of philosophers called the Epicureans. They came along and said, “No, no, no. There’s got to be some separation of certain things. You’ve got to compartmentalize certain things.”
It may surprise you, but someone who said, publicly, “I’m an Epicurean at heart,” was Thomas Jefferson. That’s why, in our country, we have such separation of different things. We think that that’s a good thing. When, in reality, you can’t separate these things. So, what we’ve done is our culture has learned to separate different things. I worked at a church one time in Cartersville, Georgia. It was a large church. In that church, I didn’t play on the team, but we had a softball team. Our softball team was really competitive. Almost every other game, they would get in a physical fight with the other team. You know? We would always joke that Jesus is not a part of our softball team when they play.
Do you know what? They were able to compartmentalize that. Jesus wasn’t really a part of their softball game. The softball game was the softball game, and they’re going to get all in it. Jesus was sort of over here. Because, once again, we sort of compartmentalize different things. That’s what we do. We have all these little boxes. Once we get our boxes the way that we like them, we don’t want to hear anything else. We just want to live in our little box. And when we get our little box, we listen to the same stations over and over again. We read the same books over and over again. We like to live in our nice, little, tidy boxes.
You can see it in the way that we live our lives. We’ve got these checkmarks that we do. We’ve got our political systems that we like. If you try to talk to somebody who’s got a box here with somebody that’s got a box here, you don’t mesh at all. Nobody even stops to take a second to go, “Maybe my box is wrong.”
It could be. Nobody ever thinks that way because once we get our boxes the way that we like them, we like them that way. Ethically, relationally, doctrinally or whatever it may be. We like these boxes. But here’s the problem: When you have all this compartmentalization of your life — “I’ve got my marriage here. I’ve got my money here. I’ve got this here. Jesus is over here, but I surely don’t want Jesus in this box. If He got in this box, it would really mess me up. So, let’s keep Him over here. I definitely don’t want Him in the finance box because if He was there, whew. So, I need to keep Him over here.”
We say to Jesus, “Hey, good to see You. Love You on Sunday, but the rest of the week we’re going to do our thing.”
What happens is when we live that way — and we do. Most people live this way in the west. What happens is we come up with our own, personal Jesus. He looks like me. He supports my views. He’s very manageable. That is not the Jesus of Scripture. If you ever pay attention to literature that goes out to children, Jesus has got blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin like me. I can assure you no middle-easterner would look that way. So, it’s like he’s our own, personal Jesus. We have these ideas.
So, when we come to the Christmas season and Advent, we have all these boxes that we sort of think, “This is the way it was and this is the way it is.” Maybe, just maybe, we need to put those boxes away for a little bit and really go back and look at this story together because this story is so much more beautiful than we may have ever even imagined.
So, what I want to do this weekend is I want to give you permission to put your walls down, put your tradition down, put your culture down and engage Jesus anew and afresh. Because what we’re going to realize this weekend is that the people that were the closest to Jesus absolutely had no idea who He was because He didn’t fit their readymade box. When they finally understood who He was, it changed their lives forever. It changed everything about their world.
So, what I want to do is look at a chapter out of the Gospel of Mark. We could’ve picked hundreds of Scripture to look at, but I’ve only got a certain amount of time to be able to get through the message. So, we’re going to look at a whole chapter. I’m not going to read the whole chapter, but I’m going to tell you the whole chapter. Then I’m going to pick selected passages out of the chapter. We’ll get this good idea that this whole chapter is devoted, as much of Mark is devoted, to the fact that the people who are closest to Jesus have no idea who He is because He doesn’t fit their readymade box. Hopefully, that will give you and me permission to go, “Hey, do you know what? Maybe there are some things I’ve missed along the way that would be important for me to get.”
I’m hoping, over the next several weeks, we can do this together. So, let’s look at the Gospel of Mark here, starting in Mark 9:2.
“After six days...”
I highlighted “six days” not because I want to do a sermon this. I could do a sermon on this. We could talk about this for the next 30 minutes. I just highlighted this because when you see something like this in Scripture — because I’d like to also teach you how to read the Bible while I’m up here teaching. When you see that, there’s not a surplus of words in the Bible. It’s not like they just randomly picked “six days.” He could’ve just said, “After this,” but he said, “Six days.” Why would he do that? First of all, Moses waited six days before he went up on the mountain on the seventh day, when the cloud came down and all that great stuff, and he got the Ten Commandments. There could be something pregnant in there. Also, after six days would be the seventh day, which is the day of rest. So, what I’m saying is there’s stuff going on here when we read Scripture — and I’m not going to try to get into this. I just want you to pay attention when you read Scripture.
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him...”
Now, this is something that we should stop and think about because this is something that we don’t think about very often. Jesus had, if you read Matthew 10, 70 or 72 disciples. There is a textual variant there. I could show you, if you could look at Greek, how it’s easy to — so, we just don’t know for sure if it was 70 or 72, but it doesn’t make a difference. It was seventy-something.
Those were people that were His disciples. They followed Him around. They were close, but they were not as close to Him as the Twelve. The Twelve were very, very close. But, of the Twelve, there were three that got Jesus’ time more than anybody else. Why? Because Jesus poured into the highest capacity people. See, Peter, James and John did more for the Church than any of the other 72 when you look at what they did. That’s why Jesus spent more time with them because, as a leader, He understood, “I’m going to pour into the people that can do the most, rather than pouring into the people that can do the least.”
That may shock you about Jesus, but that’s exactly what He did. You can imagine, if you were the Twelve, and every time you were part of the Twelve, Jesus took off with the other three and you’re left there with the other nine. You’d be like, “Yo, JC, why are you leaving us here, man? Why are You walking away?”
Because Jesus knew what He was doing. He was a great leader. So, He takes Peter, James and John and He leads them up to a high mountain by themselves.
“There he was transfigured before them.”
So, what we have here is they’re up on this mountain, Jesus all of a sudden appears in this shining white light. I mean, it’s just awesome. They’re like, “Whoa, man. Jesus, this is crazy.” And then, all of a sudden, Moses and Elijah show up. Can you imagine Charlton Heston and Elijah showing up on the mountain? I mean, crazy stuff. They’re like, “Whoa. This is Moses. He’s the guy, man. Pharaoh and all that we’ve read about him. This is Moses. Moses is here. And Elijah? I mean, Elijah the prophet. The Law and the Prophets are right here on the mountain with us. Everything that we believe as the Jewish people is right here. Moses and Elijah. Law and the Prophets.”
They’re there and what do they do? They have no idea what’s going on. They’re just sort of blundering around. Peter decides, “Hey, do you know what? I think what we ought to do is build three tents for you all to honor all three of you,” as if they’re all sort of on the same level.
Mark tells us he has no idea what he’s doing. He’s afraid. He just comes up with this great idea. “Let’s build three tents and let’s honor everybody.” Well, after he says those words, all of a sudden, a cloud comes on top and, all of a sudden, the voice: “This is my Son. Listen to Him.”
When they look up, Moses and Elijah are gone. The only person they see is Jesus. They’re like, “Whoa.” Now, you and me may read that and go, “Oh, how theological pregnant is that? The Law and the Prophets were there. They testified of Jesus. Now, God’s telling them, ‘Hey, Moses and Elijah, you don’t need that anymore. Jesus is the only thing that you need.’”
We could say, “Oh, that’s fantastic.” They did not understand what they saw at all. Because, after this has happened, Mark says that as they were coming down the mountain, they just had this great moment and God said, “Listen to my Son,” — you’d think if you heard a voice and a cloud, all those people, and Charlton Heston was there and gone. I mean, you would think, at that moment, you’d be like, “I’m going to listen to Jesus. Anything He says, I’m listening to Jesus.” Okay? So, they’re coming down the mountain and He charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
And then Mark tells us, “They kept the matter to themselves, questioning what ‘rising from the dead’ might mean.”
It didn’t fit their box. They didn’t have a box that would have somebody rise from the dead as an individual. They knew the story of Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones. They knew that there would be a resurrection one day of national Israel in their understanding of the Old Testament, but not a rising of the dead of a person. They have no concept whatsoever, even though they just had this great experience and they’ve heard this voice — “Listen to Him” — you would think they would go, “I mean, He’s going to rise from the dead. I don’t quite understand it, but...”
So, you would think that what they would do, as they’re coming down off the mountain and He says that, and they don’t understand, you’d think they’d ask Him about rising from the dead. They don’t. They say, “Hey, JC, can you tell us about Elijah?”
Where does that come from? I mean, they start talking about Elijah and He gives them a little discourse about Elijah. And then they come back to the nine.
It says, “When they came back to the disciples,” — the nine, because He took the three with Him — “they saw a great crowd around them and scribes arguing with them.”
This is fantastic, isn’t it? Jesus has told them, “I want you to go into towns. I want you to preach the Gospel. I want you to pray for the sick. I want you to open the eyes of the blind. I want you to pray for those that are oppressed.” He comes back and what are they doing? They’re arguing. Man, Christians and followers of God arguing. That’s novel, isn’t it? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Right?
So, here they are arguing with the scribes. He’s told them what to do. They’re totally off-mission. They’re sitting around arguing about something.
“And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.”
Like, “Oh, Jesus is here. This is great! Fantastic.”
So, what does He do? Well, He asks the disciples, “What are you arguing about? Did I somehow call you to be arguers? Is that what I called you to be? Why are you arguing with them?”
And you know, at this moment — it doesn’t say it, but you know, at this moment, all the nine are looking and going, “Who’s going to be the first one to say something? It’s not going to be me.”
So, rather than answering, what happens is someone from the crowd answers.
“‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.’”
“Teacher, I brought my son to You because he’s oppressed. When he’s oppressed, he goes into a seizure. He seizes up and becomes rigid. He grinds his teeth and he foams at his mouth.”
“‘So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’”
They could argue. They could argue a lot, but they didn’t have any power of God which is really strange because Jesus had given them the power to do this. He told them that they could go do this in His name. But, somehow, they’re off-mission at this point. They’re missing the whole scene. They can’t do it. And what does Jesus do? Well, Jesus looks to the father and says, “Do you believe?”
The father says, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.”
One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. If you’ve never prayed that, you should pray it. “God, I believe, but help my unbelief. God, I know there are areas in my life that I don’t believe. I don’t trust You here, but I need You to help me in that area because I really do believe. At some level, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
And what does He do? He heals the boy. And then, as the boy is healed, they move on because Mark’s a Gospel of action.
It says, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’”
Now, the nine, you may give a mulligan to. They weren’t on the mountain. They didn’t have the moment with Moses and Elijah and Jesus. They didn’t see the cloud. They didn’t hear the words, “This is my Son. Listen to Him.” They didn’t come down off the mountain and hear Jesus say, “Hey, I’m going to rise again after I’m dead,” but the three did for sure. This is pretty clear because they were told to listen to Him. He says, “This is what’s going to happen, folks. I don’t want you to tell anybody about this right now, but this is what’s going to happen. I’m going to be delivered into the hands of men. They’re going to kill me. I’m going to die. After three days, I’m going to rise again from the dead.”
And what does Mark tell us?
“But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.”
Why? It didn’t fit their box. They were rejecting the truth because it didn’t fit their box. Far be it that any of us would reject the truth because it doesn’t fit our box. They didn’t understand. They were afraid to ask Him. They had no idea what this meant. As clear as it is, maybe, for you and me to see what He’s saying, they had no box to interpret this.
“And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’”
Now, you should, reading this, knowing that they’ve blundered a lot of things, at least at this point what they’re going to do is they’re going to say, “Okay, Jesus, look. We’re going to be honest with You. We don’t understand this death thing and rising thing. So, on the way, we were sort of discussing among ourselves what this was all about because we need a little bit of clarity.”
So, He asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”
“But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.”
Wow. Because, see, in their mind, all they can see is that it’s about them. They’ve got Jesus, who doesn’t really fit their box, but they’re going to cram Jesus into their box because Jesus is going to do what they want Him to do, which is to overthrow Rome, set up the Jewish nation and all of this stuff. All they’re thinking about is, “Okay. When that happens, who’s going to be the one on the right hand and on the left? Who’s going to be the one that is the greatest? Who’s going to be the one that’s ruling with Jesus?”
He’s saying, “It’s not going to go down that way,” but they’re not even hearing that because they’ve got their own box; their own little, readymade box. And let me just say something: Jesus doesn’t fit in a box very well. They tried to do that in the first century, and on the third day, He got out of that box, too. You know? But the deal is He doesn’t fit in boxes. They’re trying to figure out Him and this box. It doesn’t work. They’re talking and arguing about who’s the greatest. In fact, they even go on, at a later point, and the mother comes up to Jesus and says, “Hey, when You come in Your glory, can my boys, James and John, be on your right hand and your left?”
Forget the other 10. We’d just like to cram ourselves into the inner circle here. Jesus is like, “You have no idea what you’re asking about. When I come into my glory, the person on my right hand and my left hand has been ordained by the Father.”
Jesus is talking about hanging on the cross and the two men that will be with Him. They totally don’t understand what they’re asking. They have no idea. So, all that being said, you can just see here we could go over and over and over again in all these passages, people just misunderstand Jesus left and right. So, we should, hopefully at this point, go, “You know what? If those people were that close to Jesus and He was saying those things to them and they completely missed it, there might be a good chance that maybe I’ve missed some things. Maybe I’ve thought some things that aren’t really true. Maybe this would be a good time to relook at this story of Advent and why Jesus came. Maybe I ought to just put down my walls, put down my boxes and all of these things. Let’s just let the story speak to us.”
That’s what we’re going to do over the next several weeks. We’re going to have some challenges. We’re going to have some advent challenges that are going to come at you and me. They’re going to challenge you and me because they’re going to challenge some of the narrative and some of the things that we think about our understanding of God and who He is. We’re going to see these challenges as we work through the story.
The first one that’s going to challenge us deeply is that Advent’s going to challenge us to realize that although the Gospel includes us, it isn’t primarily about us. This is important. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t have an extravagant love for you. It doesn’t mean any of those things. He does love you. But what it means is that He didn’t come just for you. There’s a greater understanding.
The best way I can put it is this: Cosmic redemption is greater than personal salvation. Let me explain what I mean by that. Jesus didn’t come to just select you or you. He came to redeem the world that He created. He came to bring back all of it. He wasn’t just coming to get a couple people. He was coming to redeem it all. Paul says that God was in Christ redeeming the world to Himself. In other words, there’s a cosmic plan. What happens is when this becomes the number one thing — and I’m not saying you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus because you do. What I’m saying is that when this becomes the focus of everything the Church does, what happens is we become circumstantial Christians because it’s all about me. It was all about the disciples. It was all they could think about. It was about them. They didn’t understand the larger plan. They didn’t understand the larger reason for why Jesus was coming. They all saw it through the lens of themselves.
What it does is it creates circumstantial Christianity. Here’s the way it works. People go, “Oh, I’ve got a great job. I’ve got money in the bank. I’m healthy. Man, I love God. Raised hand on Sunday. God and me are great.”
Okay. But when the job goes away, the health goes away and the money goes away, all of a sudden, it’s, “Where did God go?” because it’s about me. But, see, it’s not about you and me. We’re included in the plan, but the plan is much larger than you and me. So, where you may want rain for your crops, somebody else may need no rain for the mission that they’re doing. God knows what He’s doing. He’s looking at an overall picture, not just you and me.
So, sometimes we need to understand this. And here’s what happens: When we don’t understand this, when we don’t understand the reason — and Advent’s going to challenge us this way — what happens is we lose sight of the mission. The mission is that God has a cosmic plan going on that He wants you and me to be a part of. Here’s what happens: When we don’t understand His mission, we’re impotent to deliver people and we resort to argument.
This is what we do. When you look at the American Church right now, are we seeing people healed? Are we seeing the blind seeing? Are we seeing people raised from the dead? Not really. But what are we doing? We’re arguing a lot. Go on Facebook. A lot. A lot. So, look at what Mark tells us here.
“‘So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’”
They were impotent to deliver this man, even though they had the power to do it, because they were off-task. They were off-mission. They didn’t understand what Jesus had called them to do. There’s a story that’s told in history. We believe it’s a true story. We can’t corroborate it because we weren’t there. There’s not a Polaroid of it, but we think it’s a true story. The story goes like this:
Thomas Aquinas, who was a great Catholic theologian — fantastic Catholic theologian in many ways. Scholasticism was part of the Aquinas school of thought. He had a bucket list as a Catholic. His bucket list says he wanted to meet the Pope one day. Well, the story goes that the Pope had agreed to meet St. Thomas Aquinas. He was going to come and meet the Pope. So, as he goes into the Pope’s chambers, he walks in, he looks around, and sees velvet drapes from the ceiling to the floor, all the way around, and he sees all these beautiful golden chalices, mugs and plates with emeralds, rubies and all kinds of precious stones that line the wall up into where the Pope is sitting in this beautiful, ornate chair.
As he walks up to the Pope, Thomas Aquinas looks at the Pope and he says, “The Church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have we none.’ The Pope says, ‘It’s far worse, Thomas. We no longer can say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
This is what happens when we don’t understand the cosmic scope of why Jesus came. When it really becomes all about me and my own little relationship, and my own thing, I just sort of go off and do my own thing. I don’t understand the corporate need for the Church. I don’t understand why the Lord’s Prayer is “our” Father, not “my” Father. I don’t understand the need for the body. I’ve got my own little personal thing and I can go do my own thing.
But the point is that they were unable to cure this boy. Look what Mark tells us what they did: They argued and they argued and they argued. Because, see, when we get off-mission, then it becomes about me. It becomes about what I want and the way I think and the way I think it should be. It may not be the way that you want it to be because it really has nothing to do with the way I want it to be or the way that you want it to be. It has to do with the way that God wants it to be.
Look, I love you guys enough to tell you the truth. I want you to like me, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to stand before God one day. This is about His deal and His plan. It ain’t about Chip Bennett. It ain’t about Grace Community Church. I’m going to tell you about Jesus, whether you love me or hate me, because this is the truth that we need to hear.
The second thing that we’re going to be challenged with Advent is that it’s going to challenge us to realize that Jesus didn’t come to simply populate heaven, but to bring His Kingdom back to Earth. There is a war in the Gospels going on. There is a war in the epistles going on between the forces of good and the forces of evil. You all know, I’ve told you this, that I’ve got my iPad. I love my iPad. It’s got this cool little pencil that I can write on. My handwriting’s terrible. Isn’t it bad when you have handwriting that, sometimes, you can’t even read yourself? That’s me. Guilty.
Anyway, I wrote this out and I thought this was a good saying here. He didn’t come to get a few folks to simply recite a prayer and then wait for heaven. He came to mobilize followers to take back what He created.
See, sometimes, that’s what we think. We think, “Well, that’s all we need to do.” We might say a little prayer. They’re good. Wait for heaven. Sweet by and by. Don’t know what to do in the meantime, but you’re good. You’re good. You’re good. Go do your thing. Go get in a fight on the softball field. Go do your stuff. Just wait for the sweet by and by. You’re good. You said the prayer.
Jesus didn’t come for that reason. He came to mobilize followers to take back what He created. This is huge. We’re going to see this in the story. We’re going to see that Adam and Eve had a job to do. That job is still a part of what we’re to do. It didn’t change. There’s something unique about this story that’s far greater than just some Christmas trees, some gifts and some things that we do around Christmas time. There is a real depth of meaning to this story.
The third thing we’re going to be challenged with — and this is a real big challenge here. We’re going to challenge us to acknowledge that before the celebration of birth, there’s labor. We don’t like labor very much at all. Listen, I know some women are adamant. “I’m going to have my baby naturally.” That’s great. God bless you. I just know that I’ve seen a lot of babies born, because I have about 96 kids, and I can tell you that it doesn’t look to me, just based on my experience — I didn’t feel it. It doesn’t look like it’s a super enjoyable time. Okay? Now, I could be wrong. Some of you all may say that I didn’t experience it, so that’s all good. But there’s a word that my wife loved. It was one word. It was called an “epidural.” You may reject that in Jesus’ name. That’s fine. I’m just telling you she liked that.
But, with Parker, which is our little girl — blond hair, great girl who loves God. She’s the one at night that always wants to pray. She’s great. All my other kids are pagans, but she’s actually a Christian.
But Parker, when Mindy was pregnant, she said to me, “I’m going to have a baby.” So, I got in the car and, I mean, I’ve never had a ticket. I’m sure I’ll get one today because I said that, but I’ve never had a ticket at this point. I’m spending down to get to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. We get in there and they’re like, “She’s 10 centimeters.” I’m like, “Oh, gosh.” She’s like, “When am I going to get the epidural?” She’s looking at me. “You need to give me an epidural.”
The nurse is going — so, what did I do? I lied. He’s faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, right? That’s great. Last night, a lady came to me and she goes, “My little girl was like, ‘Pastor Chip lied to his wife.’”
You know, if you’re an adult, exactly what I’m saying. The nurse was like, “It’s a good thing you told her that,” because Mindy was like, “Where’s my epidural?”
“Don’t worry, honey. You’re going to get it. It’s coming right now. They’re actually coming down the hallway right now.”
Parker. So, Parker, forever, we know that. Before this beautiful birth of this baby, there’s labor. Advent is going to push at us a little bit because, let’s be honest, we want glory without suffering. Let’s be honest. We want redemption without blood, sweat and tears. And we want resurrection without the crucifixion. But there’s work to do. Not work to get you into heaven, but there’s work to do as Christians.
Jesus says in the parable here, when the owner gives people some stuff to do while he goes away, and he’s going to come back, he says, “I want you to engage in business until I come.” Other translations say, “Occupy until I come.” In other words, there’s stuff to do. Advent’s going to really put you and me on the dime as to what we’re supposed to be doing in the interim between His birth and His next Advent. That’s why the word “birth pangs” and “birth” and “travail” are used a lot of times in Scripture.
Jesus even says this: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
He says, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The story of Advent is going to remind us that before birth, there’s labor. This is not labor that gets you and me into the Kingdom of God because there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. But, make no mistake about it, if you don’t think there are things that we Christians should be doing in the interim, you’re not reading the Bible the way it was written. If you think you’re supposed to sit back and do nothing, you’re just not reading Scripture. You’ve bought into some crazy system. Okay?
And the last thing that I want to say, and this is going to be a challenge for all of us, is this: It’s going to challenge us to struggle with the fact that, basically, everybody missed who Jesus was. They just missed Him. Therefore, we need to find out what we may have missed. The Gospel of Mark, if you’ll read your Gospel — you may have done this before — ends in Mark 16:8. That’s where it ends. Most Bibles have a little bracket for Mark 16:9-20 that says, “These are not found in the original manuscripts,” or whatever.
But Mark 16:8 says, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
So, they go to the tomb. It’s empty. Everybody’s running around, afraid, because what Mark’s wanting you to do is, when you read this, think, “Do you know who Jesus is or are you running around not knowing?”
He ends that way for that reason. This is the question: If everybody is basically missing who Jesus is in the New Testament, there may be some things that we have missed. What I would like to tell you is there is a beauty in the miss. There’s such a beauty. Every time I see in Scripture where somebody missed something, and I realize what they missed, there is such a beauty in the miss. And I want you, over the next few weeks, to realize — don’t beat yourself up or give yourself a hard time for maybe missing some things, because what you’re going to see is the beauty in the miss.
When you miss something, you’re going to see that what you missed, “Oh, that is absolutely incredible.”
I’ll give you an example. Mary and Joseph. They have visitation of an angel that says, “You’re going to have the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us.” I mean, it’s like, “Man, that couldn’t have been more clear.” They really don’t have a good idea, though, of what they’ve got. On the eighth day, they go to Jerusalem, to the temple, to dedicate Jesus. What they’re supposed to have, in accordance to the law, is they’re supposed to offer for their son a lamb that’s without spot and blemish. That’s what they’re supposed to offer, but they’re poor. The Law makes a provision for people who are poor. The provision is instead of offering the sacrifice that’s required, they’re able to give either two turtle doves or two pigeons instead.
So, they come to Jerusalem with their poverty offering, missing the fact that they’re carrying the very Lamb Himself that will forgive the sins of everybody in the world. But there’s a beauty in the miss because when we see what they missed, it’s beautiful. When we see what we’ve missed, it’s going to be beautiful because there’s such a powerful story for the reason why Jesus came. It may be challenging. It may be disturbing. It may really challenge you in some areas of your life. But I guarantee you the meaning that comes out of this study will forever change us as a church and it will forever change us as people if we’re willing to really enter into the story and let the story speak for itself.
So, if you would, would you bow your heads with me and let’s say a prayer? Bow your heads if you’re watching via the computer or mobile app. Just take a moment.
If you find yourself, today — maybe you just showed up today, maybe you’re new, maybe you’ve been coming for a while, but you’re just not quite sure where you’re at with Jesus, you’re not quite sure with that whole thing, let me assure you you can settle that right now. All He wants is you. Say, “God, I want to follow You.”
If that’s where you’re at right now, if that is your heart, what I want you to do is I want you to start that prayer. “God, I want to follow You. I know I’ve done life my way and it didn’t work. I need to do life Your way. I’m ready to commit to that.”
What I want you to do is, as you’re saying that prayer, when we dismiss, I want you to find somebody with a lanyard, a Grace shirt on or a pastor on the staff and say, “Hey, I want to move forward in my relationship with Jesus.” Let us help you understand that, walk through that and get you involved in the things that you need to get involved in.
I suspect, though, that many of us have settled eternity, or at least we feel like we’ve settled eternity. So, now it’s a question of what’s next. What I want you to do is I want you to pray with me that, over the next few weeks that you will be here, but I also want you to pray over the next few weeks that you’ll open your heart and your mind to just letting Scripture speak to you, anew and afresh, and let you see this wonderful story of why Jesus came to the earth as a little baby boy, and what that was all about.
So, I’d like to pray for us.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the truth of Your Word. I thank You for what You’re doing in our church. I thank You for how You’re using Grace Community Church to make a difference in the community. Lord, my prayer is, over the next few weeks as we go back and really look at this study and look at this story from the Old Testament into the New Testament, I pray, God, that You would revolutionize our faith. I pray, Lord, that we would have such an appreciation for how magnificent this story of Advent really is. I pray, Lord, that it would change us.
Even if we’ve been walking with You for 20 or 30 years, I pray that You would really, in this season, have an advent in our own personal lives. And that You would come, anew and afresh, in our lives. Shake us up, Lord, but in a way that is so incredibly meaningful and beautiful.
So, Lord, I pray that as we leave here today, that You would continue to watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. Lord, I pray that You would help us to remain focused on what You’ve called us to do here at Grace, which is to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, we love You, we thank You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.