Advent Week 2: Headed in the Wrong Direction
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 mobile app and the internet. We’ve got a lot of work to go through this weekend, so I’m going to get right at it. When I was in seventh grade, I had a teacher whose name was Mr. Alexander. Mr. Alexander was my English and literature teacher. He assigned an assignment to each one of us. He gave us a piece of literature. I think I had a poem or a piece of poetry, but everybody in the class some piece of literature that they had to go study, read and figure out what was going on. Then they would read it to the class and talk about what the poem, poetry or piece of literature was about.
Well, yours truly didn’t do any homework at all. I just stood up in class, and I’m surprised I even remembered what he asked me to read. I got up there and read it, then I waxed eloquent about how the poem worked, what was going on and all of that stuff, then went and sat down. Well, Mr. Alexander was a really nice guy, but he definitely let me and the class know that I had no idea what I was talking about and that the poem was nothing like what I said and I had made up everything because I didn’t understand why it was written and all the great things.
I’d like to tell you that I learned a lot in that moment. I didn’t. It took me a lot longer to learn some things. But as I got into college, seminary and all of that other stuff — cemetery, as some call it — and doctoral work, I was continually reminded of what I should’ve learned in the seventh grade: The particulars of a story are best understood in light of the whole. What I mean by that is if I were to take a piece of poetry or a small, short story, and I were to just break it up into a couple of sentences, gave you a couple of sentences and somebody else a couple of sentences, and I said, “Tell me what that means,” I guarantee you we would not get the whole of what’s going on. We would just be sort of focusing on the particulars, and our interpretation would probably be wrong.
So, what we decided to do this particular series was to look at the particular story of Advent, of Jesus coming, not as the particular story, but to look at that in light of the whole of the story of Scripture. Because what it does is a lot of times, when we only focus on the particulars of Scripture — and we’ve grown accustomed to this. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have this. If you’ve got one, don’t go home and say, “Chip said I ought to throw this away,” or whatever. I’m not saying that at all. But I am saying that we’ve created a culture in the church when we have these books, like “God’s Promises for Every Need,” where you just sort of have a subject, then you pull Scriptures out. Most of the Scriptures probably aren’t in context. They’re probably not in the way the passage is being read. They’re just pulled out.
So, what we’ve learned is we’ve learned to be a particular Christian. We’ve learned, “Hey, if I’ve got this issue, I just pull this Scripture. If I’ve got this issue, I pull this Scripture. If I do this, I pull this.”
Scripture was not originally written with chapters and verses. It was written to be read as the whole entire book so that you would understand everything about the book rather than just sort of selectively picking stuff. So, what I’m trying to do over this particular series is to look at the whole biblical story. When we look at the whole biblical story, what we find is that the story of Jesus takes on far more meaning. It’s far more dramatic than maybe we could’ve every imagined. But it’s also incredibly challenging.
So, today, we’re really going to get challenged. The Word of God is a challenge. I’ve said this at every service, and I’ll say it here, too. If Jesus isn’t a little bit of sandpaper every once in a while, you’re probably not reading the authentic Jesus. He just, sometimes, can rub at us because His ways are different than ours.
So, what we’re going to do is this: To understand the grand story of Scripture, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning, the book of Genesis. If you’re not sure where that’s at, if you go to the table of contents in your Bible, you can turn right and it will be right there. So, Genesis is the story of beginnings. What scholars have long understood is that Genesis 1-11 is a succinct literary unit. It stands on its own. It sets up the entire rest of the first five books of the Bible. And then the other books of the Old Testament are all somewhat commentaries on the things that we learn in Genesis 1-11, and then the story of Abraham and the story of Israel being delivered from Egyptian bondage.
All of those things are themes that go on. The prophets talk about it. Everything is there. Then, once you understand that story, the story of Jesus takes on incredible meaning in light of that. Have you ever asked the question — maybe you haven’t, but I did — why did Jesus have to come be born as a baby? Why did He even have to come as a human? Why couldn’t God have just made it right? Why couldn’t God have just done whatever God wanted to do to make it right? Why all this stuff? Why all these issues?
Those should be questions you should be asking. If you don’t know the answers to those, it might be because you’re looking at the particulars rather than the whole story. Because when the whole story is understood, a lot of those things start to populate very, very quickly and start to make sense. So, let’s go back to the original creation. We know that God created the world. When God created the world, He created people. When He created people, the writer of Genesis has some very unique things to say about people. Let’s look at what he says.
He says, “God created man in his own image,”
Humanity is a reflection, an image bearer, of God. If you look into the mirror, you see an image of yourself. It’s pretty close to you. It’s not you, but it’s an image, which means that mankind, humanity, created in the image and likeness of God is pretty serious. We image God. We are God-like in who we are.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”
And this is really important here, listen:
“Male and female he created them.”
In other words, Adam, man, was male and female. There was a coequality to humanity, both male and female. We’re going to find that it took both male and female to do what God wanted to do. Unfortunately, many of these things have been broken and we’ve struggled throughout the history of the world trying to figure out how to make that work. Some people think this is what somebody should do, and we all have all these things that we define. But the fact of the matter is, in the original creation, male and female he created them.
“And God blessed them.”
When God blesses someone, or when someone blesses someone in the Old Testament, it is for a purpose. A blessing is to go be a blessing to someone else. You are blessed to be a blessing. You are blessed to accomplish a purpose. You’re not blessed to sit there and do nothing. You are blessed to accomplish something. So, He blessed them. When He blessed them, He gave them their task that, as coequals together, they would accomplish. They’re going to be fruitful. They’re going to multiply. They’re going to fill the earth.
So, humanity, in both man and woman, are going to fill the earth with the image of God, as image-bearers who are created in the likeness of God. They are to fill the entire earth with God’s glory; with His likeness. They’re to subdue it, which really creates some interesting and delicious stuff when you find that man is placed in the garden, then, outside of the garden, it’s ugly. What was there to subdue? Was the garden supposed to continue to grow and take over all kinds of stuff? A lot of cool stuff in Genesis that I don’t have time to get into, but these are the words that are used.
Fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. So, just to do a quick recap of the quick, original creation, there was this beautiful, intimate relationship with God when God created heaven and earth together. It was beautiful. He walked with them. He talked with them. They were a part. They knew Him. All of this stuff. It was intimate. Underneath that beautiful intimacy in relationship with God, there was a corporate male and female relationship. There wasn’t a “me,” there was a “we.” There was a “them.” Together, they were to accomplish something, which was to fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion.
These all become very important concepts throughout Genesis, through Exodus, throughout Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, as you get into the Old Testament, and even as you get into the New Testament. That’s why Jesus, in Matthew 28, tells the disciples that they need to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. God has never given up on this concept of using humanity to fill the earth with His glory. These are concepts that run all through the Bible; themes that run all through the Bible.
So, here’s this beautiful creation where humanity, male and female together, are going to accomplish the things that God has for them to fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion and all these great things. Well, we know what happens. In Genesis 3, they move from being a couple that is blessed to a couple that is cursed. Then we pick up in, Genesis 4, a really important literary device that will go all the way through to Genesis 11. It’s important to understand.
It says, “He [God] drove out the man [both man and woman], and at the east of the garden of Eden...” — this is a very important word here — “...he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
So, what we have here is we have a creation with a purpose, a blessing, to do an accomplished task that is broken. When it’s broken, Adam and Eve are moved out of the garden, they’re no longer able to get back into the garden, they’re no longer able to get back to where they were. There is a cherubim that keeps them from coming into the garden on the east side of the garden. From this point forward, from this point all the way through Genesis 11, what we’re going to find — and it’s going to be over and over and over again — is that everything is going in the wrong direction. Everything. Everything is going east of Eden. It continues to move further and further and further away from God’s original intention.
Well, now we pick up the story and some other really key concepts that will be developed in Genesis 1-11. It’s the story of Cain and Abel. I don’t have time to develop all of this. I’m sorry that I don’t. Maybe one day we’ll go back and develop all of this. But Eve is told that through her seed — if you remember that — God will bring forth a child that will overrule the cursing of the ground and all the problems that they’ve had. He actually says to them, “Through your seed.”
Have you ever thought for a minute that women don’t have seed? Well, unless God’s already hinting at a virgin birth that’s implanted within her. Think about that. The Bible is cool. When you read that, you should be thinking, “Women don’t have seed. How could she have a seed? Well, a seed’s got to get planted in her. Right? Maybe a virgin birth?”
That’s pretty cool, man. Anyway, she’s going to have this child. Well, in the Hebrew, when it says that she has a child, it doesn’t say that she got a child from the Lord, as many of your translations say, because they don’t know what to do with the Hebrew. The Hebrew literally says, “I’ve received a man, the Lord.” She thought that in having Cain, he was going to be the one that was going to redeem the curse. So, what did they do? They made him a tiller of the ground so that he could learn to till the ground because he was going to overcome the curse of the ground being cursed and all of this stuff. Well, they have another child named “Abel.” In the Hebrew, his name is the same word that’s used over and over and over and over and over again in the book of Ecclesiastes. It means “meaningless.” That’s what “Abel” means. He’s meaningless because Cain’s the one that’s going to redeem everything. Then we’re told in the story really important things. When you’re reading Scripture, pay attention. If there’s anything you learn from sitting under my teaching, please read Scripture slowly and pay attention. Okay?
It says, “Abel was a keeper of the sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.”
That is really important because these things right here are going to be developed all through Genesis 11. They’re going to be developed all through the Old Testament. They’re going to be developed all the way into the New Testament. These are huge little things that are being said. Oftentimes, because we don’t know how to read stories very well, we don’t hone in on the things that are really being said that are important for us to understand.
So, let me break this down for you. A worker of the ground is someone who’s settled. They have to settle somewhere because they have to have land where crops grow. They have to have a strong sense of boundaries because they don’t want anybody on their land. It’s their land. Stay away from my land. Stay away from my stuff. This is my stuff. I don’t want you messing with my stuff. I will protect my stuff because it’s my stuff.
This word “settler” that you’ll see over and over and over again in Genesis 1-11 eventually become people who build cities. It will eventually become an empire in Egypt. All of these things are hugely important to understanding your Old Testament. Now, they worker of the ground is different from the keeper of the sheep. The keeper of the sheep is nomadic. They wander. You have a bunch of sheep and they go wherever the sheep want to eat. So, they go where animals can find food and water. They have no sense of boundaries. Well, this is going to set up a problem that definitely was a problem in this time. As the things move from all being these nomadic wanderers to actually starting to figure out, “Hey, if we live near water, we can plant crops and have a more sustainable life,” all of a sudden these two things are going to come into conflict because we’re outside of the garden.
The Scripture says a very funny thing. I don’t know if you have the ESV. That’s the translation that I use. I’m not telling you that that’s the translation you need to use, but the ESV definitely does get this particular passage right in the way that it translates it. It’s difficult for people to understand what is going on.
It says here, in Genesis 4:8, “Can spoke to Abel his brother.”
It doesn’t say anything else. It’s like, “God? Hello? What does he say? You’re just going to leave us hanging there?”
Well, my footnote says, “Samaritan, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate add ‘Let us go out to the field.’” Well, there’s an addition there. You may have that in your Bible. It’s not in the Hebrew. It’s not in the original text. It’s just, “Cain spoke to Abel.” We don’t know what he said. Like, “Okay? What did he say?”
I don’t know. But what we do know is the way it’s said, it’s sort of a negative thing. There’s something he spoke to his brother negatively. The earliest Jewish commentaries that we have on that is Cain said, “Hey, listen, stay off my land. Mom and dad thought I was going to be the one to deliver everything. They trained me from the very beginning to offer the land up to God and God was going to redeem the curse. When we came and offered our stuff up, for whatever reason, God liked yours better than mine. I’m irritated. I know you wander around, travels and do all this stuff. Stay off of my land.”
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field,” — because Abel has got his sheep, and sheep just sort of wander and he ends up out in the field — “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”
What do we have now? Well, we have a relationship with God that’s gone in Genesis 3, and now we have a relationship with others that’s gone in Genesis 4. We’re killing people for our own protection, for our own security, for our own stuff because everything is going in the wrong direction.
Then it snowballs. What does it say in Scripture? Cain went away from the presence of the Lord. What did he do? He settled in the land of Nod. Those words should be jumping off the page as you read them now because you know what a keeper of the ground is going to do. He’s going to settle. So, he goes away from the presence of the Lord, he settles in the land of Nod, east of Eden. He’s going further and further away from God, east of Eden.
And what does he do? Further away from God, he built a city. He built a city because everything was going in the wrong direction. He builds a city that’s away from where God originally intended people to be, puts down roots, and if you read your Scripture, you’ll find in that city there are harps, lyres, metalworks and all kinds of stuff. Every single one of those words will be used again when Moses builds the tabernacle that God fills with His presence. He has all the tools, he just doesn’t have God in his city.
That city motif is going to continue to go in Genesis until we finally get to Genesis 11. I don’t have time to develop that mankind goes even worse after this, that they start killing people even more, that God has to destroy the earth through the flood, that He chooses Noah to, once again, pick up the deal. “I want you to fill the earth. I want you to do the original plan.” Noah can’t even get off the ark for 12 hours and he’s already drunk. So, it’s just ugly. Everything is going in the wrong direction. So, we get to Genesis 11 and you should now be able to put all this together.
It says, “And as people migrated from the east,”
You should be like, “Bingo. I know what’s going on now. I can read this.
“They found a plain in the land of Shinar and...” — what did they do? — “...settled there.”
You should know where this is going.
“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city...’”
The Bible is cool, folks. It really is cool. You’ve got to take some time, spend a little time in it, and underline words that you see happening over and over again. It’s telling us a beautiful story here that we need to hear. But you know the story. You know. “Fill the earth. Go into all the world. Tell everybody about My glory. Subdue everything.”
You know it. You heard this story, but everybody’s building cities. They’re going to build a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens. They don’t need God to put heaven and earth back together again. They’ll build a tower right up into the heavens.
“‘And let us make a name for ourselves,’”
“Forget filling the earth with God’s name and God’s glory. We’re going to make a name for ourselves.”
And, not only that, “‘Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’”
Like, “We’re not going. We’re going to stay right here in Shinar with our city that we can build big walls around. We can stay right here and protect ourselves and live here in our culture, our comfort and keep everybody out because everything is going in the wrong direction.”
These themes that are set in Genesis 1-11 only make sense if you understand them in the rest of the Bible. Why, in Genesis 12, right away when God calls Abram, does He say, “You need to leave your country, your city and your people?” Why does He say that? Because you understand Genesis 1-11. Why, when you read in Hebrews that all the people in Genesis 11 that were looking for something, were they looking for the heavenly city whose builder and maker was God. Why at the end of your Bible does a city come down from heaven called the new Jerusalem? Because there’s a story. There’s a story going on.
The story going on makes absolute sense of why Jesus came as a baby, He came as a human and He did what He did. But you have to understand the story. So, the first part of understanding the story is understanding Genesis 1-11 and wrestling with the concepts. What cities am I building? What areas am I settling in? What areas am I not doing what God’s called me to do? In what way am I excluding people? In what way am I shoving people out? In what way am I not looking like the way God wanted me to look from the very beginning?
So, what I’ve got is some questions, what we call take-aways, for today to think about what we’ve just read and looked at biblically. Then, next week, we’re going to pick up the story again. Then, the following week, we’re going to put it all together and you’re going to go, “Whoa. That is really cool.” Some of you all are like, “Can you just tell me now so I can get there?”
No. No. Because the story doesn’t make any sense if I tell you the end. That’s just the way we are as Americans. We don’t want to hear the story. Just give me the bottom line. The bottom line doesn’t work. You’ve got to understand the story. It’s not something that you can memorize and tell. It’s something that you live. You can’t live it if you don’t know it very well.
So, the first question I would ask is where have we settled and ultimately compromised in light of the story in Genesis 1-11? I know many of you all may be thinking, “Well, I’ve compromised in this area of my life. I should’ve loved my brother more.”
Look, if God is convicting you in some area of your life where you’ve compromised or settled in, that’s great. Get that right with God. I’m not really asking about that today, though. What I’m asking about is, in light of the story, what we just read, building cities, all this protection stuff, these towers and things that are moving further and further away from what God wants — and sometimes you even read in the Old Testament that they’re doing the very things that they shouldn’t be doing and they think God is a part of it. They’re convinced, “I’m going God’s deal.” The prophets come along and tell them, “You’re so far away from God, He’s going to come destroy this place.”
If you don’t understand the story, you won’t understand the prophets. You won’t understand any of the Old Testament. You surely won’t understand fully why Jesus has come. So, let me ask you some questions. They’re not limited to these, but these are good diagnostic questions to be asking.
First of all, are we trying to secure our own protection instead of trusting in God’s provision? That’s a good question to ask. That’s a great question to ask because in Genesis 1-11 the keepers of the ground are looking to make sure that they’re protected, that their culture, their comfort and their convenience is all good. “I surely don’t want to get involved in the God thing. That might put me out there. I might be out there wandering. I might not have anybody that’s got my back. How am I going to do that? I don’t want to live that way. I want to live making sure that I’m good rather than trust God for His provision.”
So, what’s the very first thing that God does when He takes the children of Israel out of Egypt? You’d think maybe He’d rally them around and say, “Guys, alright. Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to be this great nation. You’re going to go into the world, man. You’re going to be a kingdom of priests. Here’s some ways to do. Here’s 10 ways that you can be the new community that I’ve called you to be.”
No, no, no. He didn’t start off that way at all. The first thing He does is He takes them to the wilderness. Why does He take them to the wilderness? Because they’re going to die. There’s no provision in the wilderness at all. Well, there is if there’s a God because He gives them manna every day. See, He knows they’ll never accomplish the purpose if they don’t believe that He’ll provide. Because you’ll always be worried about your own self, not doing what God’s called you to do until you know that God will take care of you.
See, that’s why we’re told here that they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and its tower into the heavens.” Where’s this city at? It’s in a plain. It’s a plain in Shinar. That’d be the worst place to build a city, in a plain, because you could be attacked. So, what do they have to do? They have to have big, big, big towers and big, big, big walls, and big, big, big stuff to keep everybody out because it’s all about their protection.
See, preservation becomes the priority in the human city. Just things to think about. I’m just asking you to think. If this is sandpaper to you, maybe it should be sandpaper to you. Maybe the American Church needs a wake-up call.
How about this one? Valuing our culture and comfort over keeping God’s commission. “I don’t want to be disrupted. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want anybody to get in my junk. Stay away from my junk. I mean, I’ll tell you God loves you. Be warm, be filled. The last thing I want you to do is get over here in my stuff. This is my stuff. It’s not your stuff. It’s my stuff. Stay away from my stuff. I like my culture. I like my comfort. What I don’t want to do is have to get out there and do something about it.”
See, what happens is as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they settled there. This isn’t a good place to build, but they build this huge fortress thing because what they don’t want to be is dispersed over the face of the whole earth. They don’t want to do what God’s called them to do, which is to fill the earth with His glory. Everything’s going in the wrong direction. They want to live in their own little comfort. They want to live in their own little world. They don’t want anybody to mess it up. They’ll do whatever it takes, they’ll even kill brothers, to make sure they’re okay.
See, in the American church, we like to tend the aquarium rather than fish for men. “Oh, come on, pastor. Preach me something good. Tell me something that I want to hear. Tell me something that tickles my ears. Make me feel really good about myself.”
Listen, I love every one of you all. I want God’s best for you. But I want to tell you something: The Word of God is the Word of God. It really does challenge each and every one of us at our core. If we want to look like Jesus, then we need to know what Jesus actually came for and what it means to actually look like Jesus. Because, see, in the cities, keeping the status quo becomes more important than spreading God’s glory.
How about this one? How about erecting boundaries instead of building bridges? “Keep people out. I like my comfort. I like my culture. I like all of this stuff.” They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens.” We want to keep people out. We don’t want anybody invading my world.
Which begs the question, “Whose city am I building?” Am I building the human city, which is all about keeping culture, keeping comfort, being protected and excluding? “I don’t want them in. I don’t want that. I don’t want that. I don’t want this.”
When Jesus came, was He an excluder or was did He include? Was He someone that walked around trying to figure out how He would protect Himself or was He someone that said, “I believe God will provide for me? Even though I’ve been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, I believe God will take care of me?”
See, the human city does this, but the heavenly city isn’t about culture. It’s about Christ. And it’s not about you and I’s comfort. It’s about the commission that God has called you and me to do. It’s about the provision that God could give and the inclusion. When you read the book of Revelation, it’s every tongue, tribe, kindred and nation that is part of the heavenly city.
And then the bigger question would be this: What would a church look like if we were building the heavenly city? Well, we’d be involved in everything. And I’ve taken it on the chin many times throughout the years. “All we do is go out. All we do is pour into the community. It’s all we do.”
Well, let me ask the question: What city are we supposed to be building? Is it possible that we could totally be missing who Jesus wants us to be, thinking that we’re good because we never challenge ourselves to really get challenged? I think I’m preaching better than you all are letting on. I think that, but I could be wrong.
Some of y’all are like, “Man, Chip’s challenging me today. He’s reading my mail.”
Chip ain’t doing nothing. The Word of God is reading your mail, not me. I don’t want to read your mail. I don’t even want to get around it. That’s a federal offense, opening up somebody’s mail. I don’t want to do that. Okay? So, heavenly city here. This is important. Because, see, my inconvenience in the human city becomes the enemy of their inclusion. I don’t want to be inconvenienced. We’ve got our own little things in the church. You see it all the time. It’s like if somebody comes down to the altar and gets really saved and has the 180 degree turn, everything is great. But if they come down to the altar and they still struggle for six months after, we’re like, “We don’t know what to do with you. You’re an inconvenience. Can you just get it together?”
As if any of us have it together. We don’t want to be inconvenienced. We like our culture. We like our comfort.
Amos 6:1 says, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,”
This is Scripture. See, that’s the way it is. Here’s another question: In what ways are we still headed east of Eden? In what ways could we possibly still be? That’s why I preached last week, “Is it possible to misunderstand Jesus?” Is it possible? We all agreed that yeah, it is. Is it possible we’re missing a large portion of the story by not knowing the story? Is it possible we’re losing awesome opportunities to really reflect Jesus because we don’t really know what it looks like to reflect Jesus completely? So, in what ways are we still headed east of Eden.
Did Jesus really come to affirm our protection, culture, walls or our cities in Genesis 1-11 or did He come to disrupt them? If He came to disrupt them, if He came to disrupt in Genesis 1-11 — which I would submit to you that He did — what would it look like? What would that story look like if, in fact, when Jesus comes, He’s going to start making things go right again? Well, how about this? How about we put women in the genealogy of Matthew 1, right before the Magi come and visit Jesus? Since women have been pushed down and suppressed for all the years, even though they were created “them,” let’s put some women in the genealogy. Nobody puts women in the genealogy unless you’re trying to elevate women again to equality.
Think about that. If you’re going to tell the story, if you’re going to show, as a human, what it’s like, and God’s committed to using humanity to accomplish His tasks, He just can’t get a human to do it because humans have a problem. That problem is sin. God’s so committed to using humans to do His tasks that He sends His own Son as a human to do the task. That’s some real incarnational theology. Like, “Why did Jesus come as a human?”
Maybe you’d tell the story there about the women. Maybe you’d have a contrast. Maybe you’d have the man priest in Jerusalem at the of prayer — he’s praying — and an angel comes and says, “You’re going to have a kid,” and he doesn’t believe. But the poor peasant Galilean girl, a teenage girl, Mary, when the angel comes and visits her and says, “You’re going to have a kid,” she believes. You’re disrupting all of the status quo.
“No, no. That’s the priest. That’s the man. It’s the hour of prayer.”
No, no, no. Where God’s really moving is down here in the woman that’s a teenage girl that’s poor. And in Galilee, not Jerusalem. That’s why Paul can write in Galatians 3:28, “There’s neither male nor female. All are one in Christ.”
Because Jesus has come to set it back right. What else might you do? Well, how about have some shepherds come to your birth because they’d be excluded from royal birth. In fact, they’d be excluded from church. In fact, they’d be excluded from everybody because they stink, they’re ritually unclean, they’ve got junk under their fingernails and they haven’t brushed their teeth for weeks. Who does Jesus say, “Come to my birth? Come see me?”
The shepherds. He’s saying, “No, no. You might look down upon those people.”
“They’re going to mess up our place. They stink. They’re no good.”
Jesus says, “I want them at my birth,” because we’re not doing the excluding thing. We’re doing the including thing. Maybe you’d have some Magi come, some occultists, from the east. Think about that. God says in the Word of God to the children of Israel, “Don’t consult and look at the stars.”
These people, all they do is consult and look at the stars. So, what does God do? He puts a star in the sky for them. What does that say about the love that God has for you and me? They see the star and they say, “There’s going to be a king that’s going to be born.”
Well, where’s the King of the Jews going to be born? In Jerusalem. They go to Jerusalem. The signs that God gives you and me can get you to Jerusalem, but it will not get you to Jesus. They only find Jesus when the priests open up the Word of God. When they read the Word of God, they realize that the Messiah is in Bethlehem and they go there. The star can get you to Jerusalem, but it’ll take the Word of God to get you to Jesus.
The Magi walked six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and the priests and the scribes don’t even go. Their whole life, they’ve been reading Scripture. Their whole life, they’ve been believing that a Messiah’s going to be there. When He finally shows up, they don’t even have it in them to walk six miles because they really don’t believe as much as they say they do. How would you tell the story if you were taking all the things that were going in the wrong direction? You’d tell the story something like that.
Because, see, Jesus came to get things going in the right direction again. He gave us an example. He gives us paths to follow. They’re challenging, difficult, they require faith and they require trust. They will challenge, convict and irritate at times. But we’re starting the story and Jesus can be understood, the particular, in light of the whole story.
So, here’s what I would like to end with. The beautiful thing about Christmas is because Jesus comes to get everything right, this may be the time right now — you may just be here right now because God wants to put things in your life right right now. It may be a relationship with a dad. It might be your finances. It might be your health. It might be a marriage. It might be an ex. Who knows what it is? But we surely don’t want to be Cain killing our brothers or our sisters. We want to be like Jesus. Jesus wants to make things right. He wants to make you right. He wants to get you on His team to be a team that makes other things right. It’s His people that are building His city.
Because everybody’s at a different place on the line, some of you all may be here today going, “Man, I’ve been living my whole life for myself. I’ve really never thought about living it for God. But, man, I’m really thinking that maybe I should live for God.”
Last night, I had a young boy that came up to me. He gave me his name and number. He said, “I prayed that prayer, man. I need some help, man.”
I’m like, “That’s great. Give me your name and number. We will come to you. We will have coffee with you. We will do whatever because we want you to be connected to the Lord because you decided you wanted to give your life and make that change.”
It’s awesome, too. He comes from a van that we send to Ringling to pick up kids that’s changing people’s lives. Because what would it look like to build the heavenly city in Sarasota? It would look like going, not living in comfort and staying.
Some of you may be there. You may say, “I’m in, man. What do I do?” Tell God, “I’ve been going in the wrong direction and I want to go in the right direction,” at your seat. Just stay that. Say, “God, I don’t know how this works. I just know I’m going in the wrong direction and I need to go in the right direction.”
If that’s your prayer, then you need to find somebody and give us a napkin or whatever you need to give us so that we can connect with you and get you moving in the right direction. Because it’s not just about saying a prayer. It’s about joining a story.
Then, for the rest of us, maybe you were challenged today. Maybe I got up in your face a little bit. Maybe you’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t like you anymore.” But the reality is that this is a time for you to start asking those questions, those themes that are going on. “Where have I settled? Where have I compromised? Where are some things I need to get right in my own life?”
So, let’s pray. Let’s pray for both.
Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for those right now that may feel far from You, that may feel like maybe they walked with you at one time, but they abandoned that a long time ago. Or maybe they’ve never walked with you at all, but they, right now in Jesus’ name, are just feeling like, “Man, I need God in my life. I need to get going in the right direction again.”
God, I pray right now, for Your glory, if someone in this room, or many people in this room are thinking that, I pray that they would not leave here without getting with someone and saying, “I need to go forward with this thing.”
Then, Lord, I pray for our church. For those of us who say we’re followers of You, I pray, Lord, that this advent season would be far more than just Christmas. I pray that it would be an advent in our lives, that we would totally see things differently than maybe we’ve ever seen them before, and realize the call that You have called us to be is Your people and Your Church, and what our mission is, what our commission is, and what we’re supposed to be doing for Your glory, Lord. And I pray that that would be a moment for us, not only as individuals, but as a church — for Your glory and for Your honor.
So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, I pray that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us. I pray that You would continue to watch over us. I pray that You would continue to protect us. And I pray, Lord, that You would continue to help us be the church that You’ve called us to be, and stay focused about that, to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You for all that You’re doing in our lives and the lives of our church. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.