Advent Week 3: The Cry is Always Heard
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’re in a series called “Advent.” As we came up on the Christmas season this year, we sort of remembered that over the last several years we really sort of dove into the particulars of the Christmas story. We had a couple of series, one called “Slow Down,” one called “Vantage Points,” and some other things in between where we really looked at Luke 2 and Matthew 2. I think we realized that a lot of some of the traditions that we think about Christmas, when we actually went to Scripture, we realized that it didn’t necessarily always jive with what we sort of celebrate at this time.
I think it was good for us to see that. I think it was good for us to explore that and to see some of the wonderful things that are going on in those particular passages. But this year, I just thought it would be really appropriate because understanding advent really does — to understand the full meaning of it, and to get all of the things that are going on, really, you need to understand all of the stuff that’s gone on before Jesus’ birth. Oftentimes, we sort of don’t know the Old Testament very well and we don’t know that story very well. We just go, “Hey, joy to the world. The Lord’s come. Amen. Glad He came.”
But I think understanding that larger story will be huge. So, this has sort of been the big idea, at least the impetus for this series, is the particulars of a story are best understood in light of the whole. That is true in everything that you will read and study in your life. If you just take little sentences out of a story, you’re probably not going to get the full story.
So, what we decided to do is we were going to look at advent not just through the lens of Jesus’ birth, but through the whole backstory of the Old Testament, the whole story of the Bible, and I think that when we finally get everything together and we realize what’s gone on at advent, I think it’s going to be a really major moment for our church. At least that is my prayer. Not only will it be for our church, but I think it will affect our community, as well, as we realize that mission.
So, the first thing that we did in the first week of this series is I preached a message about is it possible to somehow miss who Jesus is, even if you’ve lived closely to Him or been a part with Him for a long time? We looked at the disciples and we concluded that, yeah, they missed a big portion of who Jesus was. So, that was the way we started it off, just to get us to thinking, “Hey, we could be thinking some things about Jesus. Maybe we hold some truths in our heart about what we think Christianity is. Maybe some of that could be tweaked. Maybe some of that needs to be challenged.”
So, we started off that way. Then, last week, we did the fundamental, bedrock, cornerstone of the Old Testament, which is the structure of Genesis 1-11. Last week, we talked about the fact that God had created humanity and He had blessed them to fill the earth with His glory, to subdue the earth, the be fruitful and multiply, have dominion. He’d blessed them to do that, but unfortunately, even though they’d been blessed to do that, they decided humanity decided, Adam and Eve decided that they were going to define good and evil for themselves. In other words, they weren’t going to let God define good and evil for them. They didn’t want to hear what His truth was. They wanted to hear their own truth. You hear that today. You know? “Just live your truth,” as if, somehow, we have access to that truth.
So, they decided to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for themselves, which basically said, “We’re going to do it our way rather than Your way.”
They moved from a position of blessing to a position of cursing. By Genesis 4, we’re on the east part of the Garden of Eden. They’re outside of the garden. They can’t get back in. And then, the themes of Genesis 1-11 pick up and they’re the themes of everybody’s moving east of Eden. So, they’re not going in the right direction. We have challenges of humans. How are humans going to interact? We have Cain that rises up and kills Abel, and then we see even more killing and all this stuff. Eventually, we get to a place where Cain plants a city. In the city, what he’s going to do is he’s going to provide for himself, protect himself, have his own culture. But God’s not in that city.
And we move all the way to Genesis 11. We get there and we have this ultimate city that is walled up, building into the heavens, not going to disperses and totally living anti-God in the city. We learn these great themes that run through Genesis 1-11, which brings us, now, to where we’re at today. We can pick up in Genesis 12 and we can see the profoundness of what goes on here. We meet a guy named Abram. Abram is told, “Go from your country, your kindred, your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
In other words, “You’re not going to remain in the city. You’re not going to remain in your country. You’re going to be on a journey.”
The original purpose of God creating humans was to fill the earth with His glory. It was to subdue the earth, which was to go into the world. “We’re not going to live in cities. You’re going to have to go, Abram. You’re going to have to get out of here. You’re going to have to leave your country, your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
“‘I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.’”
This is just something that’s not part of the message, but it is something that we need to hear as Christians: When God blesses you and me, He does not bless you and me so that we can become a reservoir of His blessings. He blesses you and me so that we will, in turn, be a blessing. So, if He gives you things and blesses you with things, it’s so that you can give to others. He will continue to bless you as long as you’re doing this routine here. When it becomes mine, then it stops.
So, He blesses him and says, “This is what I’m going to do:
“‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
So, now we had Adam and Eve that sort of didn’t get the deal going. They decided to do it their own way. Noah, in Genesis 9, gets off the cruise ship and the first thing he does is go and get drunk. So, he doesn’t get it. Just a joke. It was the ark. It wasn’t a cruise ship, okay? I’m just being funny. I know it’s rainy and stuff, but it’s just a joke. Some of y’all are like, “That’s not what the Bible says.”
I’m just joking. Anyway, we get to Abram. Abram, obviously, is not perfect either. Something’s wrong with people. The Old Testament is showing this. There’s something that needs to be dealt with. We’re going to learn about that as we go forward. But Abram, God bless him, has enough faith to leave his family, his country and all of that stuff. But he doesn’t have enough faith to go alone. God told him to go alone. He takes somebody with him; Lot. I always joke that when God tells us to go, we usually take a Lot with us, too.
So, he goes. As he shows up into the promised land, God gives him a set of facts that don’t look like what He’s promised him because there’s a famine in the land. Now, you should be intuiting, after you’ve read Genesis 1-11, cities and all this stuff, provision, how God provides and all this good stuff, you should be thinking, “Is Abraham going to trust God?”
Well, he doesn’t. He goes to Egypt. We start to meet this thing in Egypt that is a city on steroids. It is an empire. We just lightly touch it with Abraham. We’re going to go there again in the Old Testament. But he comes out. When he comes out, Abraham is not very faithful. I mean, he lies when he’s in Egypt. He doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t go alone. Because the story of Abraham, the story of David and the story of Sampson, all these stories are not the stories of our heroes. They’re the story of God. They’re the story of God’s faithfulness to people that have issues.
So, God decides to cut a covenant with Abram because He’s going to use him to do these great things. The way that we cut a covenant in the Old Testament — and you can find this in Genesis 15 — is they would take animals, cut them in half and put half the animal here and half the animal here. This was before PETA. Anyway, they would do this. They would cut the entrails open and have all this stuff. What they would do is if we were cutting a covenant, I would say, “Hey, this is what I’m going to do. This is what you’re going to do.” It’s like a contract, but it was deeper than that. And then you would walk in between those animal halves, and basically what you were saying was, “If I don’t keep my part of the gig, then I can be cut like this.”
It was a pretty serious deal. So, when Abram and God are going to have their moment of cutting covenant, what does God do? Well, He puts Abram to sleep. He puts him to sleep because He knows that Abram’s not going to keep his part of the deal, but God will keep His part of the deal. Can I get an “amen” that God keeps His part of the deal and doesn’t put us on the deal? It should be a moment there for everybody.
So then, what we do is Abram continues on and becomes Abraham and he has children. We meet these children. We meet Isaac, Jacob and all of these different. Some of them have got good qualities. Some of them are doing some godly things. But most of them have issues as well. We end up, at the end of Genesis, going to Egypt.
But God tells Abram, when He’s cutting covenant with him, this important thing: “‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.’”
So, we got told in advance here that there’s going to be a time where the people are going to go to Egypt — he doesn’t know it’s Egypt. He’s been to Egypt. He went to Egypt. They’re going to redo sort of what he did in many ways. But the point is that they’re going to go there and they’re going to learn something there. God knows that they’re going to go there and there’s a reason they need to go there.
So, if you understand Genesis 1-11, you understand the ideas of “am I my brother’s keeper,” — that’s a big idea. Am I really my brother’s keeper or can I push people away? If I don’t like them or they’re intruding on my stuff, can I push them away? Am I my brother’s keeper? Cities. Those are big themes. And then you understand the call of Abram to go, to leave his city, and you understand that there continues to be a problem in humanity until we get to Egypt. What you can do is, from that point, you can live in the Old Testament knowing that you’re going to be in one of three places. You’re either going to be in Egypt or you’re going to be on your way out of Egypt. Or you’re going to be on your way to Jerusalem or you’re going to be in Jerusalem. Or you’re going to be on your way out of Jerusalem to Babylon or you’re going to be in Babylon. Or you’re going to be in Babylon on your way back to Jerusalem.
So, if you can understand that, that’s the large sweep of the Old Testament. But we need to sort of get a little bit more particular about some of these things here so that we can understand that sweep when it sort of all converges into the birth of this child that we call Jesus that we believe is our Lord and Savior. So, the first place that we’ve got to go is to Egypt. We’ll look at a couple of passages here and then we’ll look at some things that we can learn from Egypt.
It says, “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.”
Now, if you were here last weekend and you were really paying attention — and it’s okay if you weren’t. I still love you whether you fell asleep or you didn’t. Whatever. But you should notice these verbs: Fruitful, multiplied and filled. You should be going, “Oh. That’s exactly the verbs that He told Adam and Eve.” Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Great. You should be picking these up. See, the Old Testament and the Jewish people, when they wrote their Old Testament, it was a story. It was a story about them. That story was something that they lived. It wasn’t like us today. We just sort of open up the Bible and go, “Oh, you’re doing that? Here. This is what the Scripture says. You shouldn’t do that. Oh, you’re doing that? Here. Here’s a Scripture for you.”
It’s as if there’s not also another Scripture somewhere else that someone can use to sort of go against the one that you just did. If you’ve ever had any arguments in the Bible, you understand there’s always that one verse that doesn’t fit in your system. It’s like, “Why is that in there? Can I just get rid of that one and then everything else would be good? God, get in that box that I want you to fit in.”
We’re reading it wrong. We’re reading it as some sort of pithy truth Bible bullet book when, instead, it’s a story. It’s something that we enter. So, all these stories are reconvening stories. They’re all convening. When you’re in the garden and Adam and Eve eat of the tree, what does it say? Their eyes are opened and they realize they’re naked. Well, when Noah comes off the boat and he eats of his tree — of course, it’s the tree with grapes. He has wine and gets drunk. What happens when he wakes up? His eyes are opened and he’s naked. These stories are continuing to tell over and over again, like the verbs in the fall. She took, she gave, he ate and then their eyes were opened. They were naked. In Luke, with the Emmaus disciples, when Jesus has communion with them, He takes the bread, he gives it to them, they eat it and what happens? Their eyes are opened. Why is that important? Because the verbs of your fall have now become the verbs of your restoration. All of these stories are working together and moving together. Even when you get to the Red Sea, the creation story, Genesis 1:2, the Ruach of God, the breath, the Spirit, the wind of God is hovering over the deep in Genesis 1:2. It’s covered with water. In Genesis 1:3, God says, “Let there be light.” Bam, light.
And then, day three, what happens? The dry ground comes up out of the land and now there’s earth and sea. Well, the story of the Red Sea, when Moses is there at the Red Sea — Charlton Heston. You know that guy? He’s there, standing at the Red Sea and what happens? Well, it says the wind starts blowing on the water, and then the pillar of fire comes around the back to separate them from Pharaoh, shining light onto stuff because it’s a pillar of fire, and then what happens? The dry ground comes up out of the water. These are all stories that are saying the same thing, just in a different way. It’s all creation stuff. It’s all going back to these things.
So, this is great. God is sort of working in humanity. He’s doing what He’s going to do. But when you read, you ought to know that there’s either going to be one of two things that’s going to happen. When it starts to go good, either somebody, because of something wrong with us, is going to blow it, or there’s going to be an opposition. There’s going to be a serpent or a Goliath or a Pharaoh or there’s going to be somebody that gets involved. All of these things are teaching us something.
So, the people of Israel are fruitful and they’re doing all this stuff. And then we’re told there was a new king that came up over Egypt who did not know Joseph. I still have got to figure out how to build a Bible that has music in it so when you’re reading and you come to that thing, it goes, “Dun, dun, dun!”
That would be awesome, I’m telling you. Anyway, this new king comes up. We know that this is not going to go good.
The new king says to his people, “‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.’”
These people, they’re not us. There are a lot of them. We’re the empire. See? You move from a city to an empire now. An empire is the city on steroids. They’re like, “Hey, these people are too many. We need to deal shrewdly with them because what happens if they multiply, and, if war breaks out and they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land? I mean, look, we’ve got to take care our ourselves. These people are not like us. They’re not us. If we don’t take care of ourselves, they might come and do something to us.”
None of this is even hinted at, that the Israelites would be wanting to do this, or the Jewish people would be wanting to do this. But this is the empire. The empire breeds fear. You’ve got to control. You’ve got to protect. You’ve got to fight. You’ve got to do all these things to create yourself here. This is an empire now. We’re going to deal shrewdly with these people.
“Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens.”
They just dehumanized people. When you dehumanize people, you become dehumanized yourself. You start to do things to people and say things to people and act towards people in certain ways because the empire is a big deal. We’re going to see that in a minute. These are not just little themes that are going on in Scripture. So, what do they do? Well, the used them to build store cities. What are store cities? Pithom and Raamses. What are those? Well, an empire has to make sure that it’s taken care of, so store cities were set up where they would put grain and food in case there was a famine. They would also put weaponry in case there was a war. Because all you have to do is think about protecting self. This is the empire. This is the city on steroids.
“But the more they were opposed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as their slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”
do you get the idea that they were working? So, what happens? Well, Pharaoh says, “Hey, these people are just continuing to reproduce. We’ve got to get the Hebrew midwives, and when the male child comes out, just drown them. Get rid of the men.” Well, they don’t do that. They’re blessed because you’re blessed when you take care of people. You’re cursed when you oppress them, no matter who they are, because the empire will oppress. What’s really scary is when the Church becomes the empire. And it will in Jerusalem. We’ll see it.
But what does he do? They’re not going to obey. They just keep blessing. So, finally, they just start drowning the kids in the Nile themselves that are two years and younger. Of course, you do reap what you sow because Pharaoh drowns the children in the Nile, but he himself will be drowned in the Red Sea.
So, what do we learn here? What’s going on in Egypt? What are we learning? Well, there are a couple things that we can learn. There are some lessons that we need to get in Egypt to continue our trajectory on. Genesis 1-11. Abraham. So, what can we learn in Israel’s time in the empire? First of all, the story is really about God against empire. This is so important to understand when you’re reading Scripture. This is not Moses versus Pharaoh. This is not Egypt versus Israel. None of that’s going on. This is God versus empire. The empire is the city on steroids. It is totally focused on self. It doesn’t need God. It uses the gods. It talks about the gods. But there’s no god in the city. It’s all about production. It’s all about commodity. It’s all about wealth. It’s all about getting more. Anything that even begins, especially people, to challenge that, get them out. Move them away.
So, the story is God versus empire. The empire and God are at war. We see that in the New Testament the empire becomes the world. The world is in enmity with God. There’s a system. It’s not a Pharaoh anymore, it’s not a Goliath anymore and it’s not a serpent anymore in the New Testament. It’s a devil, demons and a whole malignant, cancerous world that we can’t see that God is at war with this empire. And God will crush empires. He continues to crush empires because He’s going to crush the ultimate empire. One day, it’s all going to go back right. But when it all goes back right, it’s not just going to be people. It’s going to be the whole world, the waters and everything that will be redeemed.
That’s why when God crushes Egypt, all of the world’s involved. The water’s involved. Frogs are involved. Bulls are involved. Birds. Locusts are involved. It’s cataclysmic. See, when God brings deliverance, it’s always cosmic in scope. We’re learning something as we go through the Old Testament. These things happened, but they’re telling us something, spiritually, that we need to hear.
The second thing that we need to learn is that God’s people are going to be fruitful and multiply no matter what empire they’re in. Let me just tell you right now so you can understand this. Because there were Christians back in the day, when Mao was in China, like, “He’s killing all the Christians. We’ve got to go do something. We’ve got to.”
God does not need to be defended. God needs to be trusted. Can I say that again? He doesn’t need to be defended. “What do we do?” No. When Mao was gone, they found there were 21 million Christians in China underground. Do you know why? Because God’s going to build His Church and the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it. Stop looking at things through the lens of empire.
Look at what it says here: “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”
The blood of the martyrs is always the seed of the Church. Always. You cannot snuff out God’s work. He is the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. These stories should remind us something. Because if you read Exodus 1, you’re like, “Man, where’s God? People are getting drowned. Where’s He at?”
These stories should remind us that the God who seems silent or absent is the sovereign God of history. Can I tell you something? Nowhere in the Bible are you told you’re supposed to feel God — I hear it all the time as a pastor. “I just used to feel God, but I don’t feel Him anymore.”
You’re never told to feel God. What you may have felt was God might have been just a good dinner the night before. It might not even have been God. You thought you were feeling God, but now you’re not feeling God. We’re never told to feel God. We’re told to trust God. We’re told to believe God, not to feel Him. “I want a goose bump.” Well, the goose bump — I can tell you, I’ve met a lot of people that get goosebumps and they don’t look very much like Jesus. I’m just being honest here. So, we need to learn that God’s Church is going to go on. His people are going to go on.
Third: Eternal legacy isn’t found in power, but in the way we treat people. See, the empire and Pharaoh, everybody knows who they are. They’ve got power. They’ve got the toys. They’ve got the big house. They’ve got everything. They’ve got it all. But eternal legacy isn’t found in power. It’s found in the way that we treat people. Look at what the writer does. You probably don’t know this, but the word “exodus” and the word “genesis” and “Deuteronomy” all come from the Greek. The Old Testament in Hebrew was translated into the Greek, which is called the Septuagint. Okay? Deuteronomy is the second giving of the law. Deuteros and nomos, which is law — the second giving of the law. They’re Greek terms
The original name of Exodus was not Exodus, which is leaving Egypt. The original name in Hebrew of the book is called “these are the names.” That’s what it literally says at the beginning of Exodus. “These are the names.” So, the writer gives us all kinds of names. He tells the names of the Hebrew midwives. He tells us Miriam, Moses and Aaron and all this stuff. But what’s interesting here is this, because this is true: When he tells us about Pharaoh, he doesn’t tell us who he is. He doesn’t even mention his name. He mentions everybody else’s name and even tells you the store cities if Pithom and Raamses, but he doesn’t mention Pharaoh’s name. Why? Because eternal legacy is not in the empire, what we conquer or what we do. It’s in the way that we treat people. Because, see, Pharaoh is the empire. What an empire sees as a threat to its national security with these Jewish people is really an opportunity to be a blessing to God’s people, but he chooses not to. He chooses not to bless people.
Because, see, legacy for God is how we treat others. Are we our brother’s keeper? The answer is yes every time, not when we choose just for whatever reason. It’s so easy to get Christianity confused with empire, and empire and Christianity, and think that we’re doing God’s work when, in fact, we’re not doing God’s work. That’s why I’ve said this many times in here: John 16:3 says, “There’s going to come a time when the religious people think that killing you is a service to God.” He says, “They do that because they’ve never known me.” These people would tell you for a fact they know God, but the problem is that these themes that are there in Scripture are to get us to understand we are called to be a different people. We are called to be a different group. We’re called to come out of empires. We’re called to come out of cities. If you get in Revelation, what is he doing? “Get out of Babylon. Get out of that city. Get out of that.”
He takes them out of Egypt. Everything is taken out. Even when Jesus comes, it’s always the people on the outskirts of the city that nobody wants to deal anything, but who’s the man that’s always there for them? “Lord, have mercy on me. I’m outside the city. Have mercy.” He always does because Jesus is always looking for those people that are on the oppressive side of stuff. What you don’t want to be is become the one that oppresses in the name of God because God hears the cry of the oppressed and the marginalized. He always hears their cries. Always hears their cries.
Four: Fear in the empire manifests itself in structures that oppress people. See, there’s a fear. God’s not given you and me a spirit of fear. Church has got more fear than the world. We shouldn’t have that. I mean, I hear Christians all the time, “Oh, my gosh.” I’m like, “Stop it.” God did not give you a spirit of fear. God gave you power, love and a sound mind. He gave you faith to trust Him. He is going to accomplish the things He said He would accomplish no matter what the facts look like. Period. End of story. But see, fear in the empire — because you’ve got to take care of everything and you’ve got to watch everything and you’ve got to protect everything. What it does is it manifests. Fear always manifests in our lives in structures that oppress people. That’s what it does.
See? He says, “We’ve got to deal shrewdly with these people because they’re a threat. They might multiply. If war breaks out, they might join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
See? What happens is that fear that’s generated in the empire always creates structures that oppress people. Be careful when you oppress people, because when you oppress people, God takes it personally because God is in those people. That’s why He tells us in Matthew 25, “Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.”
That’s why when Saul is persecuting the Church, He says to Saul, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Have you ever read it? That’s what He says. God didn’t say, “Why are you persecuting my people?” God says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Because when you and me oppress people, we are oppressing God. And God crushes empires that oppress people.
Fifth: God delivers from the empire so that His people will remember what it was like to be slaves. This is the biggest reason they go to Egypt. Because as you read the Old Testament, after they come out of Egypt, what does He always say? “Remember when you’re farming, leave some stuff on the outside. Don’t cut it all the way. Leave a little bit on the outside. When you’re gleaning, leave some stuff on the ground because you might have an alien, a stranger or somebody that you don’t know from some other place come through your land. Make sure you give them something so that they can eat.”
The empire would say, “No. Get it all. Take it all. Those people could take it from you.” No. God says to do it this way. Why? Because, remember, you were once a slave in Egypt. What would it have been like when you were a slave for somebody to have given you, for someone to have loved, for somebody to have reached out. Remember you were a slave in Egypt.
This is why they went because God delivers them out of the empire and He calls them to be another community; a whole, separate community that loves God (first three commandments) and loves others (last six), with rest in between. Rest is the absence of chaos. If you have chaos in your life, it’s hard to love God really good and hard to love others because all you’re doing is trying to put out chaos. God wants to bring rest to our lives so that we can love Him properly and love others properly and go be a kingdom of priests in the world.
So, what happens? Well, they finally end up in Jerusalem again. They’re in Jerusalem, back where Abram had been. He went to Egypt, and now they go to Egypt. They’re in Jerusalem. David’s a great king. He starts to do some things. He starts to take some money up. They’re going to build a great temple, right? And then we meet Solomon. Solomon is the wisest man that’s ever lived, but of course, the wisdom of men is foolishness in the eyes of God. What does Solomon do? He takes a wife from Egypt. What does Solomon do? He builds his house before he builds God’s house. But how does he build God’s house and how does he build his house? He uses slave labor. Jerusalem has become empire and has become, unfortunately, the oppressor. What does God do? Destroys it because He crushes it.
See? In Jerusalem, you had feasts and holy days. If you go through your Old Testament, you’ll read them. And what’s the word they always start off with. Remember. Why? Why when we’re in Jerusalem do we have feasts and holy days? Because we need to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. We need to remember, when we eat these bitter herbs, what it was like to be in Egypt. We need to remember what it was like to be slaves. And then God sends prophets throughout the whole Old Testament to remind the people of God, “You’re doing exactly what Egypt did to you. Stop it.”
So, God destroys Jerusalem. He sends them to Babylon. What happens in Babylon. They become slaves. What do they do in Babylon? They cry out. What happens? God delivers them because God always hears the cries of the marginalized. He always hears the cries of the oppressed. Always. And when the Church becomes the empire, we lose the sensitivity and the ear to those on the outside. When we do that, we’re in trouble, folks. So, what does God do? He brings them back to Jerusalem, but they’re never home. They’re always oppressed in Jerusalem. By the time we get to Jesus, the Romans control Jerusalem. They’re all in oppression. They’re longing for a deliverer. They’re longing. They’re in exile in their own land. They’ve been in exile in Egypt. They’ve been in exile in Babylon. Now they’re in exile in their own land. They’re paralyzed as a nation, longing for a deliverer. Longing for a deliverer.
See? We miss the story because we sing all these Christmas songs. “Joy to the world. Merry Christmas.” And I’m not against them, but I’m saying it’s like we’ve got all this stuff. The Jewish songs of advent are all in minor keys.
“O, come, O, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Why? Because they’re longing. Understanding the birth of Jesus is not just this joyous whatever. It’s understanding that all of these themes are coming right here to bear in this Christ child. How would you tell that story? If you’re going to start off a birth story, well, you’d start off with a genealogy and say, “Hey, from Abraham to David, from Ur of the Chaldees, which is Babylon...” — and Abraham was a Gentile, by the way. He wasn’t Jewish. There was no such thing as Jewish people. He was from Babylon. He was a Gentile.
God calls Abraham to be the father of Israel from Ur of the Chaldees, up until David, the greatest king ever. But something’s wrong with people. Even the greatest king can’t deliver Israel. So, what do we do? Well, we go from David to Babylon. We go right back to where we started from. Everybody’s trying to get it going right and we’re back where we started from. Well, now what have we got? Well, from Babylon to the Christ is 14 generations because this one is going to be the deliverer. He’s going to be the one. He’s going to be the one Moses talked about. You see that in John 1. They say, “Hey, I think this is the one Moses wrote about. I think this is the one that could be the guy.”
How would you tell that story? When you tell that story, you go, “Hey, remember when Moses was born and He delivered them out of Egypt? Okay. Let’s see. The babies were being killed two years and younger. And then they left Egypt and they went through the Red Sea and they went through the wilderness and then they went to Sinai and got the law? So, Jesus, in Jerusalem, which is now the empire, Herod’s the new Pharaoh and he’s killing the babies two years and younger. Jesus goes to Egypt, comes out of Egypt, goes through the waters of the Jordan, goes through the wilderness and is tempted of the devil, and then, in chapter 5-7, He goes up on the mountain and He gives the new law.”
See? Stories are powerful if you understand the other stories. This is why Jesus acted the way He did. This is why He didn’t have time at times to go through the cities. This is why He reached out to the marginalized. He’s reenacting all of these things that humanity was created and called to do so that we could have the forgiveness of sins that kept us from becoming all that God wanted us to be, and get filled with the Spirit so now we can go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the outermost parts of the world and be all the things that God has called us to be. We’re going to talk all about that next weekend. It’s going to make a lot of sense. It’s going to be like, “Whoa. This is incredible. This is awesome stuff. Wow.”
But just imagine for a second here. I want to leave you with this thought. If you lived in the first century and you were paralyzed — and remember: When you read stories in the first century, you never read a story for you. You always read the story for the nation. It was a “we,” not a “me.” That’s why the “yous” in the New Testament are plural. They’re not “me.” They’re “us.” Imagine if you were in the city under the oppression, you knew the empire themes, you knew all those themes — you’re in the city, you’re oppressed and you’re paralyzed. You cannot move. Somebody comes to you and says, “I want to tell you a story. There was this guy, Jesus. You may have heard of Him. He died on a cross and rose from the grave. He’s the deliverer. He’s the one to fully deliver us. He’s the one to get us going home. He’s here to deal with our paralysis.”
How might you have read this story? Getting into a boat, He crossed over and came to His own city. In the city that we’ve come to, some people bring Him a paralytic. There was a paralytic in the city lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son. Your sins are forgiven.”
Whoa. Sins can be forgiven? Wow. Some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Religious people never change.
“But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? Bu that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ Then he rose and he went home.”
Why those words? Why did they choose those words? Why did they pick those words to their original audience? Because, see, they wanted the audience to know that the one that could give resurrection power in the now and could send them on the trajectory of truly going home, the thing that they longed for, was in this person named Jesus. We’re going to talk about that. But, right now, you’re not here by circumstance or just because. God knew for certain that Abram’s lineage was going to be in Egypt. He knew for certain they were going to be there and they were going to be there for 400 years. He knows for certain that you’re here right now. What He wants to do is He wants to give you resurrection power to send you on your way home. That home is coming. That home is the city of the new Jerusalem. And it’s going to come. I can tell you that. But we’re on a journey from here to there.
And maybe you might need to pick up that journey. Maybe you’ve never gone on that journey before and today’s the day you go, “I want to be on that journey.” Or maybe you fell off the journey. Maybe you were out of church for a long time and you go, “I need to be on the journey.” Or maybe you’ve been in church and you’re going, “Whoa. Man, listen to the Bible. I might have confused the empire and Christ and all this stuff. I might need to really rethink some of this stuff.”
That’s why you’re here. God wants to give you resurrection power and get you moving towards home. We have work to do before that home gets here. We’ve got to talk about that next weekend because we have something great that God has called us to do. We really, genuinely can do something for the Kingdom of God that makes a difference, but we have to meet the man that came as a baby that can give resurrection power and get us all moving towards home again.
Let’s pray. If you’d bow your heads with me just for a second.
Some of you may be in here today and you may say, “I’ve never really thought about a relationship with God, but something inside is telling me I need to do that.” Or maybe you’re here going, “I used to go to church. I used to be involved, but I’m sort of not there right now.” Or maybe you’re just going, “Wow. Man, for the first time, it’s like I’m starting to see what the Bible says. Man, this is a little scary because this is not what I was thinking. This is a little bit more uncomfortable than I’d like it to be right now.”
Well, that’s why you’re here. You’re here because Jesus wants to give you resurrection power. He wants to get you on the way home. We’ve got work to do, folks. Not work in Egypt for Pharaoh, but we have work to do for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. So, I want to pray for you.
Dear Heavenly Father, I know along the gamut of relationship, that line of relationship with You, there are people here that don’t have one, there are people here that used to have one, there are people that have been walking with You for a while. All of us are at different places. But Lord, You came to bring resurrection power to us who are paralyzed, for whatever it is that’s paralyzing us. Maybe it’s that we don’t have a relationship with You. Maybe it’s that we’re burned by religion and paralyzed by that. Maybe it’s that we’re paralyzed by the blinders that we’ve put on in our own understanding of Christianity.
But Lord, You’ve come to give us resurrection power and get us on the way home so that we can start to accomplish the things on that journey to the promised land that’s going to be coming one day. I pray for everyone here, God. I pray that You would minister to them and meet them where they are. I pray that You would do a work in our church, Lord, that is meaningful, that transcends the empire and the culture, and really unleashes Your spirit upon our church and upon our people, Lord, to be the church that You’ve called us to be.
God, I’m praying next weekend that the Spirit of God falls in this place. And Lord, I’m praying that on Christmas on Main that the Spirit of God falls. I pray, God, that in Jesus’ name You would do great things in our midst because, Lord, You have called us to do great things and You have made the provision for that to be accomplished in our lives. So, Lord, we love You, we thank You, we praise You and we honor You. We ask that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us, watch over us and protect us and bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, help us to stay focused on what You’ve called us to be as a church: A place that’s going to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. 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.