Advent Week 4: The Outpost
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 had some people ask, “Why are you standing at a table today?” Well, my back’s a little hurting, but what’s great for those of you all in the back, since I’m not sitting, you can actually see me. I hear that all the time. They’re like, “We can’t see you.” I’m like, “I know, because I’m short.”
It’s great, too, because people walk up and they’re finally like, “No wonder we can’t see you. You’re really small.” I’m like, “Yes. I come up to your belt buckle.” Anyway, I’m going to do a little standing. A couple of things, real quickly here, as we get going
We’re in a series called “Advent.” Over the last couple of Christmases, we’ve looked at the story of Christmas through Matthew 2 and Luke 2. And I’ve done that for a purpose. I wanted us to really understand those stories. So, we looked at it from a different angle, sort of, each year over the last two or three years. But, this year, we wanted to look at the advent story through the lens of the entire story of the Bible. We’ve been doing that. I’ve got to be honest with you. I am really excited about this weekend’s message. Somebody asked me after the first message, like, “Do you know where you’re going with this?”
I’m like, “No. I make it up every weekend on the fly.” But, yeah. I did. I may get a little excited. It was funny because a couple of Saturday nights ago I had a lady come up to me and she goes, “You’ve got to stop drinking those energy drinks.” I’m like, “No. This is Perrier. This is not Red Bull. I’m just naturally excited.”
Anyway, we’re going to look, but I want to do a recap of what we’ve been doing. If you study any type of literary theory — in the biblical world of scholarship, we call it “hermeneutics;” interpreting Scripture. But any good literary critic is going to tell you that the particulars of a story are best understood in light of the whole. And what we mean by that is that if you’ve got a story, just reading one chapter is not going to give you the meaning of the entire story. You need to know the whole story. So, we thought that it would be cool to take the entire story of Christmas and settle it within the entire story of the Bible. My promise to you is that it would be incredibly meaningful, challenging, and hopefully it would lead you to have even a greater appreciation for the Christmas story that we read in Scripture.
So, what I want to do — and I try to do this every service — is a recap because this is the end of this series. If you’re new, you’re like, “Oh, I’m coming in on the end of a series.” Well, I’m going to recap. I want to go through what we’ve talked about.
The first week in this series, I took us to a passage in the Gospel of Mark. In that passage, we looked at the disciples and we went all the way through that passage and we realized that these are people that ate with Jesus, they were hanging out with Jesus and they were the closest to Jesus. Every single time, they sort of misunderstood what Jesus was doing. There just was a real big misunderstanding of what Jesus was and who He was. And I asked the question to all of us, “Is it possible that we could have traditions, understandings or beliefs about Jesus that might not be correct?”
And we all answered, “Yeah. That could be the case,” which was important because, as we look through this story, we’re going to learn some things, maybe, that we hadn’t thought or hadn’t seen and maybe see some things differently. So, it was important, in week one, to get us thinking in that way.
Well, week two, what I did is I started in Genesis 1-11, which I taught you was a literary unit in Genesis. Not understanding Genesis 1-11 really hinders what goes on in Genesis 12, understanding that, and the rest of the first five Books of Moses. But then, it also goes into the rest of the Old Testament. And I was not limited to these themes, but some of the themes that we talked about that weekend is we talked about God’s intent for humanity. We talked about how God created humanity man and woman and He blessed them.
When God blesses us, it’s not for a goose bump and for us to get excited. He blesses us to be a blessing. So, He blessed humanity, Adam and Eve, man and woman, to fill the earth, to subdue, to have dominion, to multiply. He created them in His image and likeness, and He wanted them to fill the earth with more of themselves. To do that would mean that God’s image and likeness would be filling all of the world. In other words, God’s glory would fill the earth. So, He created them to do that.
Unfortunately, they moved from a position of blessing to a position of cursing because rather than allowing God to tell them what was right and wrong, they decided they wanted to determine what was right and wrong for themselves. And then, by Genesis 4, they’ve been kicked out of this garden. They’re on the east side of the garden and everything starts moving east of Eden. Well, once we get outside of the garden, we’re confronted with another theme. Am I my brother’s keeper? What does that look like? When am I not my brother’s keeper? When is it okay for me to not be my brother’s keeper?
We meet Cain and Abel. There’s no surplus in Scripture. Cain’s a keeper of the ground and Abel is a keeper of the sheep. So, we’re already set up for the keepers of the ground have their own land, their own place, they work there, they work the stuff. What’s going to happen when somebody brings something onto their land. How are they going to take it? Are they going to say, “Hey, come on. We’ll share together.”
No, no, no. Cain kills Abel. When he kills him, at what point am I my brother’s keeper? How does that work? These are themes that are going through Genesis 1-11. Then we meet, because Cain immediately goes east of Eden after he kills Abel and builds a city. And we talked about the city motif and how that’s important because God had originally created people to go and fill the earth, to subdue the earth. These are verbs that are going verbs.
Building a city means that you’re going to get your provision, your protection, all of the things that you need in the city and you’re not doing what God has told you to do. So, that’s why by Genesis 11 we get another city. This is where they’re building a tower all the way into heaven. They’re not going to be dispersed into the world. You see it’s the complete antithesis of what God had asked humanity to do, which is why, when we get to Genesis 12 and the call of Abram, now we understand why God calls Abram out of his country, out of his city, out of his land to go on a journey. Christians are going to be people that are on a journey. We’re not going to be city dwellers. We’re not going to get caught up in all of that stuff. We’re going to be people that are walking in a journey.
And, of course, we find in Hebrews that he was looking for a city. What we find in Abram is that he goes, he follows God, but he has some real deficiencies as we continue to learn in the Old Testament that there’s something wrong with people. They can do certain things right, but there’s always sort of this thing that keeps them from becoming everything that they’ll become.
So, by the end of Genesis, we’ve now gotten down to Egypt. Egypt, we realize, is not just a city. Egypt is an empire. An empire is a city on steroids. So, what you’ve got is Egypt is this big empire that doesn’t care about certain people. It only cares about itself. It only cares about its provision. It only cares about its protection. It will shun others and justify shunning others to make sure that it is taken care of. So, God sends His people there because He told Abram that He was going to send them there, and He delivers them from this empire. He doesn’t reform the empire. He delivers them from the empire because, again, they’re people that are on a journey. They’re not city people. They’re not empire people.
So, as they leave Egypt’s empire, the big thing that we find in the Old Testament that they are to have learned in Egypt is what it was like to be a slave. So, we find over and over and over again in the law when aliens, strangers, or when the shepherds come onto your land, what do you do? Am I my brother’s keeper? He says, “Yes. You want to make sure you take care of them because don’t you remember you were slaves in Egypt? Remember what it would’ve been like for someone to have been nice to you when you were on that side? Be those people.”
Well, as they leave and they eventually get to Jerusalem, by the time they start building the temple under Solomon, Solomon’s using slavery to build the temple. He has become empire and Egypt again. He even marries an Egyptian woman. It’s telling you these stories. So, God, which He always does, crushes the empire. He crushed Egypt. He crushes Jerusalem. He even destroys their own temple. Everything. They go to Babylon and now they’re captives in Babylon. What do they do in Babylon? Well, they cry out like they did in Egypt because God always hears the cry of His people. He always hears the cries of the marginalizes. If you want to know where God’s at, look at the marginalized. Look at the oppressed. Look at the hurting. That’s where God’s at. If we ever crush that, we’re not on the side of God; we’re on the side of empire.
So, by the time they cry out in Babylon, they end up back in Jerusalem. So, at the time that Jesus is born, at the time of advent, this is where Israel is. Israel found itself in exile in the Promised Land. They weren’t in a land away. They were in the promised land, but the Romans controlled the Promised Land. And being a people of story, they had their future story well-rehearsed by the time of advent. In other words, they would sit around and talk about what was going to happen in the future. Much like if you turn on the Christian TV late at night, there’s always the guy that opens up the book of Revelation and tells you exactly what’s going to be happening next. The only thing that we know about all those people is that they’re always wrong. Amen?
Anyway. It’s the truth. I mean, everybody’s predicted that Jesus is coming back in every generation. The one thing that’s common in all of them is they’ve all been wrong. Anyways, they would get together as families, as synagogues and as people, and this is the story that they would tell. They would say, “Hey, we know about the city. We know about going into the world. We know all of this stuff. Here’s the way it’s going to happen. This is what’s going to happen. God needs to restore Jerusalem.”
That’s the city that everybody was looking for.
“When He restores Jerusalem, what He’s going to do is He’ll overthrow the Romans. Then we will be a city that is high above all the cities. Then what we’ll do is all the nations will flow into Jerusalem and we will then do the thing that God wanted, which is to fill the earth with His glory.”
And they say, “Now, the way that’s going to happen is Moses told there would be a figure that was greater than him that would come. He would be a Messiah or a Savior or a leader. What He will do is He will go in and destroy Rome. He will then set us up so that we are the city that’s great and everybody can come to know Yahweh.”
They would go to Scriptures like Isaiah 2. “It’ll come to pass in the latter days.” This is very important to understand if you’re reading Scripture. “Latter days” to a Jewish person was not the end of the world. We make it the end of the world in American theology. That’s not what the Bible’s talking about at all. God is a God of history. The latter days simply, for them, was a day in history that God was going to act. He was going to act in history. God’s not going to destroy the world, if you’re a Jewish person, because He created the world and it was good. It just needs to be renewed. Paul says that in Romans 8. Creation is groaning for its renewal. We’ve got some really bad theological understandings when it comes to Scripture because we don’t understand these stories. This is why it’s important to understand these stories. This is what they would say:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord...”
Again, “mountain” is figurative. If you’ve been to Jerusalem with me, it’s definitely not a mountain. I was raised in Kentucky. It’s more like a hill. It’s not a mountain. Okay? If you go to Jerusalem now, Herod covered the hill of Jerusalem with a flat top so he could build his temple there. So, it’s flat across there. It doesn’t even look like a hill anymore. But they would say, “In the latter days, when God acts, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains, and will be lifted up above all the hills;” — and listen — “all the nations will flow to it.”
So, here’s what they taught: A restored Israel would mean the Gentiles’, all the nation’s inclusion. But the Gentiles would not be included until Israel had been restored. I mean, some of them could be, but not massively. There couldn’t be a massive influx of Gentile people. That’s why when you read the New Testament, you’re like, “Man, why are the Jewish people sort of pushing away the Gentiles and don’t want to hang out with the Gentiles? Because, if you lived in first century Jerusalem, this is what you knew to be true. You were waiting for the Messiah. You were waiting for the deliverer. It was only then that the Gentiles would be included. They would also go to passages like Amos 9.
“In that day...”
“There’s going to be a day, kids. There’s going to be a day when God sends a deliverer. He’s going to overthrow all the pagan rulers.”
“‘In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old,’”
“It’s going to be there exactly the way we are teaching you.”
“‘That they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,’ declares the Lord who does this.”
Also, for those theological buffs who really, really, really like to dig deep, when you read, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated,” Edom is the descendants of Esau. Here’s the Lord loving Edom. It just shows you God’s grace. The Bible will mess you up. It will mess you up.
So, here’s what we’ve got. We have everybody in first century Judaism looking for this Messiah to come. Everybody’s waiting for God to restore the city everybody was looking for that they read in the Old Testament and they figured was Jerusalem. When He restores that city, then there will be this Gentile inclusion. If you had lived in the first century, you would have four really distinct ways of sort of living out this story. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes And Zealots. You meet them in the New Testament. The Pharisees believed, “We’re waiting for the Messiah, but the way to wait for the Messiah, the way to do this, is to study the Bible, study the Bible, study the Bible and then just shun everybody that’s not good. Only hang out with certain people.”
You know? Don’t drink, don’t chew and don’t run with those that do. That’s the way they lived. “Study the Bible. Study the Bible. Shun everybody. Stay away from everybody.” All that stuff. That’s the way they lived it out. The Sadducees said, “That’s not the way you do it. You’ve got to get involved in politics. You’ve got to get involved in politics.”
Isn’t it crazy how it all runs into the same thing. Doesn’t it? Anyways, Sadducees thought that was the way to do it, getting involved in politics. They made backroom deals with the Romans and stuff, thinking that they were going to be on the cutting edge when the Messiah came.
The Essenes were like, “All of y’all are crazy. We’re going to go live in the caves with our freeze-dried food and hang out until it all gets sorted out. Then we’ll come back on the scene.”
The Zealots said, “All of you are wrong. God’s going to have to have a military leader, so we’re just going to start killing people because that’s the way you get it done.”
Well, into that world, into that milieu, into that Sitz im Leben, the situation in life, into that context, Jesus is born. So, as He’s born, He becomes a man. He starts going around and healing people. But He hangs out with the wrong people, so the Pharisees don’t think He’s doing it right. He doesn’t answer political questions and He doesn’t get involved in politics, so the Sadducees think He’s wrong. He says to turn the other cheek and love your enemies, so the Zealots think He’s wrong. And He actually intermingles with people, so the Essenes think He’s wrong. He doesn’t fit anybody’s box in any way, shape or form. He comes into a story that He doesn’t fit. And then He starts healing people. And then He starts doing miracles. And then He starts raising people from the dead and they start going, “Man, He might be the one. He doesn’t quite fit the box, but He could be the one. Let’s make Him king.”
He says, “No. I’m not going to be king.”
“Why would He not be king? He might be the one.”
Then He starts saying to His disciples, “Hey, listen. We’re going to head to Jerusalem.” They’re like, “Yes. We’re going to go to Jerusalem and You’re going to overthrow the Romans when we get to Jerusalem.” He’s like, “When I go to Jerusalem, I’m going to die.”
They’re like, “Okay. Let’s talk about what’s really important. We need to figure out, when You come into Your glory, who’s going to be the greatest or whatever.”
He’s like, “No. I’m going to die.”
“Yeah. We don’t understand. Is that cryptic language? We want to get to the real deal.”
When you’re reading the New Testament and you see all of these crowds following Jesus to Jerusalem, they are not following Him because they understand what He’s doing. They’re following Him because they think when He gets to Jerusalem, He’s going to liberate Israel. He goes to Jerusalem and He dies. See, the Romans knew the story. If you’ll go back in history, there were hundreds of people that claimed to be the Messiah before Jesus came. There were hundreds of people that claimed to be the Messiah after Jesus came. In fact, in 126 A.D., in the Bar Kokhba rebellion — which was one we really know well about — they minted coins with his face on the coins because he was going to overthrow Rome. Of course, they killed him and all that stuff. But even this is a hundred years after Jesus and they’re still thinking a Messiah’s going to come.
Here’s the fundamental problem: The Romans knew the story about Messiahs. They knew the story that Israel was expecting a leader; a military leader. That’s why when they’re in the garden outside of Jerusalem, the disciples know more about the story, they think, than Jesus. Jesus has never told them to ever, ever, ever carry weapons. Ever. But Simon, he’s got him some swords. See, he’s thinking, “This is the moment, man. They’re coming. Jesus has done all this cryptic stuff, but we’re going to fight, man. This is the time.”
If you think he tried to cut Malchus’ ear off, you’re mistaken. He went for his head. He just missed it. Okay? Jesus looks at him and He’s like, “Put that thing away.” Luke tells us, if you’ll read your Bible, the reason Peter had swords was to fulfill a Scripture that he would be crucified among thieves. The fact that Peter had the sword allowed the Romans to say, “This is a guy that’s subversive.” That’s why He told them, “Don’t take those things.” He says, “Put them away. This is not who we are at all. This is not who we are.”
But they understood this is a deliverance mission. He goes and dies. See, the Romans knew these stories. The way that they dealt with would-be messiahs is they crucified them.
“There’s your leader. There’s your deliverer, right there, hanging on a cross. Check it out.”
Why do you think they started talking about, “He saved people? Maybe He should come down from the cross.” They’re thinking, “Come down from the cross and destroy Rome.”
They have no concept of what’s going on. He dies and what do they do? They run. Why do you think they’re holed up behind a door? They’re not holed up behind a door because they’re going, “Hey, do you know what? Let’s remember all that stuff and write all these things down and do all this.”
They’re hiding behind a door because their Messiah that they put their faith in was a failure. He was a failure. They were worried that they would be pinned for being people that followed Him and it might cost them their life as well. Something happened that changed all of this. They saw Jesus alive. They still didn’t know what to do with it. They’re buddies. They’re like, “Thomas, dude. We’re buddies, right?”
“Yeah. We’re buddies.”
“You trust me, right?”
“Dude, He showed up in the room.”
What does Thomas say? “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that at all. If I don’t touch Him, I don’t believe it.”
We even get into Matthew and Matthew tells us that even after Jesus is risen, He takes some disciples with Him and it says, “Some still doubted.” He’s alive. He’s risen. They’ve touched Him and they still don’t know what’s going on. He says, “Stay in Jerusalem until you’ve received power from on high.” They’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” When you get into Acts 1, they’re like, “Okay. We need to ask You a question. We’ve heard all this stuff. None of this is making sense. When are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel? That’s what we need to know because this is the story here that we’ve got. The story is not working the way that we sort of think. When are You going to do that?”
He’s like, “You guys don’t understand what you’re talking about. You have no idea. You’re going to be filled with the Spirit and you’re going to go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world,” and He leaves. He’s gone in Acts 1:11. He’s gone. They have no idea what’s going on. See, this is before any Gospel is written. This is before any epistle is written. This is the early Church. They’re just stumbling and bumbling.
Well, boom. Acts 2 happens. Peter stands up, the guy who’s denied Jesus, drawn the sword, chopped off Malchus’ ear. He could not have been more of a failure in many senses of the word. He preaches a message and 3,000 people come to faith. Everybody’s like, “Whoa, man. I don’t know what happened, man. Do you know what happened?”
“I don’t know what happened, man. This is incredible.”
Well, it’s so incredible that in Acts 3 they’re walking on the way to the temple, they see somebody who can’t walk and they’re like, “Man, do you remember what Jesus did? Hey. Get up and walk.”
The guy does. They’re like, “Whoa! Man. That’s awesome. Whoa, dude. Incredible.”
They’re so excited that by Acts 4, they’re ready to get thrown in jail. They start saying things that they couldn’t have said because they’re fishermen. People are hearing it and they’re like, “This is crazy.” By Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Lord and they just get struck dead in church. Can you imagine if somebody like that came in, was lying to God and just got — I like what Luke said. He said, “There was no small stir among the brethren.”
Yeah. You think so? That’s the understatement of the year there, Luke. Hey, Doc, man. That’s a real understatement.”
Then, by Acts 6, we have our first church problem. Thank God there’s even church problems in Acts 6 with the good people, because you know we’re going to have them. So, people are feeling like they didn’t get treated right and all this stuff. It’s great because the apostles are like, “We’re not going to handle it.”
Can you imagine if the pastor of a church said, “I ain’t going to handle it.” That’s what they did. They said, “We’re not going to handle it. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. Y’all just go pick some people and figure it out.”
Maybe we should just do what the Bible says. That sounds like a great idea. Anyway, my Acts 7, we have our first martyr. In Acts 8, we have the Ethiopian eunuch being saved. By Acts 9, we meet a guy named Saul, who’s ravaging the church, and he gets saved.
But then Acts 10 comes. Acts 10 is monumental. Peter’s in Joppa at Simon the Tanner’s house. God says, “I want you to go and preach the Gospel to a Gentile.” He’s like, “Man, I ain’t going to preach the Gospel to a Gentile. Do You not understand the program? When Israel gets set up as a nation, then what we’ll do is we’ll go do this stuff.”
God’s like, “Let me give you three visions.”
He’s like, “Oh. The ‘three’ thing. I’ve blown the ‘three’ thing many times. I’m going to get the ‘three’ thing right this time. Three visions. I get it. I don’t understand a whole lot, but three? I’m not denying. I did this before. Three times. I’m going.”
He goes to Caesarea and preaches the Gospel at Cornelius’ house. The Spirit of God falls just like it did on the day of Pentecost. He’s like, “Whoa, man. These Gentiles.”
Then, in Acts 13-14, Paul and Barnabas start doing this preaching mission. All these Gentiles start coming and nobody knows what’s going on because it doesn’t fit the story. You’ve got to read the Bible. This thing’s good. Go home, take the dust off the one you’ve got like this, and open it up. It’s good stuff.
So, we get to Acts 15. Monumental. We’re in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
“Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
See, we read this and go, “What are they thinking?” No, no, no. If you think that when you’re reading this, you don’t understand your Bible. These people are struggling to figure out, “What do we do with Jesus? What do we do with being Israel? What do we do? How does this work?”
So, they come down and say, “Hey, man. You’ve got to get circumcised.” Of course they would say that because the circumcision covenant, God said, was an eternal covenant. So, they come down and say, “You’ve got to get circumcised or you can’t be saved.”
Well, “After Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them,”
They’re going, “Listen, man. All I can tell you is we preach the Gospel and they get saved. They didn’t have to get circumcised first. They didn’t have to do any Torah stuff. This is what God’s doing. This is what we’re experiencing.”
“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.”
“We’ve got a problem here. We’ve got a real problem in the church. How does this work out? What do we do?”
These people that are teaching circumcision are not bad people. They are believers. They’re doing the best they can to figure out how Jesus works in our story.
“So, being sent on their way by the church,”
That’s important. A lot of people just send themselves. Some of y’all will get that.
“They passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles,”
The Bible will just mess you up. Just don’t read it. Just stay away from it because it’ll mess you up. No, I’m serious. We should read it.
“And brought great joy to all the brothers.”
They’re saying, “Hey, this is what’s going on. God’s doing all this great stuff. It’s awesome. Fantastic. All this great stuff and everything. Fantastic.”
So, they get to Jerusalem. They’re welcomed by the Church, the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. Like, “Man, this is fantastic. Man, this is what God’s doing.”
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees...”
Hold on. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. Don’t assume somebody’s not a Christian because of the way you think Christianity is. These were Pharisees that were believers. The Bible will mess you up, man.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’”
These people were being honest. They weren’t being nasty. Nobody knew. Nobody knew how to do Jesus in Israel. Nobody knew.
“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.”
That’s a big matter. That’s a big deal. This is a big deal what’s going on. If you want to know when a big deal in the New Testament is going on, Acts 15 is the big deal.
“And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brothers,’”
The Greek is “homies.”
“‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.’”
You guys remember Acts 10? Cornelius’ house? I’ve told you about this.
“‘And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the same Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction...’”
“We keep making all these distinctions, but He didn’t make a distinction between us and them.”
“‘Having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are we putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of these disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’
“And all the assembly fell silent,”
It’s like everybody’s going, “What do we do? Peter had that experience. He’s not lying to us. But this is what the Old Testament says. We know our story. What do we do?”
Well, then Barnabas and Paul got up and said, “Hey, listen. This is what God’s done. He’s doing signs and wonders. We’re not having to circumcise them, folks. God’s just on the move. I know it doesn’t fit the story, but this is what’s going on.”
“After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me.’”
This is important. Now, who’s James? James is the brother of Jesus. He’s one of the kids that Mary and Joseph had after Jesus was born. What in the world would you have to do to convince your brother that you were God?
“Hey, Bobby. It’s Chip. How are you doing, man? I think I’m God.”
“Yeah. I think you need to go to the mental ward.”
So, James is now believing Jesus is God. He’s following, but they still don’t know how all this works. They’re still trying to figure this out. He says, “Listen to me.” Simeon. For those of you all who are biblical nerds and love to read stuff, love to find little nuggets that you missed, he’s talking about Simon here, Simon Peter, but he uses the word “Simeon” because Luke wrote Luke and Acts. If you go back into Luke 2, there’s a guy named Simeon. Simeon says, when he sees Jesus on the eighth day to circumcise him, that this is the one that will bring the Jews and the Gentiles together.
“‘Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,’”
Whoa. Okay. This is going to be good because now, whatever’s going on right then, he’s getting ready to quote out of the Old Testament about the story of Israel that is happening now. This is profound. This is a moment. What’s he going to quote? What verse is he going to quote? Where’s he going to quote from? He’s going to quote from something we read earlier; Amos 9.
“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;’”
Well, Jerusalem hasn’t been rebuilt. Israel hasn’t been rebuilt.
He says, “‘I will rebuilt its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
“‘Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,’”
This is like a moment. I can’t tell you what a moment this is because they are taking their story, the way they saw their story, and they’re saying, “Okay, we’re blowing it up because what’s going on right now is the fulfillment of all of those things.”
So, the question we should be asking ourselves — and it’s a great question — is what was this advent, this a-ha moment, that James just had? Because this a-ha moment, this advent moment, that James just had changes the whole trajectory of the New Testament. The Gospels were written based on what happened in Acts 15. The epistles were written based on what happened in Acts 15; based on him saying, “What Amos said is happening now. Right now in 50 A.D. Right now, this is happening.”
What happened? Well, first of all, they started to realize that the advent of Jesus that in the coming of Jesus was the unfolding, converging and dovetailing fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament. They all of a sudden realized, “We have been reading our story wrong. All of this stuff back here was not about us. It was all about Jesus. We’re not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus was. We’re not all these things that we thought we were. Jesus was.”
They realized that Jesus is the true Israel. That’s why your Gospel writers go, “No wonder He had 12 disciples. He’s reconstituting the 12 tribes around Himself. No wonder He went to Egypt and came out of Egypt. No wonder He went through the waters. No wonder He went to the wilderness. No wonder He went up on the mountain and preached the Sermon on the Mount like Moses. He’s Israel. We thought Israel was us, but He’s Israel.”
Which is why you find in the Gospels, like Matthew, underline the word “fulfilled.” It’s all these Old Testament Scriptures. Some of them are obscure. You’re like, “Where did you find that one from?” He’s like, “Jesus fulfilled that. Jesus fulfilled that. Jesus fulfilled that. Jesus fulfilled that. Jesus fulfilled that. Jesus fulfilled that. He’s the fulfillment of everything that we’ve been thinking. It’s all fulfilled in Jesus.”
Paul, in the rest of the book of Acts, because of this a-ha moment, what does Luke tell? Paul’s always preaching, in the synagogue on the sabbath, Jesus from the Scriptures. What are the Scriptures that He has? The Old Testament. If you ask most Christians, “Can you find Jesus in the Old Testament?” they go, “No. He isn’t even there. I don’t know why the Old Testament is there. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Can we just get rid of those 39 books and just stay with the 27 books?”
Eighty-five percent of the sermons in America come from the New Testament because nobody knows what to do with the Old Testament. But Paul is teaching Jesus from the Old Testament. Not only that, but Jesus Himself, in Luke 24, on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a two-hour walk if you walk it, it says that Jesus taught things concerning Himself from the Old Testament. That’s the first thing I ask my homiletics and hermeneutics classes. Can anybody preach Jesus out of the Old Testament for the next two and a half hours? Nobody raises their hands.
See, this is why Paul goes, “Galatians 3. The seed of Abraham? It wasn’t the seed like national lineage. The seed wasn’t plural. The seed was singular.”
The seed of Abraham that he was told in Chapter 12, “Through your seed I will bless the world,” it was a singular. It was Christ. He says, “If you’re in Christ, you’re in Abraham.”
Their whole world is changing because they’ve had this understanding that all of this is about Jesus. He goes on to say in Galatians 6:16, he calls the Galatian church, which is a Gentile church, the Israel of God. In Ephesians 2, he said, “There used to be two, Jew and Gentile, but Christ came and tore down the wall of partition. He’s made the two one; the Church.”
In Romans 9:5, he goes, “You know, not all Israel is actually Israel. It’s not really about lineage.” Romans 10 is what Israel is about. It’s about those who have faith. In Romans 11, there’s one tree. There’s not two trees. There’s one tree. There’s Gentiles and Jews both that are in that tree because there’s one tree. In all Israel, that one tree will be saved in the same manner, verse 26, when out of Zion comes the deliverer to forgive their sins.
Everything changed. It wasn’t about the City of Jerusalem. Now it was a heavenly city. They realized Jesus took on human form. It wasn’t going to be us. They thought when God raises us up, then Ezekiel 36 will be true. We’ll get the Spirit and we’ll be the valley of dry bones. God will resurrect national Israel. And then what’ll happen is Jeremiah 31:31 will happen. We’ll have the law written within our hearts. And then what we’ll do is we’ll go out as God’s people who have taken on human form, like Adam and Eve, and we’ll go into all the world and fill the world.
No. Jesus took on human form. Jesus fulfilled that and He lived the life of fulfillment. He dealt with sin and He gave the Spirit and He told us to go. They realized everything is wrapped within this person of Jesus.
Secondly, they started to realize that the — not their — story was now unfolding and being fulfilled through them. Totally different story. It’s like all of that went away. It was all about Jesus. Now, it wasn’t about nationality, culture or anything. It was about Jesus. The message was this guy, Jesus. That’s why it says, “They preached Jesus to them.”
They didn’t preach doctrine. They preached Jesus to them. They didn’t preach culture. They preached Jesus to them. Jesus was the message. Anything that compromises the message, they started realizing, “Man, if we get caught up with other stuff, or we get other stuff and we try to put stuff together, and we try to join Jesus with this or that, all we’re doing is compromising the message.”
So, what they realized was, “We’re just some strangers and exiles working towards the real city that’s going to come. There’s another city and we’re strangers and exiles.”
In fact, what we are is like an outpost or an embassy of heaven. The local church is that embassy or outpost in the areas that it lives. You start getting things like this outpost/embassy imagery where our citizenship is in heaven. We’re not citizens here. We’re strangers and exiles. We don’t get entangled in that stuff. We shouldn’t even deal with it because our citizenship is in heaven and we’re an embassy. Whatever country or city we find ourselves in, we’ll obey the speed limit, we’ll do the things that we’re supposed to do, and we’ll honor the things, but we don’t get involved in that. We’re there to be ambassadors of the embassy and the outpost that we live because Paul says, “We’re ambassadors. The Church is an embassy. God makes His appeal through us. We implore you, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God.”
We don’t get caught up in all these others things. All these other things are simply entanglements that comprise the message of Jesus. We convince ourselves, “No. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do this.”
So did the Sadducees. So did the Pharisees. So did all of those, but it wasn’t the message. The message was Jesus. See, what happens because of advent is advent becomes the critical juncture to understanding the whole story of the Bible. Jesus coming in human form, living this life out, dying and rising again on the third day changes the whole story. What happens is we are — not could be, not might be — called to go into the world. There are people that go, “Well, I don’t know. I’ll pray about going.”
No. There’s no praying about going. If you are a follower of Jesus — and I’m not trying to give anybody a guilt trip or make you feel bad — you are supposed to be telling people about Jesus. At work. In your family. In your neighborhood. It’s not a matter of, “Well, that’s not my ministry.”
No. Anybody who is a follower of Christ is an embassy worker in the local church telling that country the story of the country that we talk about, which is heaven. See, this is why we know the passage, like, “Go into all the world.” What we don’t realize is what happened the verse before. “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had directed them.”
Why did He tell them to go up on a mountain? Because He’s getting ready to tell them to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. They know the story. The story is when the mountain’s raised, then they’re doing it. It’s happened. They’re doing it. It’s happened. Jesus is the fulfillment of all those things.
“Go now. Do the things that you’re supposed to do. I’ve made provision for all of it. I’ve dealt with sin. I’ve given you the Spirit. All of those things. Now, go do what the original plan was. I created humanity to do this. Go.”
The second thing is we’re our brother’s keeper always. There’s no nuance to that. There’s no, “Turn the other cheek. Well, you only have to turn it three times. After three times, you’re done.”
There’s no, “Love your enemies until...”
There’s no, “Well, how many times do I have to forgive?”
“Seventy times seven.”
“What’s that mean? Four ninety?”
That’s like the times between Daniel and the coming of the Messiah. It’s like, “Forever. Forever.”
“Yeah. But I don’t want to forgive people forever.”
Why? Because we are people that are the embassy of heaven. How much was God’s extent of forgiveness towards you and me? How many times did we do Him wrong? Think about it. It’s an extravagant love we’re called to do because, at the end of the day, we live in light of a city that’s to come. Listen to what the Word of God says. This should just be like, “Whoa,” when you hear this.
“These all died in faith,” — Moses, Abraham, David, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. All of them died in faith — “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar,”
They knew far more about the understanding of Christianity and following God than we give them any credit for. They totally understood what they were doing. Totally. Isaiah saw Christ, if you read John 12. They knew about Jesus. We just don’t get it. We don’t understand the Bible very well.
“And having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
They’re looking for a city. We’re on a journey. We see in their stories where they’ve failed over and over again, but they were on a journey. And listen to what it says here.
“For people who speak this...” — people that live the way they live — “...make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”
When you live the way Scripture says to live, you realize, “I’m not a city builder. This stuff here doesn’t matter. I’m not going to get caught up into that stuff. I’m going to really, genuinely love my brothers. I’m going to really be my brother’s keeper. I’m going to really go out and share Jesus because I know what’s coming and I live in light of that.”
“If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,”
Like a physical part of the world, well, they could have gone back to it. They’re not looking for that type of homeland.
“They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,” — listen — “for he has prepared for them a city.”
See, I could spend a lot of time here. I can’t. But in the earthly cities — and I could go back through all these cities of the Old Testament. Bethlehem? You’re not going to have any room. Nazareth? You’re not going to have any honor. Jericho? You’re going to have shame. Jerusalem? You’re going to get crucified. Egypt? You’re going to get enslaved. Babylon? You’ll be captive. We could go on and on and on and on. But folks, we have a message of a city that says, “Come all you who are weary and heavy laden.” We have a city that says, “Come you who thirst.”
There’s no shame. There’s no enslavement. There’s no past. All of those things are forgiven in this city. Come to the city. Come meet the Lamb that’s in the city. His name is Jesus. We have that message. That is the message that we cannot compromise by adding a bunch of other junk to it. Because, see, the coming of Jesus changes everything. There’s no story that you can mix with Jesus. His story stands alone. Whenever you try to put Jesus with something else — some idea, some argument, some persuasion. The message is very simple: It’s Jesus.
Listen, I’m challenging our church. I don’t believe that we’re here by accident. This is not an orchestration of men. We meet in the back of an almost cultish-looking building that’s next to the USDA Food Company. It’s like, “Seriously?” How in the world are we growing? Obviously, God is doing something here. But see, what I believe God is doing here is I believe God is raising up a church that isn’t going to just play casual Christianity and tiptoe-through-the-tulips Christianity. I believe God wants to raise up an army of embassy/outpost Christians that really want to take on the world.
And I’m asking you to be a part of that. It starts this coming Sunday evening on Main Street. Bring people there. Be there. Be a part of it because we decided as a staff, and ultimately I decided, “Hey, listen. We’ve been really nice the last couple of years. We’ve done some great things. But this year, I’m telling you right now, we’re going to preach the Gospel in a way that we’ve never preached it.”
We’re going to really talk about Jesus on Main Street because I believe that God has a lot of people He wants to call home this coming Sunday evening on Main Street. We’re not going to compromise anything. And if they kick us out for preaching the Gospel, they didn’t kick us out for being nasty or bad or whatever else. But I’m going to tell you this: We’re going to tell people about Jesus in a very frank and honest way this coming Sunday night. We’re going to sing that song. We’re going to sing, “What a powerful name it is,” on Main Street. We’re going to lift Jesus up at Main Street this year.
The reason is because I believe it’s time. I believe that, as your pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time tilling, planting seeds and breaking up the soil. I believe it’s time for us to engage in a way that we’ve never engaged. In 2019, we are going to engage in all kinds of outreaches and all kinds of stuff because I believe that Jesus wants to bring His people home. He wants us to really be authentic in what we’re doing. So, we’re going to be that church or you’re going to fire me as your pastor and I’ll go somewhere else. I’ll go do it somewhere else.
The reality is this: We have an opportunity and we have the greatest message in the world. Let’s seize this moment while we’re alive. Let’s seize it together as a church. Let’s make a difference. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, I am humbled and honored to be able to share these incredible stories about Your Son, Jesus. They’re just mind blowing. Lord, I pray right now, in Jesus’ name, that You would bring a spiritual revival in our church and in our community. Lord, I pray that You would move in ways that we never even thought that You could move. I pray that the souls that we see that come into the Kingdom of God would just be far greater than we’ve ever seen. Lord, I pray that You would burden us to realize we come here on the weekend to get equipped so that we can go out and be the embassy and outpost people that You’ve called us to be.
Lord, I pray that we would have a seriousness about us, a tenacity about us, that maybe we haven’t had for a long time of really wanting to reach the community for Jesus. Help us to be that. Lord, we pray in advance. Lord, my prayer is not that a lot of people would show up. I hope they do. My prayer is that the power of God would show up on Sunday night. Lord, that is my prayer, that there would be lost that moved to found, and burnt-by-religion that would move to Jesus, and people that have been hurt would be healed on Main Street, Lord, on Sunday night as You pour out Your Spirit, Lord.
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 in all that we do here. We pray that You’d bring us back safely to meet here again in a couple of weeks. But we pray, God, that You would bring us all together in the next week, Lord, to really believe that You’re going to do great things on Main Street for Your glory and for Your honor. 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.