Christmas Series – Luke

[Simple short message for ECM.

Will need 2 props: 1. A “crown” (paper cutout) & 2. The word, “LOWLY” (printed out, folded into triangle so it stands up on its own]

Good morning everyone! Merry early Christmas! Okay, so today, I wanted to step inside the Christmas story a little bit. We will start low, and end on a high note. You see, there are many characters in the Christmas story, like Mary and Joseph, who were humble and lowly. Although we might think the action ought to all be in the king’s palace somewhere, God’s focal point really is with the lowly. <Bring out LOWLY sign, put on table in front.> We all know that Jesus was not born in a well-furnished mansion, as we might have expected, but to a lonely peasant couple, in a filthy setting of a barn. Today, that might be comparable to finding a baby under a highway underpass, lying in a shopping cart with crumpled up newspapers. It’s a sad, miserable picture, but this is how God chose to reveal his glory.

Today, we’re going to experience a little bit more of that lowly taste of Christmas. You see, not only was Jesus born in lowly conditions, he was also proclaimed to lowly people. Does anyone know who could have said “Angels we have heard on high” on that very first Christmas? Yeah, it was the shepherds! To give a little bit of background on the shepherds, it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park. Shepherds were social outcasts, on par with, or slightly above, the prostitutes and tax collectors. They were poor and uneducated and therefore were looked down on to a point where they could not even witness in court. Furthermore, they were also religious outcasts. Since they came into contact with all sorts of animals and carcasses, they were considered unclean and were unwelcomed in the temples. These are the people that God chose to reveal his angelic host to.

Let’s go ahead and read Luke 2:1-20…

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

These shepherds were minding their own business, when suddenly “Hallelujah!” all of these angels show up! They hear about good news of great joy for all the people, a promise of a Savior and a Lord, and they get to see him! But “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people”? Really? All the people? It’s so hard to believe. Not just the strong ones, the talented ones, the rich ones, the pretty ones, the smart ones? Well, the angel was pretty clear about this: this good news will cause great joy for all the people. That’s really something to think about. Does that mean, God wants something to do with the poor, the uneducated, the injured, the depressed, the ugly, the weak, the kind of people that we wouldn’t want to talk to or even be? If we remember how Jesus came: to a lowly peasant couple, to a lowly situation in that unhygienic barn, proclaimed to lowly shepherds who were rejects of society… we can conclude that yes, God wants something to do with lowly people. And then the question becomes, does God want something to do with me? … You see, I’m not that good. I’m extremely forgetful, I’m often late, I’m lazy and I get easily irritated at people. Are you telling me that God wants something to do with a person who’s pretty messed up, who’s annoying to her friends and has a dirty heart? Are you saying that God actually wants something to do with me? Yes, I think so. If God came to the shepherds who were at the outskirts of town, if God came to Mary and Joseph who couldn’t even find a decent place to stay for the night, if God chose those kinds of people to see Jesus first, then maybe God wants something to do with me, too.

Well, what is this good news of great joy that he wants to tell me? I mean, isn’t a baby born in a manger actually sad and pathetic news? I know what I consider good news of great joy. This past weekend, one of my best friends got married and I got to join in on the celebration! That’s certainly good news of great joy! But.. even though it’s good news for my friend and her family, it’s not good news for all the people. Hm. Ok, how about this: What if ____ won the million dollar lottery, and she’s going to share it with everyone in this room! Wow! That’s good news of great joy for all the people, right? Well.. I don’t know about that, either. Maybe everyone will be richer, but where does that leave someone if they were depressed, disabled in some way, or even extremely sick? No amount of money will fix their condition. So it’s not really that great, after all. So what could be so great about some dirty baby, born in some remote barn, to a poor peasant couple? How can he affect every single one of us?

Let’s go back to what the angels said. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to YOU; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” So, that means that we need a Lord, or king, and we need to be saved! And it’s very clear what we need to be saved from: our very own selves, who are the wrongful kings. If you remember from 2 weeks ago, we talked about who was going to be king in our lives: us or God. <Bring out crown, move to front of self to represent “us”, lifting up crown on upper right to represent “God”.> Now, we all know that God’s a whole lot smarter than we are and better at directing the universe, but when it comes down to, for example, one annoying roommate, suddenly at least for me, I have a battle with God. God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” <lift crown up> and I say, “Go away, neighbor!” <yank crown to self>. So I often experience that I fall short of God’s heart and his standards. Jesus really ought to be king, but now that I’ve messed up in letting him direct my heart and actions, I need someone to save me from the consequences of my sin, which is death. Now, whether we reject God knowingly or not, we are people who are not perfect in our relationship with God. We might say, “Sure, I’m not perfect, but nobody’s perfect.” But the thing is, before a perfect God, our imperfection, no matter how small, deserves separation from God and all of his goodness and life, forever. <put crown on table in front>

Far from being perfect, this is how lowly we are. We are lowly because we lack in character, love, and purity. If all of our thoughts that went on in our heads were projected on a screen for everyone to see, we would be ashamed and it’d be clear that we are messed up sinners from the inside out. I imagine that being here, too, in a nursing home, would feel like we are in a lowly position. Maybe we feel lowly because of our bodies, which lack the independence that it once had. Maybe we feel lowly when our family or friends have passed away or are distant because of our sense of loneliness or isolation.

Even though we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s perfection, that’s exactly why the good news of great joy is for all the people, even those of us who feel like we are the lowest kind of people. You see, even in our sin, the holy God still loved us. He saw that we were helpless to our fate, so sent His Son, Jesus, to take the punishment of death that we deserved. The good news is that if we confess that we are sinners, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for us on the cross and rose again, we can accept God’s forgiveness and accept Jesus as our King and Savior. <lift up crown and put back down.>

Let’s go back see how the shepherds responded. The angels told them, “A Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” And that means he was born to each one of us, to all people, even the humble people like the shepherds, even to someone as lame as me, and also to you. Salvation is available to any one of us. This is the good news of great joy for all the people: even though we all have sinned, we are all welcome to invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. Man, the shepherds were overcome with not only joy, but awe and wonder! And their response was to tell everyone the news, even to complete strangers who came from all over the nation!

Now, we don’t have angelic hosts singing today, but we’ve all heard many Christmas songs about Jesus. We also don’t see the bright glorious angelic lights that the shepherds did, but we have Christmas lights. We may not see any barns, but we’ve seen plenty of nativity scenes. The shepherds responded so freely and immediately to the invitation to meet Jesus, and then spread this good news that brought amazement to those who listened! Even though they were the rejects of society, even though they were considered as nobodies who couldn’t testify in court, God gave them front row seats to testify about his humble Son, Jesus. So, we don’t need to pretend that we are perfect, because to be honest, we’re not. It’s ok to admit our brokenness and lowliness, <lift up LOWLY sign> because that’s where God can meet us. That’s exactly where God did meet us on that first Christmas. <put sign down> He came into the world in a lowly way: in a filthy barn, and died in a lowly way: on the rugged cross. God chooses to enter into our lowly and filthy hearts, too, if we would only first acknowledge our lowliness and our need for him.

So, this is the story of Christmas. Jesus is a Lowly King <arrange LOWLY on stage right, and crown stage left on table>. He also is the King of the lowly <switch props>. <pause>

We know much more than the shepherds do about Jesus. And just like them, we too ought to move toward this good news of Jesus coming to save us from our sins. If we are Christian, let’s spread this good news of great joy to everyone that we can find! Just like the shepherds, we can say that even though we are so lowly in some way, God still loves someone like me, so he must love someone like you! We ought to rejoice like the shepherds did, and then have that joy overflow to others! And if you are not sure if you’ve had this kind of joy before while acknowledging our lowliness, I want to encourage us to find Jesus to be good news of great joy for ourselves. If it is your prayer that we are lowly and broken and that we need Jesus to be our king and to save us from our sins, or if it’s your prayer to find courage to spread this good news to others who need to hear even though we feel so lowly ourselves, if that is your prayer today, would you please raise your hand? Ok, let’s pray.

Christmas Series – Matthew

[Simple short message for ECM]

Hello everybody! Merry early Christmas to you all! Christmas is my favorite season of the year. I love the music, the lights, the general feeling of “good will toward all men”! And I never get tired of the Christmas songs, even in the middle of July! But anyway, Christmas. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do people give gifts to one another? Why are there lights around everywhere and a joyful feeling in the air? To answer those questions, let’s go back to the first Christmas.

The wise men from the east saw something in the stars that pointed to the birth of a Jewish king. They prepared expensive gifts and took a dangerous journey hundreds of miles from their hometown to the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. So they were very certain about getting to meet this special king! This is where we begin our story today. But before we get into the text, I want to make a note: there was someone in this story who didn’t share in the excitement.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b]and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

~ Matt 2:1-12

Jesus’ coming is so amazing! However, do you remember who wasn’t happy at all to hear the news to a point where he was “troubled”? Yeah, it was King Herod. You see, the Jews were anticipating a Jewish king to save them from Roman oppression. Herod here was an illegitimate king over Jerusalem because he was not Jewish – he was considered part of the enemy. So when King Herod heard about this new king, he was pretty upset that another king was threating to his power – his throne. In fact, he felt so threatened that he ordered all the baby boys in Jerusalem and its vicinity to be killed.

You know, I’m tempted to bash King Herod at this point for trying to defy God. It sounds so foolish! I mean, if it was written in the stars and prophesized in scripture, it’s very clear that God specifically, intentionally planned this baby’s arrival. But instead of just getting upset at King Herod, I had to stop and consider my own attitude. Herod was “troubled”, or in another version, it says, he was “disturbed”. He was hostile to the very idea that another king would reign instead of himself… But what about me? Everyday, I fight the same battle that king Herod tried to fight: a battle between me and God. <”fight” with God over crown> Who’s going to be king over my life and my future? Who’s going to tell me what to do and have power over my life? I want to say, “God”, but when I’m faced with an annoying housemate or a difficult life situation, I want to say, “No thanks, God.” God says that I’m a forgiven sinner and that my life’s purpose is to love God and to love people. But I say, “No, I don’t want to care about that person like you tell me to, or even talk to that person. No, I don’t want to be thankful in all circumstances. No, I don’t want to hear that I’m a sinner and confess my specific sins.” Just like King Herod, I’m very disturbed that another king, king Jesus, has come to reign in my life. <put down crown> Often, I’ll want to silence God’s voice, whether it comes from the Bible, my conscience or from a good friend because I want to be king, and I don’t want anybody telling me what to do. I take on that regal attitude, and that’s when I forget the mystery and awe that God would even come close and love someone like me. And that Jesus’ humble beginning was intentional, just as intentional… as his death on the cross.

From the beginning of time, God loved us. But we are people who didn’t always love God back. We were never taught to be selfish, but even from a young age, we knew how to be selfish and how to act like demanding kings. We rejected God’s rightful claim over our lives and thus deserve to die apart from him. Although we deserve to die because of our sins, God sent Jesus Christ into the world on that the first Christmas, in Bethlehem.

Another interesting group that we can look at is the chief priests and teachers of the law. They’re pretty darn smart bunch, so smart that king Herod asks them very important questions about very important matters. Even the wise men from the east didn’t know, but they knew! They knew that the Christ was going to be born in a small, obscure town called Bethlehem. But the sad thing is, even though they are great readers and great at answering people’s questions, they missed out on relating to Jesus. You see, even though they had all of their facts right, they didn’t respond to Jesus at all. If this was the prophesied king, the one who God told them about through the Old Testament – if this was it – why didn’t they have any excitement or action? Like, if someone says that your grandchild was born, and was brought for a visit in the front lobby, wouldn’t you want to scramble to get there as fast as you possibly could? How much more, then, the foretold king, the one who was called Savior? So, you see, there was something wrong about these chief priests and teachers that kept a precious visitor at an arm’s distance. Maybe they were afraid of Herod or maybe they thought that the foretold king coming in their lifetime was too good to be true. But excuses aside, this group is just as tragic as king Herod. Even though they had a wealth of knowledge and knew the most about Jesus – more than anyone else – they ultimately didn’t really know Jesus.

For me, I grew up going to church and learned about Jesus for as far as I can remember, just like these chief priests. So I always went to Sunday School, I memorized Bible verses, I sang in the choir, and played piano during praise time. <stick on awards> If I had a prize for all of those things, you could say that I could have gotten a “Great Attendance Award”, “Bible Knowledge Award”, and a “Service Award”. However, even though I knew the verses and the songs, and did all of these things in church, none of it really hit my heart, because I was aloof and distant from the personal God, just like those chief priests were. But one day, I finally realized that I was a sinner and needed Jesus to personally die for me. It was only then that I accepted him as king and savior into my life. It was only then too, did prayer, reading his Word, and seeking to obey him mean much more to me than ritualistic “good things” to do, because I actually wanted to relate to God and please him.

Now, who was Jesus? He was more than a good moral teacher for us to follow. He was more than a tragic man who died on the cross. He is the rightful king of the world and of our hearts. He is someone who loved us so much that He came and died to be our Savior – in other words, he saved us from the death that we deserve by taking on death himself. We are sinners, we need a savior, and He is it. He came and he’s still here today. Let’s not let miss him and only know facts about him from afar, like the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Instead, let’s personally ask God for forgiveness for our sins and trust Jesus to be our Savior. Let’s not remain disturbed, like Herod. Instead, let’s humbly accept Jesus as king and Lord over our lives.

The wise men from the east had it right. They were overjoyed to meet Jesus because they knew that Jesus was someone who is worth worshipping, worth the sacrifice of expensive gifts, and worth the trouble to investigate and to personally find. Now, to wrap up this message, I want to issue a question to you all. Would you like to personally find Jesus? From the beginning of time, before God flung the universe into being, his plan to love us and save us from our sins was already written out in the stars. After He died for our sins, he rose again, showing us that he conquered sin and even death. Jesus is still alive today, and he wants you to join him in eternal life by starting and continuing in a saving relationship with him. More than knowing facts about him as merely an example of a good man to follow, Christmas is so special because Jesus came to us personally on that day. If we only humbly confess that we are sinners, ask for forgiveness, and trust that he is our Lord and Savior, we can enter into an exciting, joyful, enriching relationship with our King. Would anyone like to do this for the first time today? Ok, Let’s pray.

 

ReMarkable Jesus. Mark 14:17-21

[Simple short message for ECM]

And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” ~ Mark 14:17-21

Today’s passage is very tragic. Here, we are nearing Jesus’ last few days before going to the cross and here, he is having one final meal with his 12 disciples. Just like nowadays, back then, to share a meal together meant that there was a close, personal friendship and a bond of trust and camaraderie. I mean, you don’t just have a meal with any stranger. But Jesus brought a note of doom and sadness into this picture – not only was he going to the cross, but one of the people at this table was going to betray him, one of these disciples who had been together with them all for the past 3 years, who had experienced the thrill of Jesus’ miraculous healings and teaching.

It must have been a very heavy, sad moment. If you’ve ever been the recipient of betrayal, you must know how painful that would be. The sting of betrayal, here? There must have been a pause of disbelief among the disciples. Then, realizing that Jesus was serious, eleven of the disciples must have tersely – and sorrowfully – looked around the room. Who would do such a thing? “Is it I?”, they each wondered aloud, thinking that maybe they would do it on accident or in the heat of the moment, but surely, no one would actually plan on betraying Jesus.

However, one of them did. It was… Judas. When Jesus said that one of them would betray him, Judas must have been a little shifty-eyed… felt a little uncomfortable. His cheeks might have reddened, but he remained silent. You see, without any of the other disciples knowing, Judas had already planned to betray Jesus to the chief priests for 30 silver coins. Though none of the other disciples knew, Jesus knew this.

It’s very interesting to note Jesus’ response. Jesus didn’t force himself upon Judas. He didn’t say, “Truly, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me. And his name is JUDAS ISCARIOT! Judas, leave my presence, at ONCE!” No… Jesus didn’t say that. He fully knew, yet, he didn’t call Judas by name and accuse him to his face, exposing him in front of everyone else. He offered one last, intensely personal, yet unforceful plea to Judas. He was giving him a chance to stop this madness, to repent, and to come back into a restored relationship with Him. A chance to drop the pretense, the betrayal, the pride.

You see, ultimately, Jesus still loved Judas. He could have yelled at Judas for being ungrateful, for being a greedy fool, for being the unworthy disciple that he was. But Jesus gives him one more chance without forcing his hand. Right after Jesus said that one of them was going to betray him, Judas could have confessed at this point or apologized.

But no, unfortunately, instead of stopping right there, Judas went ahead with his plan and the next time he saw Jesus, he turned Him over to the soldiers.

This was Jesus’ heart: to give Judas mercy and room to repent. It was no small sacrifice to let Judas choose. In fact, Judas’ betrayal cost Jesus humiliation, torture, and death on the cross. This costliness shows us how much God values people and their choices. Similarly, God waits for us too, hoping that we will repent and come to him.

You see, just as Judas traded Jesus in for 30 silver coins, we also trade in Jesus for our own selfish benefit as well. Instead of following him as Lord and Savior, wouldn’t we deny Jesus in order for, say, 30 people to think well of us? Wouldn’t we deny God’s rightful claim over our lives for… 30 years of comfort? Wouldn’t we prefer to trade him in or pretend that he doesn’t exist in order to indulge in 30 angry or complaining thoughts? I’m not sure about you, but I certainly had times in my life when I pretended to not know Jesus because it wasn’t cool to be Christian. I even felt embarrassed to pray before meals because no one else was. So I know that I’m definitely someone who denied Jesus in order to try to get just a few people to accept me.

And you know what? Just like how Jesus didn’t flex his spiritual muscles to coerce obedience out of Judas, God didn’t strike me down with lightning or anything like that. In the end, Judas was judged because he didn’t repent. Similarly, Jesus will not force us to love him, but his mercy will only last for so long. Fortunately for me, I eventually realized what I was doing and asked God to forgive me.

Romans 2:4-5 says: Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Today, I want to implore you to learn from Judas’ mistake. His life ended tragically, but it’s not too late for us, because we still have a chance to repent! If we’ve ever ignored God because we had our own ideas about how we ought to live, that is a betrayal against God. When we choose to have selfish thoughts, jealousy, impatience, or bitterness, we are choosing to betray the way God made us to be in relationship to him and others. Have we ever betrayed God this way? The good news is that even though we are like that, God wants to forgive us, if only we would repent. He already knows the full extent of the ugliness of our sins, yet He is extending his mercy to us today. His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. God wants to let you know that he loves you so much that he was willing to take on the worst that you could throw at him. Actually, Jesus did take on the worst kind of death by dying the cross for our sins.

If you’ve never repented before, I want to let you know that repenting simply means admitting the ways in which we refused to love God, asking God for forgiveness, and desiring to love God more. And whether you are Christian or not, you can repent before God today.

1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us. It says “just” here because all of that justice fell onto Jesus, so we can have the courage to repent. God has already promised to forgive us, even if we are betrayers like Judas. If any of you think that you have rejected or ignored God in some way, there is no more need to pretend. Rather, let’s choose to come to Jesus. Instead of hiding that part of your life away, you can ask God to forgive you, and he will! If you want to ask God to forgive you today, do you mind raising your hand? One of us will come pray with you.