Sunday, December 30, 2007

How Wise Are You?

The story of the wise men is a story of mystery, for it presents questions that we cannot answer.

"Where did they come from?" We don’t know.

"How many were there?" We really aren’t sure.

"How did they know to follow the star?" We’re not told.

They just seem to come mysteriously out of nowhere to pay homage to the newborn king, and then just as mysteriously they are gone.

Scripture doesn’t give many details, but tradition has had a heyday!

Tradition says that they were 3 in number, and that they traveled on camels across the desert.

Tradition gives their names as Casper, Melchior, Baltezar.

Tradition tells us where they came from, what they did, and where they went.

Tradition has told their story in its entirety. The only problem is that all of this is just tradition.

There is no proof for any of what tradition tells us.

It never states in the Bible an exact date for when the Wise Men, came to see Jesus. It has often been assumed that they came just after Jesus birth while he was still living in the stable. According to scripture, it was not the night He was born. It was a few years later when Jesus was not a newborn anymore.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." Matthew 2:12

Later in the same chapter Matthew states that they came to His house:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him... Matthew 2:11

Herod had all the children two years and under slain, according to the time he learned from the wise men.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Matthew 2:16

Therefore it is likely that Jesus was 1 to 2 years old.

I am certain about one thing. The number of wise men and women increases in every generation as more and more people follow what we know about the wise men, rather than what we don’t know. As we are thinking about the new year let's concentrate on what we do know about the wise men.

They were willing to step out in faith and follow wherever God led them.

In 2008 we have no idea what will happen, but if we follow the Star we will not get lost.

Why were they following the star? How did they know of its importance?

Since the Bible doesn’t tell us, we can only guess. The Bible does tell us that the wise men came from the east. The major empires to the east had been the Babylonian and the Persian empires. We know that the Babylonians specialized in studying the stars. We know that during the Jewish exile that Daniel, a faithful Jew and prophet of God, rose in such prominence that he became chief of the wise men of Babylon and the third ruler in the kingdom. Then when the Persians conquered Babylon, Daniel became president of the presidents under King Darius. Therefore, many scholars suggest that the wise men of the east had ample opportunities to know the Old Testament scriptures and prophecies.

I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel. Numbers 24:17

Perhaps when they saw the star come from Israel (Jacob), they were ready to go and worship Him who was to be the King of the Jews - the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Whatever the case was, the important thing for us to realize is that they were ready to go - to follow wherever God would direct them.

God has always been faithful in His leading. He led the children of Israel across the wilderness, providing a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. He provided them food when they were hungry, drink when they were thirsty, and clothing when they were naked. Now he was providing a star to lead these wise men to the place where the Christ child lay.

God may not lead us in quite as dramatic a way today, but God promises to lead us... if we will let Him.

"The eye of faith is one that is willing to take the next step, and trusts God to direct that next step."

We don’t know what tomorrow holds - or next week - or next year. But we know that when we are in His hands, He does lead, and He will guide each step if we will let Him. What will this next year bring to you and I? We don’t know but if we trust and obey God, we will be blessed!

Jesus said, "I will not leave you alone. I will send you the comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide you into all truth." This Christmas season I seemed to run across this scripture a lot. What a wonderful promise! We have God’s Spirit to lead us day by day, and in every moment of the day, dwelling within us - on the throne of our lives - leading and directing and guiding each step.

Even so, wise men of every generation have been divinely led, listening to and heeding the Word of God day by day. Did you catch that day by day? Don’t live tomorrow until tomorrow comes!

I don’t Know about tomorrow,
I just live from day to day;
I don’t borrow from its sunshine,
For the skies may turn to gray.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said;
And today I’ll walk beside Him.
For He knows what is a-head.

Every step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb;
Every burden’s getting lighter,
Every cloud is silver-lined.
There the sun is always shining,
there no tear will dim the eye;
At the ending of the rainbow,
Where the mountains touch the sky.

I don’t know about tomorrow,
It may bring me poverty;
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that is my portion,
May be through the flame or flood,
But His presence goes before me,
And I’m covered with His blood.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow,
and I know who holds my hand.

--Ira Stamphill

Let us go back to the wise men as they were preparing to leave their homes and follow the star. Let's interview these men!

Reporter: Are you going on a journey?
Wise men: Yes, we are.
Reporter: Where are you going?
Wise men: We don’t know.
Reporter: Well, how long are you going to be gone?
Wiser men: We don’t know.
Reporter: What are you going to do when you get there, wherever it is?
Wise men: We are going to worship the king.
Reporter: What king?
Wise men: We don’t know.
Reporter: Why are you going?
Wise men: We are going because we have read the scriptures, and we have seen a star in the sky, and we have a strange stirring within our hearts to go.
Reporter: And you are called wise men?

How foolish to take off on a journey, not knowing where you are going, or what you are going to find when you get there, or how long you are going to be gone.

The year 2008 is a journey with those kind of answers. Yet the journey of faith always has those characteristics.

They must have said the same thing to Abraham, when he left Ur of Chaldees to go to the land that God had promised him.

William Cary was a shoemaker. One day he heard of the millions in India to whom no one had ever gone with the good news of Jesus Christ. He believed that the great commission to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" included him. So he volunteered to go to India but was told, "Young man, sit down. When it pleases God to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine!"

He went anyway, supporting himself. For 7 years he worked without seeing a single convert - but he lived to see hundreds of churches and thousands of converts. Today he is called the "Father of Modern Missions."

These were men who responded in faith, and wise men in every generation have always responded in faith!

They were wiser than the men of the world.

Matthew records that the wise men ended up in Jerusalem. It was the most logical place - the center of Judaism - the temple of God - the high priests of God. And of course, the palace of Herod the King. If anybody would know of the birth of a new-born King it would be the present King, right? Wrong!

They went to King Herod and asked their questions. "We understand a king has been born. We have followed His star and have come to worship Him. Where is He?"

But King Herod knew nothing about it. He should have known. He was familiar with the Old Testament prophets. Herod should have had answers to all their questions - but he did not. The most amazing thing of all was that when Herod finally had the answers, his decision was to try to kill the Messiah of God to stop this king from coming to power.

Incredible! You cannot stop God! You cannot stop His Messiah!

King Herod, of all people, should have been first in line to worship Jesus. Yet, he tried to kill Jesus, to stop God’s program. Herod was a wise man in the eyes of the world. Herod had the glory, the power, but he was a fool.

Herod summoned the Chief priests. They were wise men. They knew the scriptures. They had read what the prophets had to say. They knew the prophecies backwards and forwards, and when they were asked about the new born king they answered without hesitation - "He is to be born in Bethlehem!"

They knew it! They had it memorized. Yet, even though they knew it, they didn’t bother to go and find out if it were true. They were wise men in the eyes of the world - but they were fools!

The world today has a lot of "wise men" according to worldly standards. Some have many degrees and stand in great halls of learning. But the Bible still says, that a man is a fool, no matter how many degrees he may have, when he says that "There is no God."

I don’t care how wise the world may consider him, when someone says that a virgin birth can’t happen - - the resurrection cannot be a reality He is a fool! The true wise men still come seeking Him and they are wiser than the men of the world.

They worshiped and gave gifts to Him.

People are worshiping lots of different things today. Some are worshiping men. Others are worshiping things. All of them are worshiping the wrong things.

These Wise Men came to worship Christ. They were religious, sincere men - but their lives were unfilled. Despite everything they had - wealth, prestige, power - there was a deep emptiness in their life. Yet, when they came to the house and saw the Christ Child - they worshipped Him.

What are you worshiping today? If you are not worshiping Christ then you are worshiping the devil. If it is not Christ, it will not meet the needs of your life. There will always be an emptiness there. You will always be unfilled until you can come to where Jesus is and find Him for what He is - the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.

Then, and only then, will the deep longings of your heart be met.

When the wise men come to worship Jesus they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have given rise to a lot of speculation about the symbolism of these gifts.

  • Obviously gold represents wealth of the new king. Granted, He was born in poverty, and died in poverty. But, because He is God’s Son, all the wealth of the world is His.
  • Frankincense is derived by cutting a slit in the bark of an Arabian tree. The yellow sap has an agreeable fragrance, and is hardened and used as incense in worship. So frankincense represents worship - worship of the new king.
  • Myrrh comes from stunted trees. It is a brown, fragrant perfume that is used to anoint dead bodies to embalm and preserve them. Myrrh represents the work and mission of Jesus. He came to die for us upon the cross.

Isn’t it amazing that we give to everyone at Christmas time - except to the one whose birthday we celebrate? We squander more. We waste more. We forget that the treasures laid up in heaven are laid up forever - drawing dividends for all eternity. We, too, need to give as the wise men gave.

They went home a different way.

They departed for their own country by another way. Matthew 1:12

Men who have come to worship Christ throughout the generations have always gone home another way. You can’t go the same way after worshiping Jesus. You can never be the same again!

Saul of Tarsus was "breathing out fire and threatenings against the church." He was willing to kill Christians to preserve the purity of the Jewish religion. But one day he met Christ - and he was never, ever, to be the same again. He went a different way!

Hard-boiled fisherman - Peter, Andrew, James and John met Jesus their lives were changed and transformed. They were never the same again.

It’s Christmastime and we think of the wise men. They were wise men! Not in the way the world thinks - but they were wise men because they were willing to follow wherever God led - they were wiser than the men of the world. They worshipped Christ, gave their gifts, and went home a different way.

“The Lord Jesus Christ whom we exalt at Christmas is not just a baby in a manger.
He is not a character in a children’s story.
He is far more.
The first time he came, he came veiled in the form of a child.
The next time He comes, and we believe it will be soon, He will come unveiled, and it will be abundantly and immediately clear to all the world just who He really is.
The first time He came, a star marked his arrival.
The next time He comes, the whole heavens will roll up like a scroll, and all the stars will fall out of the sky, and He himself will light it.
The first time He came, wise men and shepherds brought Him gifts.
The next time He comes, He will bring gifts, rewards for His own.
The first time He came, there was no room for Him.
The next time He comes, the whole world will not be able to contain His glory.
The first time He came, only a few attended His arrival – some shepherds and some wise men.
The next time He comes, every eye shall see Him.
The first time He came as a baby.
Soon He will come as sovereign King and Lord."
--Darren Ethier

I want to be wise enough to seek Him day by day!

I want to be wise enough to live for Him day by day!

I want to be wise enough to be ready when He comes!

How wise are you?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Reason for the Season

We all know the reason for Christmas, do we not? Sure we do. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, right?

We know who Jesus was and whom He came from, but do we really understand why He came?

The real reason He came was to show love and compassion to all of humankind.

If we had nothing else to give at Christmas time, our love and compassion for others would show the reason for the season. We find this to be true when we give a gift to a loved one or when we give to help those in need.

Last Sunday one of the women in my church came to me and told me about a family whose house had burned to the ground the day before. She asked if the church could help them. During the service, I asked the congregation if they would help in this time of need for this family, a family that none of us know. The whole church gave consent to give a love offering to this family. This is not the first time I have received a love offering from my church for someone in need. My people are giving people and they make me proud to be their pastor. They give because they have love and compassion for people they have never met! This was what Jesus did for us. That is the reason for the season of Christmas!

The other day I went to Wal-Mart. It was raining and cold. Outside of Wal-Mart, in the cold and rain, stood a Salvation Army bell ringer. As I approached her, she said with a big smile on her face, “Merry Christmas!” We know what this woman and the Salvation Army stands for, don’t we? Love and compassion!

Last night on the news a story was reported about a woman in the hospital whose purse was stolen from her room. The purse contained money that she and her husband were going to use to pay their bills and to have Christmas with. A security guard came to the room to get a report and notify the police. Nothing came of the report because there was no way to know who stole the purse. The security guard, feeling compassion for the old couple, began to tell the story everywhere he went in the hospital. He asked people if they would like to help. After some time, he came back to the old couple with more money than they had to start with. The local T.V. reporter got hold of the story and it became the main story on the five o’clock news. This is the reason for the season of Christmas.

Dr. Will Houghton, former president of Moody Bible Institute said it best when he wrote these words:

Love this world through me, Lord
This world of broken men,
Thou didst love through death, Lord
Oh, love in me again.
Souls are in despair, Lord.
Oh, make me know and care;
When my life they see,
May they behold thee,
Oh, love the world through me.

Christ is the Reason for the Season!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Learning from Joseph

A question we’ll undoubtedly hear many times between now and December 25th is, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I suppose what is really being asked is, "Have you put up all your Christmas decorations? Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Have you mailed your Christmas cards? Are you ready for Christmas?"

We meet ourselves coming and going, so we call it "the Christmas rush." Sometimes the Christmas season becomes very hectic, and because of that we tend to forget much of the reason for the season.

There is a rather interesting Christmas story about a little girl who watched her mother and dad getting ready for Christmas. To her, it seemed that dad was preoccupied with burdens and bundles, and mom was concerned about parties and presents, and they just had no time for her.
She felt that she was being shoved aside. In fact, it seemed to her that she was always being told, "Would you please get out of the way?" So one night in December she knelt beside her bed and prayed this prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven, please forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us."

You see, when I ask the question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I’m asking about more than your activities. I’m asking about your attitudes, because every once in a while I hear someone say, "I just can’t get into the Christmas spirit!" Maybe you’ve said it too. With that in mind, let’s think once again about what Christmas really means.

Christmas says that God became a human being. God expressed His love by living among us, by walking with us, and talking to us. That’s what Christmas means.

But what are the right attitudes we ought to have so that Christmas can really happen in our homes and in our lives? Let’s turn our attention to the Christmas story as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him 'Immanuel' which means, 'God with us.'"

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.

I like Joseph. He doesn’t stand in the spotlight very long, and we don’t know a whole lot about his life. But Joseph can teach us a lot about attitudes - attitudes that can make Christmas real in our lives, too.

First of all, Joseph teaches us, "Be ready to accept God’s Will, whatever it might be."

Joseph was open to the will and the leading of God. Let me point out that all that were involved in this great story of Christmas had to be willing to obey God!

  • God was willing to give up His Son.
  • Jesus was willing to come to earth.
  • Mary was willing to be the mother of Jesus even though she didn’t understand.
  • Joseph was willing to be the father and He was willing to do God's will, whatever it was and wherever it was.

Joseph had the privilege of having the angel come to Him three times.

  • The angel came and told Him to take Mary for a wife.
  • The angels came and told Him to take the young child and Mary to Egypt.
  • Then the angel told Him when it was safe to return home.

Each time Joseph responded with faith.

Put yourself in his position. Joseph thought his life was pretty well planned. He was pledged to be married, which means that he and Mary had made all necessary arrangements, and the wedding ceremony was soon to take place. Joseph knew that he would marry Mary, and that they would settle down in Nazareth. He would continue on in his carpenter business, and they would live happily together ever after.

But then Mary came to him and said, "Joseph, I am expecting a baby." It must have hit him like a bomb shell. Seemingly, she had been unfaithful to him. He knew the child was not his, and so the only conclusion he could reach was that she had been unfaithful. She had broken the bond that existed between them. According to the law, Mary should be stoned to death. But Joseph loved her so much that he didn’t want that. So he decided to divorce her quietly.

As he was thinking about this, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and in effect said, "Joseph, trust God. He is in this. You may not understand all that is happening, but just trust God & everything will be all right."

Joseph was evidently a man of faith. But sometimes it is hard to live by faith, isn’t it? If God always does what we expect Him to do, then maybe it’s easy to have faith. But when God doesn’t do what we expect, then it’s hard. Joseph trusted God and was willing to obey. Even though he must have had a list of questions a mile long, he trusted God because he believed that God’s will was best.

We find ourselves in much the same position as Joseph.

  • Christmas comes as a time of peace, but there is conflict.
  • Christmas comes as a time of joy, but there is so much sadness.
  • Christmas comes as a time of love, but there is so much hatred in our world.
    We say God, how can this be?

God’s ways are not always our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and we may never understand everything that God is doing this side of heaven, but God says, "Trust Me, and it will all work out."

Paul wrote, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."

Christmas happened because Joseph trusted God and was willing to obey God. We need to learn to trust God, too.

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey!
Trust and obey
for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey!
--J. H. Sammis
The second thing Joseph teaches us is this, "We need to learn to care about other people."

You know, Joseph’s assignment was a pretty simple one, and that is the way we often portray him in our Christmas plays. We picture Mary with a halo over her head, looking so angelic. Over here are excited shepherds. In the midst of them all is the Christ child in the manger, looking so pure and clean. Over there on the side stands Joseph. His isn’t a starring role, but his part is so important. His task is to take care of Mary and the baby Jesus. Joseph had the important role of caring for the needs of others.

Thanksgiving and Christmas come once a year, and this season probably causes us to be more sensitive to the needs of others. But we need to learn that there is always someone in need!

There is story about a young couple with an 18-month old son who had gone to spend a few days with the grandparents at Christmas. Christmas Day fell on Sunday that year and the young father had to be back at work on Monday morning. So right after going to church together, the young family said their "good-byes" and set off for home. There weren’t very many filling stations open since it was Christmas Day. But they did find a truck stop that was open. So they stopped to get fuel and something to eat.

They went inside the dimly-lit restaurant and sat down, and found that they were the only customers there, or so they thought. But then little Eric, their 18-month old son, said "Hidere. Hidere." He was putting together the two words, "Hi there" and made them into one, "Hidere."And every time he said that, there was a response from a table in a booth near the door, "Hi there, little boy. Hi there, little boy."

They looked at the alcove and saw an old, ragged, tattered-looking man. His coat was several sizes too big, and it was old and torn. His trousers drug the floor. His shoes had holes in them, and his toes actually stuck out. He had on an old hat tilted to one side, and his face was unshaven. And when he smiled, it revealed that all his teeth were gone.

And yet, for some reason, little Eric was attracted to this old man. He kept saying "Hidere, hidere," and every time, the old man would answer.

Finally the man said, "Little boy, do you know how to patty cake?" Sure enough, from across the room little Eric started patty-caking. "Little boy, do you know how to play peek-a-boo?" Sure enough, little Eric hid his eyes and played peek-a-boo. There was an instant bond between little Eric and the old man who was obviously a reject of society.

Eric’s parents felt uneasy. The husband whispered to his wife, "Let’s eat our food and get out of here as quickly as possible." So they gulped it down. Then he said, "I’ll pay for the food and you get Eric out the door."

She started toward the door, hoping to get out without any problems. But as they passed him, Eric reached out both his arms toward the old ragged, tattered man.
The old man sat there looking up at the mother, and then he asked, "Would you... would you let me hold your baby?" Really, she didn’t have much to say about it because by this time Eric had virtually lunged into the arms of the old man.
He cradled Eric in one of his hands and patted his back with the other, as Eric put his arms around the man’s neck and nestled his head on his shoulder.

Closing his eyes, the old man just talked to him, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. For a long moment he held that child and loved it. And as he did, he looked up at the mother and said, "You take good care of this boy." She answered, "I will, sir."

Then he handed Eric back, and said, "Thank you, thank you very much. You have given me my greatest Christmas present."

Christmas came because Joseph cared about Mary and Jesus. It will also come for us when we learn to care about others, too.

Thirdly, Christmas came to Joseph because Joseph gave whatever he had to give.

He gave of Himself. He didn’t know that after Jesus was born that he would have to take Mary and the baby into Egypt. He didn’t know that he would be separated from his home town and his loved ones there for a long period of time. He didn’t know all the demands that would be made on his time and his pocketbook. But whatever God asked of him, Joseph freely willing to gave. That is what Christmas is, isn’t it?

When God gave His Son Christmas happened. When Joseph gave himself Christmas happened.

There is nothing wrong with giving gifts, but the greatest gift is the gift of love.

Wally was a 7th grade student who was bigger than any of the other students in his Sunday school class. His mother had been an alcoholic when he was born, and as a result, Wally just did not have all the mental capabilities that the rest of his classmates had. But somehow he managed to get by.

Christmas time came and his class decided to put on a Christmas pageant. Since he was the biggest, Wally was selected to be the innkeeper.

After all, the innkeeper is kind of a villain in the Christmas drama. So they coached Wally to be just as mean as he possibly could be.

Well, the night came for the Christmas play. And in it, Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem, went to the Inn and knocked on its door. Wally opened the door and said, "What do you want?" just as mean and gruff as he could possibly be.

Joseph said, "We need a room. We need a place to stay tonight."

"Well, you’ll have to stay someplace else," said Wally, "because there’s no room here. There’s no room in the Inn."

Joseph said, "But my wife’s expecting a baby just any time now. Isn’t there someplace where we can stay, where we are protected from the cold and where she can deliver her child?"

"No," said Wally, "There’s no room here."

Then suddenly there was a silence on the stage. It was one of those embarrassing moments when you know that someone has forgotten the lines. From behind the curtains you could hear the prompter saying, "Begone. Begone."

Wally was supposed to speak, but for some reason he had choked up and forgotten to say "Begone."

Finally, after he had been coached for several long seconds, Wally managed to say, "Begone."

Mary and Joseph sadly turned to leave. But just as they did, Wally said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You can have my room."

The director of the play was ready to pull out her hair because she knew that the whole Christmas pageant had been ruined.

But had it? Maybe Wally, better than anybody else communicated the real spirit of Christmas. "You can have my room."

"You can have my life." That is what God said at Christmas time.

"You can have Me. I give Myself." That is still the greatest gift of all.

Are you ready for Christmas? I don’t know if you will be able to get all your shopping done or not. I don’t know if you will be able to attend all the events you want to attend. But I hope that you are ready in attitude.

I hope you are ready for the real spirit of Christmas to come, because if you’re ready for that, it’ll happen. It’ll happen in the greatest way of all. Jesus Christ stands before us today, inviting us to make important decisions about our lives and our eternity. Will we obey Him like Joseph did without questions?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Gift Beyond Description

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. --James 1:17
My text this morning is in 2 Corinthians 9:15. It is a short verse, only 8 words long. The apostle Paul says, "Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift."

This indescribable gift comes from God the Father!

This is the time of year when we are concerned about choosing just the right Christmas gifts to give to the special people in our lives. But let me ask you: Have you ever received an indescribable gift? Have you ever received a gift that was beyond description?

I thought about that for a while this week. What kind of gift would it have to be to be called indescribable? Would it be a gift that you open and look at and say, "This is just beautiful, and it is something that I've wanted all my life"? Or maybe it is a gift that carries a lot of emotional feelings with it. It was given to you by someone very special, and it was a complete surprise when it was given. Maybe it even has diamonds in it! You'll treasure it always because of the memories. Would that make it an indescribable gift?

Or maybe it would be a gift that you cared so little about that you wouldn't even bother to find words to try to describe it.

I found some gift ideas for the rich that might be called indescribable. They were extraordinary gifts that some of you might want to include on your Christmas gift list. One of them was a Jaguar automobile, the Jaguar 220. If you care to order one of these, go to your Jaguar dealer and put down your $80,000 deposit. Then when the automobile is delivered, you are expected to pay the balance of $507,000. The Jaguar 220 is a $587,000 automobile, and they only make 250 of them a year.

Now, if you should care to buy your pastor one of those to express your love and appreciation for me, I'll be a gracious recipient. But I warn you ahead of time, I may not be able to find words to describe my gratitude. It might be an indescribable gift.

You might also be interested in a new car wax that promises to give it the ultimate shine. It retails for $3,400 for an 8 ounce can. I guess if you can afford a $587,000 automobile, why not spend $3,400 for car wax?

A third item mentioned was a $300,000 gold and silver toilet seat inlaid with precious stones. Of course, there were cheaper gifts for those who have everything: an $18,000 frisbee, a $10,000 yoyo, a $12,000 mousetrap, and even a $27,000 pair of sunglasses. And for the proud grandparent who is wondering what to buy the new grandbaby, how about a $28,000 pacifier?

Such gifts stagger our imagination, don't they? But they are not indescribable.

Even though we may not be able to find words to describe them, I assure you the manufacturers can, and they will spend lots of money describing them in TV and newspaper ads. They will seek to describe them in such appealing ways as to entice you into believing that you simply can't live the rest of your life without them. You see, every human gift is describable by someone in some way.

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul at first is writing about human gifts. The church in Corinth is taking up offerings to give to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He commends them for their eagerness to help, and reminds them that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, but that those who sow generously will reap generously.

Then he shifts his attention from human gifts to God's gift of sending Jesus to earth for us. And he cannot find words to describe that. He simply says, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift."

Now at this time of the year we do our best to depict the wonderfulness of God's gift of Jesus to us. Musicians have composed some of their greatest music on this theme: Handel's "Messiah," and the beautiful hymns-- Joy to the World, Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem. Some of the greatest music our ears will ever hear were written about God's indescribable gift. Poets and painters and sculptors have taken up the tools of their trade to pay tribute to Jesus, the gift of God's love.

Why does Paul call Jesus "indescribable?" I think that there are at least four reasons.

1. Jesus is the Indescribable Gift because of who He is.

I believe that Paul calls Jesus "indescribable" because of His nature. How do you describe Jesus? What words would you choose? How do you describe a baby born of a virgin? How do you describe God in flesh, walking upon our earth and reaching out to the hurting masses of humanity?

Isaiah said He would be called Emanuel, "God with us." How do you describe that? What words would you choose? How do you describe that which is spirit when all we have ever known is that which is either physical or material? How do you describe God who has all knowledge when all we have is limited knowledge? How do you describe God who is all powerful? How do you describe the eternal? How do you describe the indescribable?

Paul says that we can't. Words aren't adequate. Many of the wisest men in the world have tried to describe Jesus.

Listen to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. The greatest theological minds of the time came together and tried to describe Jesus. Here is part of their description: "Inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably and the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved."

Did you understand that? No? Neither did I. That's man's attempt to describe the indescribable. Even when we bring together our greatest minds and our most extensive vocabularies, we cannot adequately describe Jesus.

2. Jesus is the Indescribable Gift because of the reason He came to Earth.

I think Paul called Jesus indescribable because of His purpose in coming to earth. The angels announced to the shepherds, "Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord."

What do we celebrate at Christmas? We celebrate the fact that Jesus came into our world to save us. God saw that mankind needed saving. He saw man's inhumanity to his fellow man. When God looked at our world He knew that our greatest need is not for more wealth, nor better schools, not even a better welfare system. Our greatest need is for a Savior who can bring peace on earth. But there will never be peace on earth until men have been lifted out of their sin, and their hearts changed, and their way of thinking changed, because the Savior has come into their lives.

How do you describe that? How do you put into words what God accomplished when He sent His only begotten Son into the world?

3. Jesus is the indescribable gift because of His great grace.

You know, every gift that I give this Christmas will be given because the recipient of that gift has some claim on me. I'll buy a gift for my wife because she is my wife and I love her! I'll buy gifts for my children because they are my children and I love them! I'll buy gifts for my grandchildren because they're my grandchildren and I love them!

We buy gifts for family members because they are family. If I give a gift to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked or to take care of the homeless, I do it because down deep inside I recognize that I have a debt to humanity, a feeling of obligation to them.

That is what makes God's gift so special. He doesn't owe us anything. Indeed, we are in constant rebellion against Him and His will for our lives. With that in mind, Paul says something remarkable in the 5th chapter of Romans. He says, "While we were yet in our sin, while we were yet the enemies of God, Christ died on the cross for us."

God gives a gift, not because He feels obligated to give a gift but because His love is so overwhelming. It's a gift of grace.

When you stop at the manger at Bethlehem and look at the Christ child, you must realize that He is a gift of grace. And there are no words adequate enough to describe God's grace towards us in Jesus.

4. Jesus is the Indescribable Gift because of what the Gift does for us.

What happens when I receive God's gift? What happens when I open the box He gave me?

When you open your gifts this Christmas will your life be different? When you receive the gifts that have been purchased for you by loved ones, will this change your life and make you different? Or will you be the same as you have always been?

The Bible teaches that when we accept Jesus, the indescribable gift of God, we will never be the same again because of how He affects our life.

The first effect of Jesus coming into our life and our obedience to Him is that we are forgiven of our sins. Now that may be so old and so elementary that you think, "So what else is new?" But don't dismiss it that quickly because when our sins are forgiven, God forgets them, will not remember them, and buries them as deep as the sea. Now that's indescribable!

Because Jesus is now my Savior my sins are forgiven. Cherish that gift with all your heart. Nowhere else can we find forgiveness.

When I accept Jesus I am adopted into His family and I am guaranteed citizenship in His kingdom. Before, I was a foreigner and an alien, separated from God. But now, because I have accepted Him, I am an adopted son of Almighty God. Everything that belongs to Jesus also belongs to me. We are brothers and sisters in God's family because we accepted His indescribable gift.

That's indescribable!

When I accept Jesus I receive the gift of His Holy Spirit to live within me. Now He will guide and counsel and protect and empower me. That's indescribable!

I am also given His peace. Not the peace of the world, but the peace that passes all understanding. Peace that allows me to cope with everyday situations. That's indescribable!

Because of Jesus my mansion in heaven is paid for, a dwelling place that will last for all eternity. And that's indescribable, too.

I knew when I started this sermon that I would fail in my attempt to describe Jesus because someone else failed before me, and he was better at it than I. The apostle Paul looked at Jesus and said, "I can't describe Him. All I can do is fall on my knees and thank God for His indescribable gift."

The thing that I am finding out about His gifts is the more I pull out of this box the more blessing I find in it. So not only is His gift indescribable but it is endless also.

Forever I will enjoy these great gifts! When God looked at our confused world nearly 2,000 years ago; when He saw Roman soldiers marching in the streets, when He saw people looking for peace and meaning and depth in life, He wanted so urgently to communicate His love.

Someone said about God: "If I speak, if they hear the thunder of my voice, they may never grasp the words of my love. If I send down legions of angels perhaps they will not know how to respond. Maybe they will never be able to experience my love." So how did God do it? He said, "I will send a baby. Babies don't frighten people. Babies are so tender and soft and helpless. Maybe they will hold the baby in their arms. Maybe they will touch the soft skin of a baby. Maybe they will hear the gentle sighs of a baby. Maybe they will experience my love if I send a baby." So in the fullness of time God sent His only begotten Son, as a baby.

Indescribable! But the good news is that you don't have to be able to describe Him to accept Him. You just have to be warmed and changed by Him. So make your journey to the manger with the shepherds. Take Him into your heart and accept God's indescribable gift for you.
Had I a thousand tongues to sing,
The half could never be told
of love so rice, so full and free,
Of blessing manifold:
Of grace that faileth never,
Peace flowing as a river
From God the glorious giver
To Him give thanks!
--Lilia Morris, 1906
I may not be able to describe this great gift but "Thanks be unto God for His wonderful gift." I accept it with great joy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

He's Coming

A week before Thanksgiving I was in Wal-Mart and I heard Christmas music. I knew the countdown had started. With each passing day the excitement and preparations have been accelerating. Lights and decorations are being put up, stores are full, and music is filling the air. A lot of people, especially children, are eagerly anticipating a very special event that is now only a few days away. Truly, it’s a very busy time of the year! And it’s all in preparation for what? Well, any child can tell you - "A visit from Santa Claus, of course!"

Remember, "He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake! You better watch out... you better not pout... you better not cry... I’m telling you why... Santa Claus is coming to town!"

Now that may be important to many people, but the One whose coming I’m looking forward to this morning won’t be coming from the North Pole and riding in a sleigh. Instead, He’s coming from Heaven, and arriving on the clouds of the sky! No matter how you look at it, His arrival will be awesome, and the anticipation we feel is not ours alone. Millions of people in nations all over the world are eagerly awaiting His coming. When He does come, He’ll be doing what the prophets have proclaimed - He’ll be bringing gifts to men. But unlike Santa, His gifts will not be based upon our goodness - but upon His grace. It's because of His grace, I’m here today to tell you to make your plans, prepare your hearts, your minds, and your souls to understand the aspects of His coming which sets Him apart from all others.

To get us started, let me share with you from God’s Word concerning His coming. For example, here are the words of a wise man who lived long, long ago. Daniel was a man determined to serve the Lord. And every time the king had a vision from God, Daniel was called upon to interpret the dream. One night, when Daniel was lying on his bed he had an awesome vision from God. Daniel wrote about this vision in the 7th chapter of his book.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. --Daniel 7:13-14
In a vision, Daniel says that he saw the Son of Man coming with the clouds of Heaven in glory and power, and all the people and nations of the entire world worshiped Him!

Daniel wasn’t the only one to talk about His coming. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica.

For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. --1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV

Jesus isn’t sending an ambassador - He is coming Himself!

He came Himself the first time and He will come Himself the second time.

We need to be ready for that day. Let’s take time this morning to consider Jesus seriously, to be excited about the coming of Jesus and the importance of having our hearts prepared for His coming.

Isn’t it fun to watch the excitement grow on the faces of our children as Christmas Day approaches? With each passing day the grins grow, the adrenaline level rises, and the expectation almost bursts forth from every pore. The little children on my school bus are talking about it everyday.

Some time ago as I was unloading the kindergarten through second graders at the primary school I said that I wanted all the little chipmunks to get off my bus. They thought that was "cool." Every day since then they have wanted to know what kind of animal they would be that day. I have gone through quite a list of animals and birds. On Friday of this week one little girl said "Can we be reindeer this morning?" They all wanted to be Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They are becoming more excited each day. I can hear them talking about what they want for Christmas.

Should we not be even more excited about the coming of Jesus?

Children are excited about the coming of a fat man in a red suit with toys tucked under his arm. You and I can be excited about the coming of our King dressed in all His radiance and riding the clouds of heaven. Do you realize that we’re commanded to look forward to the coming of Jesus?

In 2 Peter 3:11-12, Peter asks a question of the people, "What kind of people should you be?" Peter, the preacher answers his own question by saying,

You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and look forward to the coming of the day of God.

That child-like enthusiasm and excitement was certainly a driving force for the early believers. In the last verses of the last chapter of the last book in the Bible, John writes,

He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. --Revelation 22:20 NIV

Isn’t that beautiful? John hears Jesus say, "I am coming soon," and John says, "All right, then, come, Lord Jesus!" That should be the gist of our attitude, too.

Some of you may say, "OK, I’m convinced. I’ll look forward to the coming of Jesus, but how will He come? When will He come? Why is He coming back anyway?" Those are good questions, and it’s important that we know what the Bible has to say about them.

1. How will Jesus come?
We don’t have to wonder, because the Bible quite clearly tells us how Jesus will return. Jesus Himself spoke about that:

"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Every eye will see him, and every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord!" --Matthew 24:30-31

2.What time will Jesus come?
This poses a problem for most of us because as a people we like to be prepared.

Most folks will be prepared for Christmas morning because we have a deadline to work with.
We all know that if we don’t have our presents bought by Christmas Day then we will let someone down. The problem we have when we look at the coming of Jesus is that we do not know when He will return, we only know that He is coming.

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him." --Matthew 24:37-44 NIV

Jesus says when you least expect Him, "expect Him." What time would that be for you? Just after you’ve finished all of the hard work of gathering your Christmas gifts for those you love? I can hear it now, "Lord, it’s good of you to come, but your timing leaves much to be desired."
Would it be January 1 when the really big bowl games are just cranked up?

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. --1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 NIV

Paul encourages us to avoid setting dates and getting all wrapped up in thinking we know when Jesus will return because His return will be like a thief in the night.

3. Why is Jesus coming back?
There are really two different reasons why Jesus is coming back. First of all, Jesus is coming back for me and for you. Now, that’s awesome!

When Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross He told His disciples,

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." --John 14:1-4 NIV

There is a second reason why Jesus is returning which we certainly don’t want to miss.

Jesus came the first time as a servant, a sacrifice for our sins. He was beaten and rejected by those He came to save from their sins.

Jesus is coming back, but this time He will not come as a sacrifice or servant. He will come in all of His glory to rule and reign as the exalted King of all creation.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever." And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign." --Revelation 11:15-17

In that day, when Jesus returns, the lion will lie down with the lamb, nations will no longer wage war against nations, there will be no more death, or mourning, or pain, or sorrow - Jesus will rule and reign triumphant!

There is one more thing I want to share with you before we conclude our study. Jesus brings good gifts to His people.

I am excited for you this Christmas because many of you will get what you want. But I can assure you of one thing: whatever you get it is going to wear out. Now, it may wear out because you use it so much or it may wear out because you get bored with it and never pick it up, but I assure you that everything you get this Christmas is going to wear out.

When Jesus gives gifts they never wear out. He has come to give us eternal life, the privilege of sharing eternity before His glorious throne for all time.

Every good action and every perfect gift is from God. These good gifts come down from the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars, who does not change like their shifting shadows. God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things He made. --James 1:17-18

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited that He is coming "to town." I don’t know the hour or the day. I don’t know much, period. But there is one thing I know - He is coming! He is coming back for those who have received Him as King and Lord of their life. When He comes back there will be no mistaking Him. He won’t be riding on a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. He will be riding the clouds of Heaven and His radiance will flood the universe.

Where is your excitement level this Christmas? Are you overburdened by your list of "Things To Do" which seems twice as long as your children’s wish list? Are you excited about seeing what you will find under the tree on Christmas morning? Are you excited to see family and friends that you haven’t seen in some time? Are you excited because Jesus is coming?

All glory to Jesus, begotten of God,
the great I AM is He;
Creator, sustainer - but wonder of all -
the Lamb of Calvary.
To think that the guardian of planets in space,
the Shepherd of the stars,
Is tenderly leading the church of His love
by hands with crimson scars!
The King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords,
He reigns in glory now;
Some day He is coming, earth’s kingdom to claim,
and every knee shall bow.
--John W. Peterson

I hope that you will be ready when He comes!! Let me close with one other scripture:

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. --Luke 21:20-28