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The world we live in is filled with chaos, disappointment, gloom and sadness. In the midst of this cold darkness, at the first Christmas God's light came flooding in. He sent His Son to a broken world offering redemption, forgiveness and hope. Through Christ, even in the midst of the winter of despair, we have hope because we know that God is good, He doesn't make any mistakes and He can be trusted. Christ will return and the second Christmas is coming!
The Valley Between The Christmases: Hope Has Come and is Coming
The Coming: Part 1
If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis' work, The Chronicles of Narnia, you're familiar with the phrase that pops up as the four kids make their way through the wardrobe into that Narnian world the White Witch has brought a curse over. It's a perpetual winter. It's always winter. It's never Christmas. There's gloom. There's sadness. There's despair. There's no hope. There's no break in the frozen tundra. There's no hope. Father Christmas is long away and unheard of and kept out of the land by the wicked White Witch. It's always winter and never Christmas.
That's really where Israel was living before the season we celebrate right now. "O come, O come, Emmanuel…" Where are you? Where is this long-expected Messiah? As it says in "O Holy Night," "Long lay the world in sin and error pining till he appeared…" and there started to be a thaw. What I want to acknowledge with you today is the Bible never just talked about Christmas singularly. The Bible talked about Christmases. It talked about not just one advent, one coming, but it talked about two advents.
It's not something we talk about nearly enough this time of year, because even though Father Christmas has come and even though there has been a break in winter's curse and the soul has felt its worth, there's still this deep gloom and sadness that's around us. There's still this wanting of the full break of spring and the removal of the curse altogether, and the curse is not removed altogether in terms of its presence here.
The Bible talks about salvation, and it always talks about salvation in three different parts. There's the idea of us being justified, which is a righteous decree by God that we are no longer unrighteous and deserving of death, that he has rightly declared us free because some payment has been made.
There's this idea of sanctification, and there's ultimately this idea of glorification. One is deliverance from the penalty of sin, the other is deliverance from the power of sin, and the last is the second Christmas. It is the deliverance from the very presence of sin, but we are not freed from the presence of sin. There is still a winter on the earth.
What has changed, though, is God has put sons of Aslan, sons of the true King here, and the King was present in the midst of the cold through his people whose souls had felt its worth and whose souls had been connected to him, but we still sing exactly what Israel sang. "O come, O come, Emmanuel…"
"May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…" Prior to the first Christmas, our desire to be reconciled or near God was not only futile; it was suicidal, because for us in our simple state to come back into the nearness of God would have meant instant death, and what God had to do was the miracle of the first Christmas to break the fall or the curse of sin and death that would make the second Christmas when he comes to judge and eradicate sin and death forever in any sense that it exists, and it always exists in people unless they are made new.
The first Christmas is what made us new so we can look forward to the second Christmas, but we sing, "O come, O come, Emmanuel…" because there's still a winter around us. We're bizarre people. In the middle of winter we sing songs. We sing, "Joy to the world! The Lord has come." Much of the world mocks us, and they won't come when you invite them, though I would encourage you to do all you could to get them to come and join us on Christmas Eve.
They're going, "You're telling me your God has come, that he has defeated sin and death. Then, why is this world that is supposedly under the loving reign of your sovereign and good King still filled with so much hate? Why is there so much war? Why is there so much class warfare? Why do people still get raped? Why are children still discarded? Why is there betrayal and divorce? Why is there still absolute pining in the souls of men? Where is your God? I see no evidence that he has come." If someone says that to us, we should ask their forgiveness.
We should say, "God intends that my life is evidence that he has come. In the midst of the winter and despair that you just described and that he tells me not to be surprised at because he told me the effects of sin will still be here, though the offer to break its power in individual lives has been brought by the first Christmas, and if you haven't seen love and grace and kindness in me, if you haven't seen a song in the midst of hopelessness, and if you haven't seen me confront hate with love and darkness with light, then I need to ask your forgiveness, but you should see the power of Christmas in my life, and I want you to come and know why I sing."
Like my friend Rachel, who was in the Watermark News today, who is a member here, connected and plugged in a Community Group, and raped, who still, in the midst of that, said it was the greatest evangelical moment of her life. What kind of person says, "I could sing on the heels of rape"?
Or like my friend Jennifer, who if you don't know her you're going to meet in just a moment, who, though she lived faithfully as a discipler of women and as a single gal seeking him, late in life at almost 40 she gets married to Scott and has the privilege of becoming mother to young Lincoln, and then just months later we find out she is not just the host to a child inside of her but death, and cancer has attacked her in the form of breast cancer. We walked through that season with Jennifer while she sang.
This Jennifer, who really was the beginning of our radically impacting young adult women in the Dallas of community. In the early days of Watermark, she was our women's ministry to young adult women, and in no small way did she have a major impact on gal upon gal and woman upon woman and future bride after future bride and future mother after future mother.
That's what Jennifer did, and in the midst of that she was finally led to the place where she was given the joy of a relationship and after that the joy of a child and after that the joy of cancer. Yet, she sang, and we rejoiced that the therapy seemed to be working and the treatments she went through, though it was hard on her body, seemed to be working. Then, two weeks ago, we find out that it's back worse than ever, and not just in her breasts but her stomach, her liver, and her lymph nodes.
Because she knows the first Christmas and because she anticipates the second, Jennifer still sings. What kind of people are you? It's a bizarre people who sing at funerals and who sing in the midst of winter about the hope that has come and is coming. I want you to listen to the words of God's people prior to the very first Christmas. This is the state they were in. Maybe you can relate.
"** How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day?" David would write, "Where is your long-expected deliverance?""How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O **** LORD **** my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, And my enemy will say, 'I have overcome him,' And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken."**
"O come, O come, Emmanuel…" Can I tell you that hope had been lost in Israel except among the remnant faithful? And hope is often lost today except among the remnant faithful who understand Jesus said, "I'm going to leave you, but I'm not going to leave you as orphans. I'm going to send you my Spirit to strengthen you, and I'm going to put a new song in your heart while you wait patiently for me to come again." The second advent. The second Christmas.
You need to know there are 1,800 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. For every one that spoke about the first Christmas we're going to celebrate in a couple of days, seven speak about the second Christmas. Aren't we ready for it? The answer is, "No, you're not unless you understand the reason for the first Christmas and why he came." Listen again to the words of Israel in Isaiah 63, as they wrestled with there they were.
"Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me. For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us. You, O Lord, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name. Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage."
Have you ever cried out to God, "Where are you today? Where are you, O God, who is near?" You're longing for Christmas. Isaiah 64, verse 1, says, " Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence…" That's exactly what Christmas was. It was a rending of the heavens. It's why the angels sang, "He has come! The babe is here!"
You think about that great disappointment, that you've waited a long time for God to show up, and then he shows up in the form of an illegitimate, scandalously advertised baby who at best is going to be several decades before he can do anything for us. Merry Christmas! I'll tell you what I want to teach on just for a second.
Turn in your Bibles to the very end of Malachi, that section right there between Malachi and Matthew. Open your Bibles. I want to teach you about that section in your Bible between the book of Malachi and the book of Matthew. Hopefully, you won't find anything there. If you do, raise your hand and we'll let you read. That is called the silent period. It's called the intertestamental period. It was the period in Israel's history when they were longing for any of the prophet's words to potentially be true.
I want you to understand why Christmas was such a big deal and why, when angels finally heard the word that the heavens were going to be rent and God was going to go down to his people and bring hope to them, you should be able to relate to this because right now in the world you live in where your sisters are raped and your wives die of cancer and your brothers are in prison for their faith, you ought to go, "God, rend the heavens and come down."
We sing a song that says, "When peace like a river attendeth my way…" We sing a song that talks about when the clouds are going to be rolled back like a scroll and he's going to come again. That's the second Christmas. It is seven times as more exalted in the Bible as the first one, and we have every song imaginable about the first one, do we not? I love this time of year. I love to be in the car listening to my radio. I like "Marshmallow World." I like, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," as much as anybody. I really do.
I like those, but I love, "O, Holy Night," and when that song is on in my car, I just meditate on the wonder of what happened in the midst of sin and error causing great pining, and he appeared. Father Christmas rang his bell, and there was a slow thaw that began. There was an absolute remedy that was provided, but I want to explain to you why it is not eternal spring yet. I want to tell you what you're to do in this season.
Here's what happened in the intertestamental period where at roughly 444 BC Zerubbabel had returned and rebuilt the rubble. Ezra had returned and rebuilt the people. Nehemiah returned and rebuilt the wall. We've already kind of been through the parade of nations Daniel, chapter 2, talked about where Assyria had wiped out northern Israel and then Babylon wiped out Assyria and wiped out the remaining two tribes in 606 BC and started a 70-year exile over and into the Babylonian era where all of the Jews were jerked out of their land, and Judaism and temple worship was eradicated.
For 70 years, they were to seek the welfare of Babylon, because they weren't going home for a while, "So you may as well make Babylon a good place, but don't forget your God there. The reason you're living in this state that is not as it should be is because you did not walk with me faithfully where you were. But I'm not done with you," God says, "and I will return to you."
In fact, hundreds of years even before the Medo-Persians were in power, before man was even born, God tells you, "His name will be Cyrus, and he will let you return." That's what happened. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, the Persian king let the Jews return back to their homeland. That's where Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah show up in your Scripture.
The Persians did well for quite some time. About the same time in another part of the world there was a guy named Socrates. In about 480 BC he was born. He lived and taught individuals to think differently about life. His star pupil was a man who taught in the academy. His name was Plato. Plato lived from about the middle of the fourth century BC to the middle of the third century. Plato had a student whose name was Aristotle. Aristotle lived from the deep 380s down toward the bottom of the 300 BCs, and Aristotle had a famous student.
Most folks know Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, but then they kind of drop off. By the way, this is what is in that intertestamental period between Malachi and Matthew. In another part of the world, in Greek philosophy they were trying to figure out what truth was. One of the truths taught by Aristotle was that the world should be unified. Different than Plato who thought there was a material and immaterial world and the immaterial world was better, Aristotle said, "No. We have to unify everything. We have to make the whole thing good."
There was a student of Aristotle's who listened very intently, and his name was Alexander, and he went on to be called Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great wanted to unify everything under the wisdom of the Greek way, so he set out to conquer the world, and conquer he did, including the Medo-Persians. So about 333 BC the Medo-Persians fell, and you have the start of what is called Hellenism. Another word for that is the "Greekization" of the whole world.
Everybody started to eat feta cheese, and Kalamata olives everywhere. It was a good time once you got through the war and weren't slaughtered, but the hellenization of the world started in 333 BC and on. Alexander really believed in the unification of everything, so what's interesting about Alexander is when he went out he didn't just take generals with him. He took scientists with him who studied different data in every land, histories of different lands, and the flora and fauna of different lands.
In fact, they said Alexander spent so much on scientific study because he wanted to unify anthropology, sociology, science, biology, and bring everything together underneath Greek education and enlightenment that they say the scientific venture of Alexander was the most expensive undertaking of a nation's advancement in science relatively in the history of the world until the 1960 space program in America. Interesting.
As Alexander continued, things went well for the Greeks until Alexander himself was killed as he tried to destroy and retake Babylon. He died, and there were eight different general who warred, and not in a small way, with each other to see who would succeed Alexander and become the ruler of the world at that time.
The Jews are living fairly happily now over in Palestine even though, because of what Alexander had done, there was some hellenization that was there. That's why we have, at that time, our Old Testament translated into Greek. It's called the Septuagint, which is just the Greek word for the number 70. They had that many books roughly at the time they were dealing with.
The people in the land all spoke a similar language, which was all preparation for God to bring good news to the whole world. That's why your New Testament was largely written in Greek. It was the language of the day, and God continues to march forward with history. Well, when these different generals warred with each other, those eight really got boiled down to two. There were two who really survived. One was Ptolemy and the other one was Seleucid, and those two really became leaders of what were at that time the Greek empire and the Greek world.
The Seleucids really took over Syria and most of that Babylonian-Persian region, and the Ptolemys took over what we know today as that Israeli land all the way down through Egypt. By and large, the Jews, even though they were hellenized a bit, were allowed to maintain their worship until about 190 BC when Antiochus, the Seleucid king, came down and feared the Ptolemys, and he was even more radical in Hellenism than the Ptolemys, so that's when things got nasty in Israel again.
About 30 years after Antiochus III was the king, a guy by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes shows up. You guys know what an epiphany is. You every now and then have an epiphany. You have a thought or a realization. It means a manifestation. This guy was a madman. He thought he was God, and he was very oppressive.
Because he thought he was God, there was no need for the Jewish God, so he made it a capital offense to practice the Sabbath, to be circumcised, or to have any portion of the Hebrew Scriptures, and he went so far as to enthrone himself on the temple mount, call himself king, and he sacrificed a pig on the Jewish altar in the Holy of Holies, and that was about enough for some of the more radical Jews.
By the way, during that time, there was a group of people who were called Hasideans who rose up who were the faithful, pure ones who really sought to maintain Judaism in the midst of the hellenization of the Jewish people.
If you even look today, the Jews who are most concerned with preserving Judaism, the ones you'll see a lot of times in the news who are at the Wailing Wall wearing black hats and black clothes and have long curls, are the Hasidic Jews. The same thing. They've maintained themselves really from about the third century when Hellenism started in that area.
The Pharisees rose up at this time. Pharisee just means separated ones, and they were ones who really did not want to be hellenized, so they came out of that Hasidism and became pure. All of this time…all of this time…things are not going well. If you had any sense of maintaining your faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it cost you your life and your family's life.
It was what Sharia law is today to non-Muslims in Islamic countries. If you did not follow Antiochus Epiphanes, the manifest one who the Jews called Antiochus Epimanes, which means Antiochus the insane… A little wordplay. He didn't like that too much, but they didn't care. Mattathias and his five sons took him on.
Mattathias was killed. Mattathias had a third son. His name was Judas Maccabeus. If you know your Bible history, this is the Maccabean revolt. The Maccabean revolt was basically Judas Maccabeus, Judas the Hammer. He's still one of the greatest heroes in the history of Israel. This is all in your Bible, by the way, between Malachi and Matthew. It's in your history, and I'm telling you, if you're a Jew and all of this is going on, you have Judas Maccabeus. Some thought he was the Messiah, but he wasn't. He died. He had won largely, though, some sense of Jewish freedom.
It is interesting that during this time… The year 167 was when Antiochus Epiphanes killed the pig. The year 164 was when Judas Maccabeus had really won the right for Judaism to be reestablished. Antiochus Epiphanes was gone. Jewish temple worship began, but you have to do something if the temple has been desecrated.
You have to purify the temple, so, at this particular moment in 164 BC, they sought to rededicate the temple, but most of the oil they were going to need to rededicate the temple for the temple services to keep the light of the menorah shining for eight days that had been desecrated by the Greeks…
They only had enough oil for one day, so they prayed, and God in his kindness allowed, the Jews say, that particular lamp to stay lit for eight days until the temple was purified. We call that Hanukkah, and it happened during these months. That's where Hanukkah came from in 164 BC.
Things went largely well for the Jews, even though it wasn't freedom, until about 63 BC when Pompeii came and wiped out the Greeks and the Seleucids altogether and Rome became the prevailing influence in the world and a system of travel and coordination had been established like never before.
They put a puppet king who was also a madman in. His name was Herod. He ruled for a while, and the Jews were oppressed underneath him. While the Jews were never free, the Pharisees who had once separated themselves through religion had become cold and dead and superficial and hypocritical.
In Rome, there was luxury and licentiousness. There was death to children. Marriage had been made a mockery. Divorce was so rampant that women would just stack the rings on their fingers to show how many times their husbands had left them. Two-thirds of the known world at that time were slaves. Talk about class warfare. Children were discarded based on their benefit. Old people were sent to the island of Tiber. It was a time of great inhumanity.
Over in Greece, it was just as bad. There was riotousness. There was murderous barbarianism to anybody the Greeks would war against. There was great immorality in their temple worship, and there was despair in the world, and all the while, faithful Hebrew prophets said, "God is going to come. God is going to come."
It had been so long, many people had really lost their hope. They had moved on to try to figure if there was some truth there in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle or some other way, but there were a few who were waiting who kept reading the Prophets. Then, one day, a guy named Joseph took this beautiful little girl who he thought was going to be a great wife. He found out that great little gal he had is also going to come with a great deal of baggage, like nine pounds over the next nine months, and the shame and the discouragement that would come from that…
Yet, God told Joseph, "Joseph, do you remember those promises? Here it comes in the form of an illegitimate birth that's going to bring you social embarrassment and pain. In the middle of a tyrannical Caesar who wants to count you so he knows how to war against you, late in your pregnancy you're going to have to go, and because so many people are going to be in your homeland there won't even be room in the residential area, so you'll have to sleep downstairs with the animals."
It doesn't say Jesus was born in a stable; he was born in a manger. A manger is downstairs where the animals would be brought in from the cold at night and fed. That's where they really were. Downstairs in that little area. "Guess what! Here comes your King. Here comes Messiah. He needs diapers. Yay! You have to wait at least three decades before he does much." Have you ever felt like that?
Have you ever felt like the pastor is up here talking about the hope we have, and you're like, "Man! Do you know my wife? Do you know the grip of sin and addiction in my life? Do you know about my race of people and the way they are being put down and deprived and the educational injustice? Do you know the family dysfunction in my life? Do you know what I've been through? And you tell me God has come?
You tell me I have hope? You tell me I'm supposed to sing? You tell me that I, that little sexually abused kid, am supposed to be happy? Is that what you're telling me, Pastor? Me who didn't know any better and acted in fear and gave up the life of my child in my womb? I was part of those people who were treating kids like that. I was part of the immorality and moving on from wife and wife and God has come? Where is God in all of this?"
Well, I'll tell you where he is. He's showing your soul its worth by interrupting your life of hopelessness and despair and calling you out to listen to him and to tell you he's not done with you yet. He's not even done making this world as it should be. Thirty years after that little child was born, we show up in Luke, chapter 4. He's back in his homeland.
By the way, this is an exciting time because this is really what the Scriptures are talking about when it says in Galatians, chapter 4, that the fullness of time came. That word fullness really means the totality of time. It's like this is the moment in history that all of history was made for when there was nothing but endless winter and no Christmas. This moment when there's absolute despair and opportunity for the truth to get out, when there's common language, when there is common opportunity for nations, whether you were in Greece or Rome or Israel…
Everybody is looking for the desire of the nations. It's not found in Plato or Socrates or Aristotle. It's not found in Caesar. It is in fleeting moments, but there's no real hope anywhere. That's the fullness of perfect time in history, that God sent forth his Son, Galatians 4 says, born of a woman that he might redeem those who under the law that we might enjoy adoption as sons.
Luke, chapter 4, is when Jesus begins to speak. It says, "** And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district." That's verse 14. Verse 15 says,"And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all."** They loved him, this one who there were still a lot of whispers about him.
I mean, what do girls do when they get pregnant? They leave town for a few months. He had. He had left town when Mary started to show. Then, he even left Israel and went down to Egypt for a couple of years, but now he's back, and he has been raised around here, by and large, but there are a lot of rumors about who he might be, but this is his first time crashing on the scene.
It says, as he was teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath he stood up, as rabbis were prone to do, because he had left his father's carpenter shop. He had studied to be a rabbi. It says that he asked for the Isaiah scroll. It was handed to him, and he opened it up to this section. We know it as Isaiah 61. It wasn't called Isaiah 61 yet, because it was centuries later till we put chapters and verses in so you could turn to Isaiah 61 in just a minute with me, but watch what Jesus did.
He reads from Isaiah 61. Verse 1 says, "** The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted…" Good news was needed in winter."He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…"**
At that point, he rolled up the scroll, he gave it back to the attendant, he sat down, and everybody was looking at him going, "Okay. What are you going to do with that, big guy?" He said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your [presence] ." Everybody was like, "Oy! Oy! Oy! Mary, do something about your boy! What do you mean it has been fulfilled in your presence?" He looked them in the eye and said, "I am Immanuel. Hope has come."
A little bit later he's in Jerusalem during the Festival of the Lights. That's Hanukkah. I told you where Hanukkah comes from. They're in there celebrating what God had done to restore the temple, and guess what he did? He said, "Do you remember how God did something miraculous to restore the temple? I am the Light of the World! I'm the reason you can be welcomed into the very Holy of Holies. I'm not just the picture of it, but I am the Light of the World, and I am the temple cleansing. Your temple and this temple. I am the bridge between God and man."
It wasn't received well then either. Things continued. In fact, things were going crazy because even the guy who was predicted who would come and anticipate the fact that he was the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, he wasn't doing so well! He had been in prison because he popped off against Herod, who was sleeping with his brother's wife.
He recommended that wasn't a good idea, and Herod recommended he didn't talk like that, so downstairs he goes. Later he becomes a party favor with his head on a platter, but before that, as he's in prison, while the Messiah he predicted was the hope of Israel would come, he's in jail! Gang, this is 30 years after Christmas. It's still very cold.
In Matthew, chapter 11, it says, " Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ…" **The Messiah, the one he knew from the womb."…he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the[Messiah]Expected One…"** The one we sang that song about 700 years from now called "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus."
"Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?""Because it doesn't feel like Christmas has come. It feels like the White Witch is still freezing my tail off." "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and report to John…'" He quotes from Isaiah another messianic passage. He says, "You tell him the blind receive sight. You go tell him the lepers are cleansed. You go tell him the deaf hear and the dead are raised. You go tell him the poor have heard the gospel preached to them."
"That's all fine, preacher man. That's all good that the gospel is preached, but we don't feel a lot of good news because Rome is still very present, and you're still not very well received." In fact, so much so his very disciples, when they were with him not long after that (Christmas had already happened), and Jesus said, "What do you think happened back there the first Christmas?"
They go, "I don't know. Some thought Elijah came back. Some thought John the Baptist came back." He said, "No, no. What do you think happened that very first Christmas?" Peter raised his hand and goes, "I think God came near. I think you're the Christ. I think you're the Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father, and the Mighty God. I think you're the Messiah." When he said that, there was probably that kind of a response from the rest of the guys. Is that right?
Jesus goes, "That's right! You're right! That's exactly who I am! Here's the deal. Guess what. I know I was a baby. I know I've been wrongly rejected. They're going to nail me to a tree." Then, the one guy who was clapping goes… And the one guy who spoke up said, "You've got to be kidding me! God, Lord, forbid it! No!" Then, his disciples are called satanic, and it's not looking like this is trending in a really good direction. This is after Christmas.
Jesus goes on to tell them, "Here's the deal, guys. I am going to go because there are two Christmases." You see, if you go back and look at Isaiah 61 with me, in Isaiah 61 it does say he's going to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Then, right after that, it says, "And the day of vengeance of our God…" Isn't that what you really want? That's what you want at Christmas. That's what the Jews wanted. That's why they missed him.
If you were living in that 400-year intertestamental period where you see pigs sacrificed in the Holy of Holies, you see madmen ruling over Jerusalem, you see licentiousness in Rome, you see children being murdered, and you see Jews who are being killed if they observe the Sabbath, you're like, "God loves us?"
You saw a holocaust when you were in Persia. You saw a holocaust when you returned back to the land. You saw a holocaust before that, before you were exported to Babylon. "And we're God's chosen people?" Hey, gang. Christmas had already come when Jesus, in the midst of all of this, is saying these words, and they were like, "Hey, buddy. Where's the vengeance?"
The rabbis will tell you they always saw in the Scripture two Christmases. There was Mashiach ben Yoseph, which is basically to say the Messiah, son of Joseph, and there was Mashiach ben David, which was basically the Messiah, son of David. Remember what Joseph was. Here's Joseph. His brothers reject him. He is sent basically into slavery. They think he's dead.
He's rejected and in prison, but yet God miraculously raises him up, puts him in a place of great power so when his brothers are in need they come and fall before him and recognize him, and he gives them life. The rabbis couldn't understand where the Messiah was going to have that event happen. Let's just be fair to them for a second. If I had told you about a Messiah like Joseph and the Messiah like David who just kicks tail and expands the kingdom, you're looking for David.
Jesus says, "I am both. I am both the Lamb of God who shows the soul its worth, that God himself would come and give himself for you that you might be redeemed because, otherwise, your desire to be near me is suicidal, and I am the lion of Judah. I am the rod of Jesse. I am the Bright and Morning Star, and I will come, and I will deal with sin not just in the hearts of men but anywhere it exists and lives, and if the hearts of men are not made new and forgiven by me, they don't want that second Christmas."
Will you listen to me this morning? We're going to come here and sing at Christmas Eve and we're going to sing and we're going to rejoice. I mean, we're going to rejoice because hope has come, and we have found hope in him, but you should not sing this Christmas. It shows that God is there, that he is real, that he does not like sin, that he does love people and he wants to deliver them from the judgment that is to come, and he went to no small effort to redeem you, and if you scoff at that, that second Christmas will not go well with you.
This morning is your chance in the midst of this winter of sin to come to your senses and go, "I know! I know I need a Savior. I know my real problem is not what is happening in Washington, DC, or in Baghdad or in Moscow. What's happening in my heart is my problem. The problem isn't my race. The problem isn't my father. The problem isn't my boyfriend or my husband. The problem is sin in my heart, and I need a Savior." To you, I want to say, "Merry Christmas. Hope has come. He has appeared. It's time to stop your pining and come."
I also want to say you this morning that I understand it's still winter. Some crazy things are happening. Jesus knew it was not going to be well with us all of the time, and that's why at the very end of his life, when he gathered his disciples together again and he was speaking to them, he went out of his way to tell them in John, chapter 14, what was going to go down.
He shared with them very simply, "Listen! In this world, you're going to have trouble. I know Christmas is here, but this isn't the final Christmas. The King has been rejected, so what's going to happen to the kingdom? Here's what's going to happen to the kingdom. It's going to exist in people. It's going to exist in you. I'm not going to leave you as orphans.
I'm going to send you my Spirit. He will indwell you, and you will be able to sing in the midst of the winter that is still here. Though it's thawing, it's going to thaw through you. The light in you, the hope of Christ in you, is going to begin to thaw and bring more light into the darkness, and you're going to declare to people that, even as I have come, I am coming."
So he says in verse 16, "These things I have spoken to you that you might have peace. In this world, you're still going to have tribulation. There are still going to be some of the lingering White Witch's efforts, but take courage because I've overcome the world." In John 14, verses 1 through 3, what I want you to know is Jesus told these men at that particular point, "I am going to go and prepare a place for you."
He starts by saying, ** "Do not let your heart be troubled…"** Is your heart troubled this morning, Christian? It's because we've forgotten the story. The story is there's going to be a little bit of a gap. I mean, it's like this. I told you the rabbis couldn't figure it out. They couldn't understand what was going on, but it's like looking at a mountain range. You look at this picture from a far distance away and you see mountains right there.
From a long distance away, you believe those mountains are right next to each other, but it takes getting close to them or on top of them to realize all of those mountains aren't right by each other. There are valleys sometimes between them. Let me just show you a small example of this. It's like if you were to put both of your fingers out in front of you. Just go ahead and do that right now. Put both of your fingers out there just like this. Then, if you can, close one eye while you're looking at both of your fingers and just draw one finger near you about six inches.
You know, because there's a bend in your right or left arm, those fingers aren't next to each other, but they still largely look the same. Now, you bring it closer and it's going to get a lot bigger, but they still look the same. When you lose perspective, that's what happens. God gives you peripheral vision so you can see the way he created you to see.
They couldn't see what God was doing when he talked about the two advents until they get on top of it, but it is hard sometimes when you hit the summit of Christmas and you look down and go, "There's another valley still to come," and we've been waiting for the second Christmas for 2,000 years. Meanwhile, Rachel is getting raped, and Jennifer has cancer twice, and this time it's not just in her breasts. You go, "Come, thou long expected Jesus!"
Jesus says, "Don't let your heart be troubled. I am going to go and prepare a place for you." This is an expression of a Jewish wedding. I did a wedding last night. It was beautiful. It was my friend Brittany who is on our staff. I've happened to know her since she was a little girl. It was great to be part of her wedding, but I even made the comment,
"The wedding tradition, while it's the oldest tradition in the history of mankind that goes all the way back to Genesis, chapter 2, the tradition of our wedding today is all over the map what the traditions are, and whatever happened in Genesis 2, I'm pretty sure it's not what happened last night or in any wedding you've ever been to."
I made the fact that the way we do weddings in America is really theologically backward. What I mean by that is we have the bridegroom here and we have the cloud or the door back there and it's the bride that we can't wait to see. She gets to come up. That's not the picture. What you really ought to do at any wedding, if it's going to be a theologically correct picture of what the wedding is supposed to be which is a picture of the union between Christ and the church, is you ought to have the bride up there.
Then, the music hits, and then the doors open, and here comes the bridegroom, because that's who we're waiting for. That's the second Christmas. Now, we don't do that because we don't want to look at beauty and then be disappointed by ugly that's coming. That's why we don't do that.
If you're really going to get the picture, that's what it should be, but this is what else should happen in the picture. When the bride does come, she does everything she can to look beautiful because she receives the offer of love from the bridegroom who offered to give himself for her and be tender toward her and love her and cherish her and honor her. I just want to stick this in. Can I just say this to you? Women, the Bible does not tell you to be subject to men. Let me say that again.
The Bible does not tell women to be subject to men. The Bible tells women to be subject to their husbands, and it tells you not to marry a husband who isn't going to love you the way Christ, who we are to be subject, to loves us, which means he does nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind he considers others as more important than himself. He doesn't merely look out for his own personal interests but also for the interest of others.
Women, you're not men. You're very different. You're beautiful, equally dignified, and valuable with men, and there are organizationally some times when God says, "Let the men lead," but the men who should lead in the church are those kind of men you should marry who aren't pig-headed men but who say, "I'll tell you the first thing we should do as we leave this church," and ask, "What's best for the women?" That's the way God serves us.
I'm going to tell you something, gals. Do not marry a man who does not know the Christ of Christmas who would leave the comfort of heaven to come down to the cold dark of winter because he knows the worth of your soul. You try and be subject to a man who is anything less than that, and you will not be happy, but if you marry a man who wants to love you as Christ loved the church, it will be the joy of your heart, and you will do what Brittany did last night when she found a man who offered to give himself to her.
She made herself as beautiful as she could. She had the French manicure from the tips of her toes all the way to the tips of her fingers. She was made up and coiffed all the way up to the last curl. She surrounded herself in a dress that cost lots of bucks and was stitched and embroidered and pearled like the nines, but she didn't show up there at the front of that church and go, "Ta-da, big boy! Lucky you!" That's not what happened.
I've done a lot of weddings, and I have never, ever seen a girl show up and go, "You win!" Now, the guy's thinking that a lot of times, but the girl is always there humbly, and because of the promised love she has done all she could to ready herself. While she was waiting for that day, she wasn't getting in her last few dates with other men.
She was readying herself, living in purity, and on that day, she wanted to let him know, "You're mine, and I'm yours, and I come, and I want to make myself as beautiful as I can, but the reason we're going to be together is because of your offer of love for me that I faithfully receive that gift."
Do you see the picture, church? We're waiting for that day. In John 14, Jesus is saying, "I'm going to go." What typically would happen is the bridegroom would go to the girl's house, would negotiate the price it would take to ransom the girl from that family into his own family, he would pay the price, and then he would leave.
He would go back home to his father's house. He would build a spot for them. Then, he would return and would come with him and his bridegrooms singing and dancing with a great shout from far off, and the virgin, purified bride who had been waiting for him with her bridesmaids who had their lamps trimmed with oil and were ready day and night faithfully waiting for him, not dating while he was gone, not sure when he would return. It would be over a year at times, and for us, it has been 2,000.
He would come, and he would take her. That's what Jesus says. He says, "I go to prepare a place for you and me." What Jesus meant when he said that, and I've heard guys say this. I think I taught on this when I did John 14, that some people would go, "Well, Jesus has been building a house for us for 2,000 years and he was a carpenter, so you know it's going to be a good place!"
That's not what he meant. What he meant was, "I'm going to go prepare a place for you," and the place he went to prepare was a place on the cross, a place where he died, where he took your wrath before God so you could be sheltered underneath his perfect Lamb's provision so you, by faith in him, could be wed to the Father and there would be a place for you in heaven because your righteousness would be imputed to you through Christmas. Do you see that?
If you know that's true and if you believe your lover, your bridegroom, has ransomed you from sin and death and paid the bride's ransom… What was the payment? It was the child himself for you. Then, give yourself to him. Give yourself to him. Live faithfully in the cold that's still here between the mountains in the valley he told you would come. Trust in him. Wait for him. Adorn yourself as best you can in white. Trim your lamps with oil and be ready and faithful.
Don't be loving the world, but you live righteously believing, "It's coming! The Prophets are true! God has already shown his Word can be trusted. He has come once amidst the darkness and the darker it gets the greater the birth pangs. The more rumors of wars and the greater the earthquakes the more I'm filled with hope and not despair. I sing in the midst of the lingering winter because hope has come." That's the Christian. Is that you?
It's why Jennifer can sing. It's why Pastor Saeed right now, an American pastor who is from Iran who went back to plant churches in Iran and was arrested three years ago, is spending his third Christmas in an Iranian prison, in one of the worst ones in the entire land. He has been beaten so much so that at times when he was brought out while his family was still in Iran to see him, his eyes were swollen three times their size.
He said he walked out of an elevator one time, and he saw a glass. He looked in the glass, and he saw a man. He said, "Hello," to him because he's seeking always to be the light of Christ in this dark place that rejects his belief in Christ, and he realized it was him. He didn't even recognize himself because of the disfigurement of his face.
His mother saw him as he came to sit, and she burst into tears. His little girl who he should be at Disneyland with has now missed birthdays and Christmases with him. Yet, he sings, and he writes of the goodness of God. This is a letter he was able to get out that I want to read to you. I want to tell you that Pastor Saeed and I did not talk about what I was going to do today, but 12 times he uses one word: cold. It's cold in the valley, but the warmth of Christmas…
His assurance that the fullness of Christmas to come will come, and you sing in the valley. You take your beatings and you understand that God doesn't delight in the beatings. He doesn't delight in the rapes. He doesn't delight in the cancer. That's why he came. He wants to save the rapists and the beater. He wants to save the adulterer. He wants to save the abortionist. He wants to save others through you and your song that makes no sense unless there's Christmas.
He writes, "These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass, making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don't like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion.
The guards can't even stand the little paper cross I have made…in anticipation of my Savior's birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all my family is presently outside the country.
These conditions have made upcoming Christmas very hard, cold, and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone… These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby).
Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy, unsanitary, and with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society at that time."
He writes, "Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus but it is the key to how we are to live…" In the valley, I add. "…and serve like Jesus." Between Christmases, I add. "Today, we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection.
We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties, and the shame in order to serve God." It's our charge. "We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintry manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas.
It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas that has come." I would add that is coming.
He writes, "Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy. Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God's love shown in the dark cold wintry, frozen hearts and bursts forth in this deadly wicked world."
What he would say is, "I am Christ's Christmas to others today, and Christ in me is the hope of glory." He says, "So this Christmas, let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas."
How are you doing, church? Are you really confused why it's hard, why there's cancer, and why there's still sin and death? Are you really confused? You're not reading the Bible. He told you not to be surprised. He told you to be faithful between Christmases. He told you he's coming, and we have the benefit of knowing he has done it once in a very cold, dark, silent time, and so we sing. Here's an example of what singing looks like.
Jennifer Clouse : Scott and I got married in 2010.
Scott Clouse: We didn't know if we were going to have kids or not, but the Lord decided that for us and gave us a little boy named Lincoln who is currently 3 years old.
Jennifer: In the course of nursing, I just discovered I had a lump in my breast that I ignored for several months, but with Scott's encouragement, I went to get it checked out. I was not the least bit anxious or fearful, but pretty quickly, they concluded I had breast cancer and also quickly concluded it had spread to my lymph nodes.
Scott: When I heard the news that Jen had cancer, I naively believed it was something you could eradicate pretty easily through surgery.
Jennifer: I don't think we were knowledgeable enough to be very scared. Now, we're about a year and a half past that, and I don't know. We kind of stay as normal as life can be. It feels normal, and we really believed and rested and felt like this was a chapter of our lives that was behind us.
Over the course of the last couple of months, I've had some back pain. I would say that's not uncommon for me between carrying a 3-year-old or exercise or life or running and things I enjoy. I may not be the easiest person on my body, so I wasn't really connecting the dots of anything being troubling. I wanted to see if my doctor would let me put my head in and ask her what she thought.
Scott: They did the CAT scan, and the doctor came in shortly after they got the results back and sat down and pulled up a chair.
Jennifer: He said, "It's back." We just were dissolved to tears. I think Scott and I, first, just exclaimed, "Oh, Lincoln."
Scott: With him being robbed of some years from his mother and just the effect of this sickness and not knowing what that really looks like moving forward and how that's going to affect him.
Jennifer: Just knowing there's a 3-year-old little boy who has to be devastated by this news in a way. I can't even comprehend what that even means. Scott and I have kind of laughed that we all say we could be hit by a bus any day, but we know my bus' name, and it's barreling down the highway.
Scott: What I've told people is it's okay to grieve. It's okay to be sad. Those are normal emotions.
Jennifer: I really think the reality is he is literally upholding my little fragile heart, and I can trust that he'll do that for Scott and for Lincoln as well. I'll beg him for it not to be painful, and I'll beg him for more years with my family, and I'll beg him for his mercy for those around us to see his love, but whether he does or doesn't deliver us, we'll trust him because he's good. He loves us, and that is what we're going to have to cling to.
[End of video]
I went and visited Jen when we found out two weeks ago, and that was before we heard the full results of all of the scans that it's harder than we thought, but as we talked through what to say to little 3-year-old Lincoln, I just said, "Jen, listen. You can't dump into him a lifetime of mother's counsel, but if you can just dump into him that God is good, he doesn't make mistakes, and he can be trusted, and if you just repeat that and you say that to your son again and again…
If you tell him, 'As Mommy goes through this, as she's waiting for that great and glorious day when stuff like this doesn't happen, God is good, he doesn't make mistakes, and he can be trusted.' There's not an event in Lincoln's life that he won't have all of the mother's counsel he needs.
When his heart is broken as a young man by a girl, God is good, he doesn't make mistakes, and he can be trusted. When his heart is broken by sin and death and betrayal and by disease in his own life and maybe by the early departure of his father with no siblings, God is good, he makes no mistakes, and he can be trusted."
Christmas is evidence that he's good, that the little pregnancy in Nazareth wasn't a mistake, that the promises the prophets made can be trusted, and that's what's supposed to get you through until the second Christmas. Just like it did before, the world now waits for a miracle. Just like it did before, the heart longs for a little bit of hope, doesn't it? "O come, O come, Emmanuel…" It should come as Christ in you the hope of glory. It should come as we think about the fact that it came and is coming still. O, come, Immanuel.
We don't often do this around Christmas where you have what I would almost call a Good Friday service, waiting for the hope of Easter, but you need to understand why Christmas is a big deal. Because he has come and the soul has felt its worth. Your soul should know God loves you. The heavens have been rent. He has come down once. He's going to come again, and if you don't celebrate the first Christmas with us, you should not look forward to the second.
If you know the truth of the first Christmas, you should sing with us in this advent period, but while we're waiting for the second Christmas, be the remnant. Be the faithful. Be the chesed. Be the separated ones. Be the holy virgin trimming your lamp with oil, singing in your bed with cancer and in your prison cell with swollen eyes. That's what faithful people do. That's what he said we should do by his power and the light that is in us. Has he come?
If you have not yet knelt before the cradle and seen the King on the cross, would you come and be forgiven? He loves you. He's waiting to come because he loves you, but there's going to be a day when the Father says, "Open the doors," and if you're not his bride, it will not be a pretty wedding day for you. You will be outside the feast and trouble will come. If he has offered his love for you and paid the price, be faithful, unsurprised at all that is here until he comes.
He will not tarry long, and he has offered forgiveness to your repentance, but he does not offer always tomorrow to your procrastination. Deal with Christmas. Do everything you can to get them to come. We're going to flip this. That little manger that's bringing forth light… We're going to flip it, and the joy is going to be in this room and in our hearts as we go tell others about why we sing. God bless you.
Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.