A Place to Belong

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Wow, that’s such poor planning to try and get up and speak after that. That wrecked me in the first service. I was just looking down the second service, but it wrecked me anyway. Great to see you all here and great to see all the people … not see you but be with you all who are streaming at home. Just one announcement. Our Christmas Eve services are both full now. If you didn’t sign up, I’m so sorry. Maybe you can find someone here who will sell you their place for a certain amount of money, because that’s what Christmas is all about, right?

I want to begin by just sharing what the whole idea is behind this Christmas series, and it’s simply this, that this amazing news that produces the greatest joy is for all peoples. No matter who you are or what your past is, no matter how twisted your family tree may be, no matter how many skeletons you have in your closet, this is for you. And it’s for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Today, I want to drill into this idea of good news of great joy for all peoples. Good news of great joy for all peoples. It’s something that if you’ve been raised in a Christian home, if you’ve been raised probably in any home almost in America, you’ve heard this all your life. You’ve probably recited it in a Christmas program. But I want us to think again about what that means — good news of great joy for all peoples.

I want to begin by calling your attention to that nativity set you may have in your home and two of the primary characters in that set, the shepherds and the wise men. Now, I know that probably, almost certainly, the shepherds and wise men were not there at the same time, but you don’t need to go home and take your nativity set apart, because it demonstrates a point. When you have shepherds and wise men, you have two of the most diverse groups of people that have ever existed in the history of the world.

The shepherds were almost certainly illiterate, and the wise men were some of the most brilliant people who ever lived in the history of the world. These people spent their whole lives studying all kinds of things. And for that reason, they would have been very old, probably, and very well respected. Whereas the shepherds, as we’ve observed over the weeks, would have been very young. And as David Hosaflook said a couple of weeks ago, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Ethiopia and other developing countries and you see these little boys and girls with these little switches, and they’re driving those massive cows and oxen. The shepherds were people that were the poorest of the poor, as I said. If you were having a birthday party, and on your invite list if you could get the wise men to come, you tell me, who do you want — people who bring gold and frankincense and myrrh to your party or people who smell like animals?

The shepherds lived right next door to Bethlehem. So, when the angels came, they said, “Hey, let’s go down to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing.” Whereas the wise men lived halfway around the world. The shepherds followed the angels. The angels told them. It was very explicit. You’d have to hire somebody to help you miss the message, right? And it was,

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

This is it. This is what it is. Whereas the wise men followed a star. It was something that was very obtuse, something that they had to employ all of their study and all of their learning. And in fact, God has very wonderfully provided us with the Christmas star. You’ve heard about that? You need to all go out tonight and see something that has not happened for 800 years, the conjunction of two planets and the moon. It’s going to be brilliant. And what a beautiful thing that God gave us this symbol of hope in a very difficult time. And then finally, the shepherds … Well, that’s it. That’s all I got.

So, my question is, when does this happen? I mean, think about it. In our increasingly polarized culture, when do you ever see the rich and the poor, the brilliant and the illiterate, the important and the unimportant, the old and the young, all captivated and drawn to the same thing, all filled and thrilled with the same thing? And the thing that captivated them was Jesus. And it’s not hard to understand why Jesus then and throughout the centuries has captivated the hearts of people all over the planet. It’s really about love. Because when you really know that somebody that wonderful actually loves you, that produces great joy. Joy comes from knowing that you are loved. This is that crazy radical love. This is the gospel.

“Look, he’s covered in dirt / The blood of his mother has mixed with the Earth / And she’s just a child who’s throbbing in pain / From the terror of birth by the light of a cave. Now they’ve laid that small baby / Where creatures come eat / Like the meal for the swine who have no clue that he / Is still holding together the world that they see / They don’t know just how low he has to go / Lower still. Look now he’s kneeling he’s washing their feet / Though they’re all filthy fishermen, traitors and thieves / Now he’s pouring his heart out and they’re falling asleep / But he has to go lower still. / There is greater love to show / Hands to the plow / Further down now / blood must flow. All these steps are personal / All his shame is ransom / Oh do you see, do you see just how low, he has come / Do you see it now? / No one takes from him / What he gives freely away / Beat in his face / Tear the skin off his back / Lower still, lower still / Strip off his clothes / Make him crawl through the streets / Lower still, lower still/ Hang him like meat / On a criminal’s tree / Lower still, lower still / Bury his corpse in the Earth / Like a seed, like a seed, like a seed / Lower still, lower still / Lower still, lower still / The Earth explodes / She cannot hold him! / And all therein is placed beneath Him / And death itself no longer reigns / It cannot keep the ones he gave himself to save / And as the universe shatters and the darkness dissolves / He alone will be honored / We will bathe in his splendor / As all heads bow lower still / All heads bow lower still.”

See, it was love, love that drove him lower still. He doesn’t love you because he died for you. He died for you because he loves you. And it was for you, and it was for me. For someone like me whose life was a toxic waste dump that was full of confusion, into a world that is shattered by dissension and confusion, into a world that is a roaring dumpster fire, Jesus came. And here’s the thing, when jacked-up humans really understand what it is to be loved to the moon with a love that will never change, that will never be taken away, no matter what we do. When we’ve come into this relationship with him, he will never leave us, and he will never forsake us. And when we really grasp that, no matter where you’re from, what culture, anywhere around the world, the inevitable result is great joy.

Let me tell you just a couple of stories that illustrate that point. This video is my friend. His name is Sheik Jerus. He’s the one on my left wearing the hat. Sheik Jerus was a Muslim sheik in a little village called Basha in Ethiopia. And the two men over on the right in the beautiful-colored shirts that are clapping, those are Sheik Jerus’ sons. About eight years ago, nine years ago Jerus’ sons heard the gospel from a former Muslim imam and believed on Jesus Christ the first time they heard the gospel. They had never heard the gospel in their lives, but when they heard it, they knew it was true, and they turned to Jesus Christ. When Sheik Jerus found out that his sons had become followers of Isa Mesih, he became so enraged that he took a horsewhip and started beating them. And he would have beaten his oldest son to death, but his wife stopped him. He told his sons, “You can never come in our house again.” They lived in a cattle shed outside his house. But a few months later, Sheik Jerus had a vision of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, “Come to me. Come to me.” And he went out in tears and he knelt before his sons. He said, “I’ve seen him. I’ve seen the Messiah.” And he believed in Jesus Christ. And now that place where we were having worship together, some of the most joyous worship in my entire life, was a church that Jerus built with his own money on his own land in honor of Jesus Christ.

This morning you saw the video as we were singing, “How Great is Our God.” Those are the children in India. This is a video I shot. I’m no videographer. But I’ll never forget this moment because these are some of the children that your giving has helped to liberate in India. To this date, 41,765 children have inexpressible joy because they have been rescued from child slavery in rock quarries, living a life that’s a living hell. But because of the love of Jesus Christ and through the work of our partners, 41,000 now live with joy. In fact, I took this several years ago. Some of these same children are the ones who were singing with us this morning in our worship. 747 of these children have received training and now have well-paying jobs and are giving much of their salary back to rescue other children. Over 1,900,000 Indian men, women, and children have professed faith in Jesus Christ, and they have gone from a hopeless life of reincarnation, unending reincarnation and suffering to a life of living hope because they know that they are loved.

But it’s not just in big ways. In small ways also this joy has spread around the world. Let me tell you about Valentine. Valentine is a Tarahumara man. Shout out, if you’ve never heard of the Tarahumara, you can watch the ESPN 30 for 30 they just made about them called, “The Eternal Race.” The Tarahumara are runners, and many years ago (I think about 20 years ago) Ted and Sharon Wingo went to live with the Tarahumara to translate the gospel into their language and to preach the gospel for the very first time in the history of the world to this group of people. And when they came to this little village, this man Valentine, who was a powerful, feared witch doctor came out of his house and was cursing them saying, “Go away, we don’t want you. We don’t want this message,” to the point that the other Tarahumara in the village kept a distance from Ted and Sharon because they were afraid they were going to drop dead.

In time, his son, Valentine’s son Nacho, came to know the Lord, came to faith in Jesus Christ. And that created a great rift in the family. You’re all smiling because of Nacho Libre. It’s all right. There came a great rift in the family, and then finally Valentine himself professed faith in Jesus Christ. And this is him being baptized. Not long after this, Valentine passed away. He was the first Tarahumara person in the history of the world that we know of who died with the hope of Jesus Christ. And that death was a powerful witness, because even his funeral was so different from anything they’d ever known.

Here’s another example. This man is named Plácido, in the white shirt there. He’s standing with his four wives. Imagine that guys — 4 wives, 18 children. And I thought I had a big family. Placido is part of the Tepehuan tribe in Mexico. And Ted Wingo’s brother Barry Wingo, who’s an elder in our church, and his wife, Candy, went down to Mexico to work among the Tepehuan to translate the gospel into the heart language of the Tepehuan and to tell them that they did not have to live their lives in fear of evil spirits, in fear of the dead roaming the earth and stealing from them and cursing them and giving sicknesses to them, but that there was a Savior, there is a Savior, who went lower still so that he could bring the good news of great joy to all people, including Placido. And Placido was subsequently baptized, became a first fruit among the Tepehuan. His four wives were also baptized with him. And he continues to bear witness to the great joy which is to all people.

This is what the Bible is actually all about. In Genesis 12 God said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This is God’s eternal purpose. And we as a church here at North Hills are more committed than we ever have been before to reach all peoples. In the new year we’re going to be telling you about a new initiative whereby we want to go to even more. There are still hundreds of people groups, not just people, but whole groups of people throughout the world that have never heard the name of Jesus. And that cannot stand.

So, I would just invite you, if you are involved in missions, if you have thought about working in missions, being a missionary, if you’re part of a missions organization, and you attend here, just text “missions” to this number (864-999-2525). And we’re going to have a gathering of all the people that are engaged with missions in our church and talk about this new initiative. And our prayer is that God will use us to reach ten unreached people groups over the next several years. So, join with us in praying about that. We’ll tell you more about that.

In 2021 we are going to be going through the Gospel of Mark, as you saw in the in the promo. And I’m really excited about that. And there’s one thing I want you to watch for carefully as we get into the Gospel of Mark, and it’s the way that Jesus had this magnetism, that he was drawing all kinds of people. I just want to give you an example of that so you can watch for it.

In Mark 1, right out of the gate, Mark 1:33 it says, “The whole city was gathered together at the door.” And Mark 1:37, “and they found him …” [Now, listen to this. This is so beautiful. This is in Mark 1. We haven’t even really gotten going yet.] “And said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.” Isn’t that beautiful? Truer words were never spoken. Whatever people think they’re looking for, what they’re really looking for is Jesus. In Mark 1:45, “Jesus … was in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” Mark 2:2, “And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door.” And Mark 3:7, “Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea.”

You’re going to see this theme. I had lots more, but we only have so much time. These were the wrong kinds of people. These were the wrong kinds of people — Galileans, Judeans, also Samaritans. These were not the kind of people you would invite to your fancy dinner party. These are the people you would want to keep out. And they were just drawn to Jesus. And then in Mark 3:32 Jesus drops an absolute bombshell.

“And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And Jesus answered them and said, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about [him] at those who sat around him … ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, [the same] is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Let that sink in. That might have been the most counter-cultural thing Jesus ever said because Jewish culture was a strong group culture. It was all about the family. Everything was about the family. The family was your security. The family was your identity. You never brought shame on the family. The family was everything. And when Jesus looks around and says my concept, my idea, my ethic is bigger than this. Not that he was disavowing the importance of family, but he was saying, “My vision is to have a big family made up of all cultures. A family that has room enough for everyone who wants to do the will of the Father.” This was so counter-cultural. It’s so beautiful.

You know, one of the most consistent human tendencies across all times and across all cultures is when we feel afraid or threatened, we always want to draw near people just like ourselves. Danny Silk, a teacher, illustrates this beautifully. He says,

“You know, there’s something I just love about you. I just love something about you. What is it? Oh yeah, you’re like me. I just love that about you. You’re like me. You know, I just really love that. That’s so beautiful.”

And that’s a human tendency that we want to be with people like us. That’s where we feel safe. That’s where we feel secure. But Jesus came to create an ethic that has never existed in any place, at any time, in any religion, in any philosophy, that this family is a big family. And it’s a big, messy family. But it’s a family that can keep its love on even when we disagree with each other. And, you know, this ultimately is what got Jesus killed. In Mark 11:15-18 it says,

“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple … and he overturned the tables of the money-changers … And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?”‘ [For all the people. In Greek, panta ethnae. For every people group on the planet. That’s what my house is. And look at the next words in that passage.] … And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him.”

Because the ethic of every religion and every culture apart from Jesus Christ is that the good news is for me. And it’s for me and my family and my people and the people who believe and think and act just like me. And the chief priest said, “Jesus, what you’re saying, we are not going to let that stand.” But when Jesus came, what did he call his followers? Brothers and sisters. That’s never happened. What did he call… What was the way he referred … 342 times he called his followers brothers and sisters, no matter what their background, no matter what their beliefs, outside of their willingness to follow him. He called God, Father. The preeminent metaphor for the Church in the New Testament is a family. And this is what Jesus came to build. But that’s not easy. And when we find ourselves in times of fear and uncertainty, it is so easy to forget that, isn’t it?

Let me show you how easy. Almost 100 years exactly to the day ago, a poet by the name of William Butler Yeats wrote a poem called, “The Second Coming.” This poem has been re-quoted. There have been books and series and videos that have been created based on lines from this poem. This was one of the most influential poems in the history of the English language. Now, why did he write a poem called, “The Second Coming”? Because it was the end of World War I where millions of people, mostly Christian nations by the way, were slaughtering each other. And immediately on the heels of World War I came the Spanish flu. Now, we’re in a pandemic now, but this was a pandemic on steroids. Nobody knows exactly how many died in the Spanish flu. The low number is 20 million, 20 million. Not just people who got it, people who died. The more realistic number is 40 or 50 million. And Yeats’ own wife and infant son contracted the Spanish flu. Yeats was so depressed, and he was looking out at the terrors of communism that were rising up as a new philosophy in the world. And he rightly discerned that communism was going to be a game changer, that people were looking for something to hope in, and many were putting their hope in this. And he saw that it was going to make matters even worse. So, he wrote this poem, “The Second Coming,” which starts out,

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” [And then as he goes further down, he says,] “Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”

You hearing anybody talk about the second coming right now? You think this is the first time? When you talk about World War I, you talk about the Spanish flu, I mean, it really looked like this has got to be the end because we can’t keep going like this.

But he also realized that into this vacuum of hopelessness, political solutions were taking the place of faith in God, specifically communism. And this is the way his poem “The Second Coming” ends. He says,

“The darkness drops again … And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Because, in Yeats poem, the second coming was not Jesus. It was the political systems that people would put their hope in instead of Jesus. And you know what, Yeats was right. But you want to know what was tragic? William Yeats became infatuated with nationalist authoritarian movements. He became a fascist. Out of his fear for communism, he became a fascist, and he started writing anthems for fascist movements around the world because he saw as the solution for this dictatorship of the proletariat, authoritarian government. And people, we’re in the same place. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you’re conservative or liberal, we have to all see that our hope cannot be in any political system. And when it is, the thing we fear will blind us to the thing we don’t see. And people have a lot of money to make from blindness.

This is good news of great joy for all peoples. And I’ve been thinking about this because, you know, sometimes it’s not that easy. I can say that, but sometimes I scratch my head and say, “You believe what? You like who? You voted for what? You’ve got to be kidding me!” And our hearts can become divided. But I love what Scott Sauls, the author, said.

“We should feel ‘at home’ with people who share our faith but not our politics even more than we do with people who share our politics but not our faith.”

Is the church, is our church going to be an extension of the polarization of this world? Or is it going to be the exception?

I’ve been wrestling with this. Good tidings of great joy for all people. I went and looked at the Greek, and it even includes Democrats. Good tidings, peace on earth, good will toward men, even the men who voted differently than I did. That’s what it’s saying. Yes, we have strong beliefs. Yes, we have strong opinions. Yes, we fight for things politically that we believe are important. But in this place, this is the place where what unites us is more important than what divides us. It’s what Martin Luther King called “the beloved community.” I just love that — the beloved community.

I want to finish by talking about you. And I want to share one other geeky thing that I’ve been very interested in over the last couple of years. This is a painting by a man named Andrei Rublev. Rublev made this. It’s a very famous icon that was painted in the 1400s. There’s a big, long story about it, and I don’t have time to tell it this morning, but go read it. It’s real interesting. But Rublev was trying to depict the Trinity. This is the only painting that’s been preserved by him. It’s very interesting. And he thought, how do I capture the essence of the Trinity? The three figures here represent the Godhead. The figure on my left with the gold robe represents God in all his majesty. The figure in the center with the blue robe represents Jesus, the color of the sea and the sky. And the figure on the right with the green robe represents the Holy Spirit, and green represents new life.

And what’s interesting about this, and I wish I had time to do a whole art appreciation, which I know some of you would really love, and the rest of you would go on the rest of the way to sleep. But just notice their heads. It’s so beautiful when you look at it closely because their heads are all bowed to one another in deference. And the hand and the finger on the right representing the Holy Spirit, it’s almost like he’s beckoning. He’s beckoning us into the picture. It’s so beautiful. In the shepherd clip that we watched, how the Joseph figure beckons the shepherds, come in. This is the same thing. This was “The Chosen” 1500 years ago. But the thing that is most remarkable to me of all about this is you see that little black square on the table? That has some kind of adhesive on it. Historians and art scholars have studied this, and the universal belief is on that little black square they had affixed a mirror. And the idea of the mirror was that Rublev wanted you to see yourself invited into this fellowship of mutual love. The Trinity is a family that makes a family out of people like us — losers, misfits, burnouts, washouts, losers. This is what God does. This is how he came lower still. At the center of the universe is a perfect Father loving his child. And if you know Jesus Christ, that child is you.

Now, we had planned to do communion at this point, but because of the upsurge of covid and people being away, we’re not doing that. But every time we do communion, we’re remembering this. We’re remembering this big table where we all sit — the beautiful and the not so beautiful, the crazy uncles and the favorite child, people of every race and tongue and kindred and nation — all drawn together by one compelling thing, the love of Jesus Christ. And that love, that love is for you.

Let’s pray. God, we are so grateful for this simple message. Glory to God in the highest, and peace among those in whom he is well pleased. This truly is good news of great joy which shall be to all peoples. Now God receive our worship as we just return to you our praise and worship and love, which is only an echo of the love that you have had for us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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