Good morning. How are we? Doing well? If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. We’re going to be in Isaiah, chapter 61. If you don’t have a Bible, there should be a hardback black one somewhere around you. I want you to grab that. I want you to see that I’m not making anything up here, nor do I have an agenda of my own. Rather we just want to let the Word of God bear its weight on us.
We’ll be in Isaiah 61 for about 25 percent of our time, maybe a little less, and then we’re going to flip over to Luke, chapter 4. Luke 4 is going to sound very similar to Isaiah 61 to you, and I’ll explain that as we move into it. We are celebrating, not just today but this month, a season in the church calendar that has historically been called Epiphany.
Epiphany is about the manifestation of Christ; namely, that Christ has revealed himself, shown himself to not just be some sort of teacher or philosopher, not as one who has a piece of truth where everyone else also has a piece of truth, but the manifestation of Christ is about Christ making himself known, showing himself visibly to be God in the flesh, second person of the Trinity, who condescended to dwell among his creation to bring about our salvation for the glory of God.
So when we celebrate Epiphany, we’re celebrating light invading the darkness. You and I, as Christians, are rejoicing in this season that Christ has come into the world to push back the darkness. That’s what Epiphany is all about. Now historically, Epiphany is a weekend, but because we use the church calendar…the church doesn’t have anything dictated to her by the church calendar…we decided to do Epiphany all month.
So we’re not just doing it today; we’re going to do it all month. We’re going to address what we normally address in January under the banner of Epiphany, under the banner of light invading darkness and pushing back the darkness. With that said, God, through the prophet Isaiah, spoke to his people concerning the coming of an anointed one, an anointed me who was going to push back the darkness in some very specific ways. So let’s read that text together. Isaiah 61. I’m going to start in verse 1.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…”
I’ll stop at verse 2, although the prophet Isaiah continues to talk about this Anointed One who’s coming and all that he will accomplish. Throughout the Scriptures, Old or New Testament, the coming of the Holy Spirit always is about God reshaping and reworking something in the creative order, so every time the Spirit shows up, that’s good news for humankind. Every time, 100 percent of the time, when the Holy Spirit shows up, good things happen for human beings.
What we see happening in Isaiah is there’s this promise of an anointed me. “…has appointed me and empowered me to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives,” and the list goes on. The “me” in this text is unnamed. It doesn’t say that it’s Jesus. It doesn’t say that Jesus will be anointed. It just says there is one who is coming, and this one who is coming will be anointed by the Holy Spirit, and this Anointed One is going to push back darkness. Then it gets a little detailed around what exactly this Anointed One will accomplish. So let’s look at that together.
The first thing we see in this text is that the Spirit of the Lord is going to be upon this anointed me “because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” What we see happening is when this anointed me, this Anointed One shows up, there will be a proclamation of good news. That’s specifically tied to poverty, as we’ll see a little bit later. That is absolutely economic poverty, but it’s also absolutely spiritual poverty. It is both. It is not one or the other; it is both. We are a people who love to create categories. The Lord loves to break up categories.
So we see this promise that the Anointed One will come proclaiming good news to the poor, but he also will come to bind up and heal. Now if you’re thinking there are people who are actually hearing this prophecy from the prophet Isaiah a long time before Jesus shows up, the reality is the people of Israel are in a tough spot. In fact, Isaiah is trying to plead with them to return to what they know is right and good, which is why we’re so full here this morning, because it’s early January. We’re going to do it right this year.
You see in this text, if we had time to really dig around in Isaiah, that there are physical issues among the people of God, social issues among the people of God, and significant spiritual issues among the people of God, and this Anointed One who’s coming is going to bind that up. He’s going to heal that. He’s going to get his hands into that mess and put things back together. Then we see he’s going to proclaim liberty to the captives. Again, this is both metaphorical and literal.
This word that’s used here in the Hebrew is the one that is most often used about slaves being set free after six years. Hebrew law would have all slaves released. If you had sold yourself into slavery or you had been held captive in some sort of conquest, you were to be set free after six years. This is that Hebrew word in this place, but the heart of this text is that in the coming of this Anointed One there would be a release from any past social or spiritual enslavement that people were under.
The last thing we see about this coming of this anointed me, or this Anointed One, is that they would come proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Just to kind of unpack that, Isaiah 49:8 says this about the year of the Lord’s favor: “Thus says the Lord: ’In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages…’”
Because it’s 2018 and we’re sitting in Texas, if we don’t know the Old Testament well it’s hard for us to hear all that’s going on in this text, but the promises of God for the people of God in the Old Testament all had to do with the establishment of this land they had been promised, and the covenant promises of God fulfilled a heritage from the Lord that God was going to give his people through the line of Abraham into the Davidic covenant, and they’re hungry to see it.
The year of the Lord’s favor is about the fulfillment of God’s promises toward his people. So when this anointed me shows up, these are the places that he, filled with the Holy Spirit, is going to push back on. Now here’s what happens next. This word right here echoes across Israel. It’s heard, it’s received, they’re hopeful, and then they continue to rebel against God even though they’ve heard these words.
What happens at the end of Isaiah is the people of God head into exile, the Diaspora begins, and Jews are dispersed all over the world. They are enslaved. They are conquered. They are scattered. They are a broken, nationless people, conquered, oppressed, marginalized. Then in the quiet of a morning hundreds of years later, an angel of the Lord appears to a young peasant girl named Mary and brings glad tidings and good news.
Jesus is born, and he grows in wisdom and stature, as the Scriptures say, and then he begins his ministry, and he begins his ministry by heading into the desert. In fact, the Bible says “compelled by the Holy Spirit into the desert,” where he is tempted for 40 days and 40 nights with the same lies that befell Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, except Jesus does not fail like Adam and Eve did; he succeeds. When he comes out of the desert, he preaches his first sermon. So we’re going to look at that. Flip over now to Luke, chapter 4. We’re going to pick it up in verse 16.
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ’Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ’Is not this Joseph’s son?’”
This is the manifestation of Christ, the making visible that Jesus is the Son of God. His first sermon involves him grabbing Isaiah and opening up to where Isaiah 61 is (it’s not numbered that way at that time). He opens it up and reads, and here’s his exposition of the text. He closes it, he hands it back to the attendant, and he goes, “That’s me. I’m here.”
The Bible is really honest. They stared at him, and they marveled at the gracious things he was saying, and then they had this discussion that you have to believe they would have. “Wait. Isn’t this the carpenter’s boy? Didn’t Jesus go to high school here? How is this guy, as gracious as his words are, saying to us that he’s coeternal with the Father? How could he be the Anointed One mentioned in the prophet Isaiah?” Yet for the rest of Jesus’ ministry, he fulfills exactly what the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would fulfill.
That’s what I want us to look at today. Let’s look back at these things the Anointed One is going to fulfill and whether or not Jesus does exactly that. As we do it, I have a couple of things I want to deconstruct. Deconstruction is always a little bit painful, but I promise I want to reconstruct something that’s better than. So we can just expect, moving throughout this sermon, there are some things I want to deconstruct that might sting a little bit, but I want to reconstruct something in its place that I think is far more beautiful. So just be aware. You’ll know it when we get there.
Here’s the first thing: he wants to proclaim good news to the poor. One of the things you’re going to find happening when you get into what the Messiah actually is going to do is you get these theological camps that start to build up. They put up these really rigid walls, and the concepts are around…Are these claims metaphorical or physical?
When Jesus says he’s coming to proclaim good news to the poor, is that that there is going to be good news preached to the economic poor or is he saying “No, it’s not just the economic poor; it’s the spiritually poor”? There are whole streams of evangelicals that begin to build systems of thought around one or the other. Here’s my heart for us: we’re going to say it’s both because the Bible says it’s both. It’s not that complex.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Is that not what Jesus says? Does Jesus not come for the spiritually impoverished, the spiritually bankrupt, the spiritually poor, the spiritually empty? Is that not who Jesus came for? And while he is on earth in the physical body, does he not spend nearly all of his time with the poor, encouraging the poor, feeding the poor? Who is it that gets that fish sandwich handed out to them 12 baskets full more? It’s the poor with nowhere to get food.
Who did Jesus live among? The poor. He was homeless. He has come to proclaim good news to the poor. Poor in spirit? Yes. Economically poor? Absolutely. In our privileged position in human history, as we’ve looked back on all the wins and losses of our brothers and sisters throughout history, the one thing that can be said about the church of Jesus Christ throughout a couple of millennia now is that, by and large, they have been generous to the poor. In fact, if you’re a history nerd…
Has it ever struck you how many Baptist and Methodist and Catholic hospitals there are, how many hospitals are called “Saint Mary’s” or “Baylor” or “United Methodist”? Have you ever stopped for a second and considered, “Wait a minute. Are you saying that churches have been involved in setting up hospitals?” All over the world for 2,000 years. Who do you think drives so many of these homes and shelters and food pantries?
It has been the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, having experienced spiritual poverty and being brought out of that poverty by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, who then give themselves over to ministering to and caring for the economically poor as well as the spiritually impoverished. It’s both; it’s not one or the other. That’s going to hold true for every one of those, and that’s going to freak some of us out.
It’s not just proclaiming good news to the poor but also liberty to the captives. Let’s talk about this word freedom or liberty. The Greek word in this text translates freedom more than liberty, and every time it’s used in Luke and in the book of Acts, which share the same author, it is always in reference to the forgiveness of sins. Every time Luke and Acts use this Greek word to talk about liberty or freedom, it is always talking about forgiveness of sins.
Here’s something I want to try to help us deconstruct. In thinking about liberty, in thinking about oppression, we’re hearing a lot… I don’t know how much you read or what you pay attention to in regard to flash points among what Christians are arguing about and what we agree about. It’s a mess out there right now. There’s a lot of talk about what Jesus came to do. Again, we like to divide ourselves into camps.
There’s a camp that would be like, “Jesus came so that those who are oppressed might be set free. He came to fight against injustice.” I would give a hearty “amen” to that as a secondary aspect of what Christ came for. The primary aspect he came for is to reconcile God to men. Now why is that? I’m not saying we don’t get involved in justice issues, because I don’t believe that. If you’ve been here for any period of time, you know I don’t believe that.
Why, then, when we’re talking about liberty to the captives is this word only used in relation to the forgiveness of sin? Well, I think there’s a mistake and some theological stuntedness about how we think about the holiness of God. Let me unpack it this way. All sin is first and foremost against God. You sin primarily against God, and you sin against others secondarily.
You never primarily sin against another. All of your sins against another are rooted in your rebellion and your detachment from the God of your creation. So in the coming of Christ, he is going to reconcile your broken vertical relationship so that we have a shot at reconciliation on the horizontal plane. You cannot start with horizontal justice issues and get to the kingdom.
You start with the kingdom and watch racial harmony and other justice issues begin to be established. But the brother who would say, “Just preach the gospel” is not fully believing the gospel, because the gospel flows out of reconciliation to God and seeks reconciliation with man. There’s a hole in our understanding around this, and here’s how I know it. Let me tell you how I experience it as the pastor of The Village.
This month we’ve tackled a couple of issues that in our culture are really hot-topic issues. We’ve tackled the conversation around racial harmony in our country and what it would look like to be a people that looks more like the kingdom of God than the day in which we live, and we’ve tackled the issue of life and where life begins and what life is and how we should champion life. Here’s what I’ve experienced as your pastor.
When I address the topic of race we shrink by about 200 to 300, and I get a lot of emails about not being political and I should just preach the gospel and leave that stuff alone, but then watch this, white folk. As soon as I address life, it’s like, “You are so bold. Golly! I’m glad you’re my pastor.” Do you see the hole in our brains? “Touch the things we want you to touch, but don’t touch the things we’re uncomfortable with you touching.” Yet the Word of God bids me this way: preach the full counsel of God.
Liberty, justice, justice issues are gospel issues. Our primary issue is men and women reconciled to God in Christ, and yet that begins to move into horizontal harmony, and where that is not taking place, everyone has to lower themselves in humility and figure out where the misfire is. This is what’s happening in this “liberty to the captives.”
Did Jesus come to save us from sin and death? Yes. Did he come to reconcile Jew and Gentile? Absolutely. We’ll talk next week how he’s always making the Samaritans the heroes in the story, how disorienting that would have been to the Jews who hated them.
Then from there, not just good news to the poor, not just liberty to the captives, but also recovering sight to the blind. Now here’s what we know. Metaphorically speaking, this is language used to explain what it means to become a Christian. We were blind, but now we see. We were in the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son. This language of blindness is one that is often used about spiritual blindness.
So we see that in the coming of the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit, he is going to open blind eyes, and anyone who’s a Christian has experienced that. How many of you who are followers of Christ could remember…? Some of you got saved when you were like 3. That’s a beautiful testimony. You should never hate that, but it’ll be hard for you to remember some of these things. How many of you remember coming to Christ and remember that feeling of “Oh my gosh! I see things I couldn’t see before my eyes were opened”?
This is that metaphorical piece we’re talking about, yet if we watch the ministry of Jesus, we also see him physically healing the blind. In the coming of Jesus Christ, we see not only metaphorical healing but also physical healing. I just want to continually contend for us in this way. I want you to embrace ordinary days, what I historically in sermons have just called Tuesday. Do you know what I mean by that?
It’s not like Wednesday where you’re almost there. It’s just Tuesday. It’s not Monday; it’s Tuesday. It’s just a normal day. Well, most of our lives are going to be just normal days. I want you to love that. I never want you to rail your fist against that. I want you just to understand that most of our days are normal days. You’re going to get in your Bible and read it, and you’re not going to have this epiphany moment where the Holy Spirit rips open your soul and jams that text down into it.
You’re just going to read the Bible, and maybe you’ll remember what you read after lunch, and maybe you won’t, and you’re going to pray, and a lot of times it’s going to feel like it’s just you in faith believing that God is hearing you, and that’ll be what it is: a life rooted in faith, confident in God. You should just lean into that. It’s a good, right, beautiful experience that all of the followers of Jesus have had all the way back to the beginning.
But we must also leave space, leave desire, and leave longing for supernatural breakthrough. Although there is no greater miracle on earth that establishes gratitude for Jesus Christ like salvation, what we see throughout the Scriptures, as well as what we see throughout Christian history, is a God who is willing to heal physical diseases, so we want to be crazy enough to ask him.
We want to be a church that asks him to heal diseases, and not in any type of weird, manipulative way, not in an over-realized eschatology, and what I mean by that is that everybody gets healed. That’s not true. Gosh, even in the Bible that’s not true. The apostle Paul, who has a gift, yo… His handkerchief heals people, and yet he has to tell Timothy, “Hey, take a little wine for your stomach.”
Why didn’t Paul just heal him? He’d been to the third heaven. He told another guy to stop being dead. Why not heal Timothy? Because he couldn’t, because the Lord was working some plans in Timothy’s suffering for Timothy’s good. Why couldn’t Paul heal himself of the thorn in his flesh? Because God was using that thorn for a purpose.
So we don’t have some over-realized eschatology. We don’t think everybody is going to be healed, but we think some will, and we’re going to ask the Lord to do it. We don’t need to manipulate it with a bunch of loud talk and a bunch of music. What does volume have to do with supernatural activity? Sometimes watching weird folks on TV, I’m just like, “Do demons respond to an elevated voice? What about sickness? Does sickness respond to being yelled at?”
No, no, no. We simply ask and hope and see what the Lord might have for us. We believe this. We want to be a church that all the more leans into this and prays for this. In fact, at elder-led prayer tonight at 5:00, we’re going to give that whole time over to praying for the sick. I don’t think it’s going to be weird. If you’re sick, we’re going to pray for you. We’re just going to ask God to heal you.
I have no promises for you tonight other than God has asked us to ask him, and we’re just going to ask, and then we’re going to, open hands, see what the Lord has for us, because God is no genie in a bottle; he’s the Sovereign King of Glory, but the Anointed One has come to give the blind sight, metaphorically and physically.
From there you have set the bound free. Again, this same word release or free is similar to the word freedom earlier in the verse. It’s rightly seen as being set free from bondage to sin and death. In fact, I think you can see that in the apostle Paul’s testimony given to King Agrippa in Acts 26. Here’s what it says.
“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you…” “I’ve delivered you from them so I can send you back to them.” Isn’t that just like the Lord?
“…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God…” If we were reading this in the Greek, “from the power of Satan to the power of God.” It’s from one power to another. “…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
What we see here when we’re talking about freedom for those who are in bondage is primarily those whose hearts are in bondage to sin and death being set free by the Holy Spirit in salvation, and yet it is not just this metaphorical picture but also the physical reality of those who are trapped in bondage, and I’m speaking namely to those who are demonically oppressed.
I know in 2018 we have a rigid intellectualism, and although we’re talking about a man born of a virgin who’s coeternal with the Father… We’re okay with that kind of supernatural stuff, but angels and demons? Isn’t that the stuff of those movies we don’t want our kids to watch? Yet I would just contend from the Word of God that spiritual oppression is a very real thing.
The promise of the coming of Jesus Christ is not just salvation from sin and death but a setting free of those in bondage to demonic oppression. If this is language that’s new to you or you haven’t really thought about this or read much in the Bible about this, I’ll give you examples of how we’ve seen it play out here.
For whatever reason, we’ve seen three things pretty consistently here. I don’t know if that has to do with the area we’re in. Again, the spiritual realm is the spiritual realm. I have the Word of God. I’m camping on that. I’m believing in that. Then there are just a lot of things you don’t know what to do with. Maybe I just need to go back to seminary and get a PhD to figure that out, but I know PhDs, and I don’t think that’s how it works.
Let me unpack things that are not uncommon for us to see. There have been dozens of men in our church and a couple of women that when they close their eyes their mind just fills with horrifically violent images. They are not feeding that in any way we know, any way they’ve ever confessed, but when they close their eyes they are devoured by violent images.
They have given their lives to Christ. They are in Home Groups. They have gone through biblical counseling. They have tried to deal with “daddy” wounds, and yet when they close their eyes they’re overwhelmed with images of violence, and through prayer and more prayer those images have waned to where they’re no longer in the minds of those men.
That would be an example of what I’m talking about here. Let me give you another one that’s really consistent. I think it’s two sides of the same coin. I know of at least two, one is a man, one is a woman, who when they first came to The Village, when they first drove into our parking lot… They had just been haunted with this frenetic energy in their mind, in their heart. They were always frazzled and anxious. They just felt like they would… The word they would use is vibrate or hum.
When they would pull into our parking lot it would stop and they would get clarity. So they were always at the church. If the door was open, they were here. Some weekdays they were in the foyer. “What are y’all doing?” What is that? So we wanted to begin to pray, and we wanted to begin to ask the Lord to break that, and now more and more and more, they’re beginning to get greater clarity outside of this place in a way that I don’t know what to tie that to except spiritual bondage.
The other thing happens often, and here’s something I would ask you to consider. It’s not uncommon for us to come across men and women who have a really clear mind until they come here. You want to talk about spiritual realities? Have you ever noticed that it’s not any work of discipline at all for you to blow through a Netflix series but you have a really hard time concentrating on your Bible for 10 minutes?
Most people I know are disciplined. It’s not a lack of discipline. This is a spiritual reality at play here, one that needs to be confronted and prayed over, because Christ has brought in the power to set us free. So yes, yes, yes, forgiveness of sin. There’s not a greater miracle on earth, and if you get salvation and struggle with physical illness the rest of your life you have been given mercy and a miracle. If you get reconciled to God in Christ and you wrestle with demonic oppression as a way of God keeping you near to him…
I know a lot of charismatics, and I don’t have that category, but I look at what the apostle Paul said, and here’s what he said. “There was given to me by God an evil spirit to torment me, that I might not boast in my exceedingly great revelation.” It’s a weird gift to get from God, and yet there it is in the text. If we’re people of the Book, you can’t deny that that’s there to teach us and inform us of some of the mystery of all of this. I say all of that and in no way want to give any permission for us to not long for, ask, and expect freedom and liberty in Christ. That’s what he came to die to bring us.
Then from there, you have the year of the Lord’s favor. Basically, at this point, year of the Lord’s favor grows to be synonymous with the good news of the kingdom of God. Everywhere Jesus goes, he proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. Everywhere Jesus goes, he proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God; namely, that in the coming of Jesus Christ all of the promises of God in the Old Testament have found their yes.
This is what the Bible says: all of the promises of God find their yes in him. In the coming of Jesus, every promise to the people of God has been fulfilled. So what does that mean as we think about and celebrate Epiphany? If Epiphany is the proclamation of good news, if it’s liberty to the captives, if it’s eyes that see, bondage that is broken, and the Lord’s favor, then how should we respond? Well, let me do this. If you’re not a Christian, here’s how I would hope you would respond.
I’m proclaiming good news. Are you poor in spirit, bankrupt in your inner person? Jesus has come for you. Are you in bondage? Are you held captive? Christ has come for you. Are you blind, angry, empty? Christ has come for you. Did you notice that as he read the scroll out of Isaiah 61 he stopped and didn’t read the part of the Lord’s vengeance? Did you notice that was in verse 2 of Isaiah 61 but Jesus didn’t read that part before he rolled up the scroll and handed it back and said, “This has been fulfilled in your hearing”?
It’s not that God’s vengeance isn’t ultimately coming against sin. It is. It’s that the purpose of the coming of Messiah is not to bring condemnation to the world but to bring salvation into the world. Christ has come for you. If you’re an unbeliever, I would invite you into Epiphany. I would invite you into the manifestation of Christ as a Lord and Savior, as a good, kind King, kinder than the gods you’re currently serving.
You might even be blind enough to not even know you’re serving other gods, but I can assure you everyone worships something. When you’re blind you can’t see that the gods you’re worshiping can’t satisfy and can’t help you. So if you’re not a believer, I just want to pastorally invite you into this kingdom that Jesus has brought forth as the Anointed One promised in Isaiah 61.
Now if you’re a Christian, a couple of things that I want us to rejoice in and think about, and I’ll do some deconstructing and reconstructing here, I hope. The first is if you’re a Christian, I want you to celebrate that the same Holy Spirit we see at work in all of these texts is actively at work in us. I want you to celebrate that you are the church. Here’s what I feel like we need to deconstruct.
I had a great meeting earlier this week. A man came in. He has been at the church for probably 13 years. He came in and said, “Hey, thanks for making space. Man, I just so appreciate when we can get together. I don’t want to complain,” which is always code for, “I’m about to complain.” Have you ever noticed that? “I don’t want to be a complainer, but I’m going to complain a little bit.”
I am under no illusion that we’re nailing everything. We have a lot of places as a church where we need to grow, some areas where we’re weak that we can’t even see we’re weak. That’s just me being honest. We’re earnest to please the Lord and to serve you as best we know how. We know we drop the ball at times. We know we have some things that are broken and things we’re actively trying to fix. There’s always some of that going on here.
In this conversation, he brought up what he thought were some shortcomings in how we were handling a couple of specific situations. I have a little notebook, and I’m taking notes off of what he’s saying, and actually, later on, I asked him to write that up and send it back to me so I could make sure I didn’t decipher through what he was saying wrongly into my own notes but I could read his own words.
One of the things he was saying is he thought our care for a certain situation wasn’t going well. He said, “I feel like the church is not doing a good job loving these people and caring for these people.” Then he began to talk about how he talks to these people six times a day sometimes. He has them into his home. He sometimes has to step out of these meetings at work just to speak truth into a situation or just to encourage a dynamic that’s flared again.
Some of what he brought before me was very significant in that we need to repent and own it. There was some staff follow-through that didn’t happen that I made notes of and began to run down whether or not that actually happened. Here’s what’s great. If you email us, our server will let us know you emailed us. So if someone actually emailed in to a staff member and never got an email back, we can find out whether that’s true or not.
So I set into motion what we need to own and what we don’t need to own, but after I heard the things we needed to own, I wanted to bring this to his attention. “It sounds to me like the church has crushed this in a good way. How many times a day have you been talking? Six? What church our size ministers to an individual couple six times in one day?”
What I was trying to reframe for him was that he is the church. Part of the Reformation 500 years ago was about sola Scriptura. It was about the Bible alone as our ultimate authority, but it was just as much about the priesthood of all believers and that there’s not a professional clergy but that we’re all called, all filled with the Holy Spirit, and all turned loose to love and serve and encourage the brothers and sisters.
This is the call on your life and my life: not to be passive recipients from some varsity-level clergy but to actively be doing the stuff. I don’t know why you would ever be content in hearing about this stuff. I want in. I don’t want to read a book about football; I want to play it. Who’s happy reading instruction manuals? Here’d be my bet. Whatever toy you got for Christmas, you’ve used it.
You didn’t just read through the manual and were like, “Man, I can’t wait. I’m going to YouTube somebody who’s an expert on this and watch them do it.” No, you got in there and played with it, and some of you lost your mind trying to figure out how to do it, and some of you jacked it up. You might have even broken part of it, but you got in there, and you’re figuring out how to use it.
As the church, this is the call on your life. The 60 pastors of this church cannot minister fully to the 15,000 people here. We minister to one another. Let me alleviate some of your fears. You’re going to say dumb stuff. You’re going to offend people. You’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and hurt somebody, and then by the grace of God you’re going to get to own it, ask forgiveness, and learn.
The reason belonging to a community of faith is so much more important than going to church is it creates space for you to grow and me to grow and us to sharpen one another as we do, because the only other play left is for you to go, “I’ll have to wait until I’m fully trained before I engage.” Guess what? Because I’ve been around a lot of fully trained guys and gals. You’ll make those same dumb mistakes as a trained person.
There’s a difference between book smarts and street smarts. Have you ever met anybody who’s summa cum laude but can’t figure out where the gas goes in the car? Like, brilliant, brilliant mind. Can’t believe they’re still alive. Well, how do you grow in that kind of wisdom? By walking in obedience to the Word of God and staying humble as you approach brothers and sisters, to encourage, to speak life, to come alongside.
You are the church. Want more for yourself than good sermons and good music. It’s messy, but it’s far more beautiful than an entertainment-based model that has as its engine a select few who we view as some sort of magical group that has all the answers. The same Holy Spirit that’s in you is in me. We have different gifts, we’ve been put in different places, but God has called you just as much as he has called me.
It’s in a celebration you’ve been invited into that, and you have front-row seats to that. I’d love to see us grow. Some of you are doing this so, so, so well, and for some of you it’s still like, “I just don’t think I’m ready to love people, serve people, encourage people. There’s so much brokenness in me.” I just want to continually encourage you to go back to the Bible. Have you seen Jesus’ disciples? Just do a study. Few things will encourage your heart like seeing Jesus’ first Twelve.
The second thing, and I say this all the time because I so want it for me and for you… In light of Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ, light pushing back the darkness, not only do I want you to embrace being the church but also to embrace the privileges that come from being sons and daughters of God on high. Yes, he is a just Judge and an omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-at-once King, but he’s also your Father.
I got in a fight with Norah two nights ago. She’s 8. I don’t know about you. We’ve had this cold going through our house. Lauren and I at this point have survived it, but we had one sick on Christmas Day, one sick the week before Christmas, and Norah has gone to the doctor twice. Two nights ago, I go to brush my teeth and notice that my toothbrush is wet.
Now Lauren will not use my toothbrush. We can kiss, we can have babies, but she’s not drinking after me through a straw. For whatever reason, that’s gross to her, and she certainly is not ever going to use my toothbrush. So I know my wife has not snuck into our bathroom and used my toothbrush. Norah is on a pallet on our floor to save us from the constant up and down the stairs. I just asked her, “Hey, have you been using my toothbrush?”
“What toothbrush have you been using?”
“That one in your hand.”
“That’s my toothbrush.”
So then we have this conversation. She’s unable to understand why this is such a big deal to me. I know we’re praying for healing at elder-led prayer Sunday, and I’m like, “Oh, the irony of me not being able to be there because I have a cold.” “Love to pray for the sick, but I’m sick.” So I’m having this conversation. “Baby, don’t use my toothbrush. It’s nasty. You’re sick. Do you think I want what you have?” You just start asking crazy questions as a parent. “Do you think I want to be sick? Do you want me on a pallet on your floor? No, you don’t.”
So everybody settles down. We go to bed, and I wake up, and there on my Bible where I sit at the same little place every morning… I have my readers, my Bible, and I have a cup of coffee. She had made me a little note. She made me a note and she made her mom a note. I’d already seen her mama’s note. It said, “I love Mom,” and you open it up and it says, “You’re a sunflower” and there’s a picture of a sunflower. So sweet.
I look at my note. My note says, “I love Dad,” and I open it up and it says, “Your…” Misspelled. Mom’s wasn’t misspelled, but my you’re was misspelled, and it said, “Your a dog,” and there was a picture of a dog. What do you do about that? I’m kind of rolling through the right approach here. Like, is this about the fight? A dog? I wonder if she’s at that age where they know dog is like “Dynamite Out-of-sight Guy.” I wonder what she’s trying to… Do I just whip her with this? What do I do here?
So I asked Norah. I was like, “Hey, monkey, come here.” I was sitting at our island, and she pulled up next to me on the island. I was like, “I’m a dog? Mom is a sunflower and I’m a dog?” Here’s what sweet Norah said to me. She said, “Well, what I mean is that you like to play and you’re always happy to see me.” Isn’t that cool? So I’m that kind of dog. I’m a golden retriever, apparently. The reason I tell that quirky little funny story… I did help her. “There’s a better way to do that than calling me a dog.” (I didn’t.)
In the middle of that, I want to constantly be reminded in those interactions with my children, both the ones I get right and the ones I get wrong, of God’s affection for me, because that’s what the Bible says. That’s his approach to me according to the Word of God. I am his son. You are his sons and daughters. It’s my experience that very few of us can really walk in the life that comes from thinking that he’s excited to see you and that he loves to play.
Our view of God is right in that we see him as holy and omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent and something to fear. That’s a good thing to fear the Lord. It’s the beginning of all wisdom. Right? But he’s also loving and kind and steadfast and playful. I wonder how we would pray, what kind of power we would walk in, and what kind of joy we would possess if we actually believed he wanted to play and was always glad to see us.
For some of us, there’s this story behind us, this moment in the past that taints our ability to see God this way. Others of us are currently walking through some things in which it becomes very difficult for us to see God seeing us in this way, and yet what I want to continually point your attention to is that Jesus knew of all of your sins before he went to the cross.
He knew your own rebellion against him as well as the harm that would befall you through someone else’s rebellion, and he purchased for you on the cross freedom from bondage, liberty in your being held captive, and freedom from sin and death. He does delight in you, he is playful, and he does love seeing you come into his presence. I pray all the more that you would understand that and receive that and walk in that. Let me pray.
Father, we thank you for the manifestation of Christ. We thank you that he has revealed himself to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. We praise you today that you have forgiven our sins. We praise you today that you have given us eyes that see. We praise you, many of us, that you have physically healed us in this season, and we praise you that you have been near to us even as we’ve held out hope to be healed.
Your kindness to us knows no bounds, so help our hearts believe what you say is true. I just pray where there are barriers or obstacles to all of this that you would show our hearts what they are, that we might lay those at your feet. We need you, and it’s for your beautiful name we pray, amen.
© 2018 The Village Church