For the past several weeks Christmas has been in the air. The sounds of Christmas have echoed throughout the mall, the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and all over the airwaves. It has been impossible to escape the sights of Christmas in Oklahoma City. In some neighborhoods the Christmas lights have been so beautiful and plentiful that it looked like the stars had come down to dwell among us. The Christmas ribbons and bows let everyone know that a birthday party was on its way. Christmas has been inescapable and I’ve loved it.
I went shopping with my daughter a few days after Christmas and I noticed something. It was like Christmas had never happened. The lights in the stores were gone, the carols had been silenced, and the ribbons and bows had disappeared. For weeks I had been reminded of the celebration of the birth of our Savior as I walked the aisles in stores all over the city. In some of the most unexpected places I heard…
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Christmas can be unnerving for many people. A friend of mine was with her mother in the hospital on Christmas Eve. Another friend was wondering if her mother would live to see Christmas. Friends I know had lost their jobs. Families were dealing with heartache. On December 23, I gathered at a local cemetery with three families. As they sat before the two urns of the remains of their parents we celebrated what would have been their mom and dad’s 57th anniversary. With all of the sadness and trials in folk’s lives we were reminded not to dismay, never to dismay, as we heard these words.
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!
And throughout the Christmas season we were reminded again and again to tell somebody, no, tell everybody that Jesus Christ is born. Did you hear this song?
Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born
I miss Christmas already, don’t you? I’m not talking about the mad dash to get all of the shopping done or the endless list of things to do. As much as I enjoy Christmas lights, I sure don’t miss putting up the lights on our house. I’m not a Scrooge, but for some reason, most every year, I manage to overload an electrical outlet or have at least ten light bulbs that refuse to cooperate. That will quench the Christmas spirit in a minute. I am a modern-day Clark Griswold if there ever was one. Have you ever seen the movie Christmas Vacation? Clark almost burned his neighborhood down with his Christmas lights. Clark was a good guy, a well-intentioned guy, but he should have hired someone to put up his Christmas lights.
With all of that said, I miss Christmas. I miss hearing the story of Jesus everywhere I go. I miss being reminded of what God has done in giving us His Son. I miss seeing people gather on Christmas Eve to hear the Christmas story and stop, if only for a few minutes, to consider the Gift of Christmas.
At the same time I am thankful that Christmas is over. I can only imagine what would happen if Wal Mart and the malls carried the torch for you and me throughout the year. I can only imagine what would happen if every genre of radio station decided to herald the message of Christmas year round. I have a sneaking suspicion that we would become even more lazy and sedentary than we already are. Corporations, stores, and media outlets are not the standard-bearers of the faith—you and I have been called, commissioned, and challenged to tell the world that Jesus is born, the Savior has come, and our God reigns.
This morning I want to challenge you to begin the New Year by devoting yourself to tell them the Good News. Who am I referring to when I say, “them?” I’m talking about those that the Lord leads into your life on a daily basis. Let’s turn to Matthew 28:16-20. I want to take you, not to the cradle that held the precious gift of God, nor do I want to take you to the cross that held the One who shouldered our sins, but I want to take you to a day after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to His followers. Read along with me.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 NIV)
This passage from Matthew is one of the two last recorded instances where Jesus spoke to His disciples following His resurrection. Let’s take a look at the last instance found in Acts 1:4-8.
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8 NIV)
Did you notice what was on Jesus’ mind and heart as He shared His last two meetings with His followers? He didn’t talk about politics, sports, the financial markets, or His favorite restaurants on the boardwalk at the Sea of Galilee did He? Jesus told His followers to get the word out, “Tell them!”
In Matthew, Jesus told His followers to go into every nation and make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and remind them of everything that they had been taught.
In Acts, Jesus told His followers that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses beginning in Jerusalem, but they weren’t to stop there, they were to go into all the world and bear witness. Jesus told His followers that they would receive power to be His witnesses after they had received the Holy Spirit. That’s an interesting bit of information that we need take a look at this morning if we are going to understand this lesson.
Why was it so important for the disciples to wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit of God and then began to bear witness to what God had done through Jesus? Would you like the brief answer? Sure you would. They would need, and you and I need, the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses, spokespersons, for the Kingdom of God because the message they carried, and that we carry, is not welcome in this world. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit they would abandon the call and you and I will abandon the call as well. Let me give you some examples of the suffering of those who have gone before us. Their rejection and suffering can be traced to one commonality—the message they shared. When Paul wrote to the people of Philippi he was in jail because he would not keep his mouth shut about Jesus. Paul writes in Philippians 1:12-14.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)
Paul wasn’t in jail because he was a criminal, like you and I think of criminals. He hadn’t embezzled any money, he hadn’t burglarized any homes, he hadn’t kidnapped anyone, all he had done was bear witness to what God had done through His Son Jesus.
Suffering for the sake of the Gospel was not an isolated event that only Paul experienced. In 1 Peter 4:12-16 we read.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16 NIV)
Being rejected, mocked, or run out of town didn’t deter the early followers of Jesus from continuing to tell everyone they met about what God had done through His Son Jesus. They were reminded of what Jesus had told them while He was still alive. In John 15:18-21, Jesus said,
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:18-21 NIV)
They knew that if they were obedient to God and shared the message of what God had done through His Son Jesus that they would experience tough times. Being rejected, run out of town, jailed, or ridiculed didn’t shock them because they remembered what Jesus had told them.
We live in a different day. Those words that Jesus spoke to His followers in John 15 are still true today, but most of the followers of Jesus view the message differently than those who have gone before us. Most people today do not share their faith. If I were to ask you this morning, “Who has shared the Good News about Jesus with someone in the past month?” The vast majority of us would have to answer “No.” Why is this? Well, the number one reason is “fear of rejection.” See, I told you Jesus’ words were still relevant today. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…if they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Our fear of rejection is greater than our passion for the message of Jesus. There is no other way to explain this is there?
If the message that you and I have been entrusted with is the greatest news that the world has ever known then why wouldn’t we be enthusiastic about sharing it with everyone, even if it meant risking being rejected? I believe it is because we have lost touch with the core of the message, the meaning of the message. Today we look at sharing our faith along the same lines as inviting someone to join the Young Democrats or Republicans, the Rotary Club, or the booster club at our kid’s school. This is not how the early followers of Jesus viewed the Gospel at all. We desperately need a better understanding of the importance of the message we have been entrusted with.
I was sent a link to a video a couple of weeks ago that knocked me off my chair as I watched it. I wrote about the video of Penn Jillette in our newsletter for January. The video shocked me because Penn Jillette is an amazing illusionist, comedian, and a very intelligent man, but he is not a Christian. You may have seen his act, Penn and Teller. His partner, Raymond Teller, hardly ever says a word, but he couldn’t if he wanted to because Penn Jillette is always talking. Penn Jillette is a very talented man, but he is an outspoken atheist. He may be an atheist and an antagonist of the followers of Jesus, but I will tell you this—he understands the importance of our message more than most of us do. Let me show you the video I watched so that you might gain a better insight into how crucial it is for you and me to tell everyone the good news of what God has done through His Son, Jesus.
We can learn much from the words of Penn Jillette. Throughout history God has used all kinds of people to teach His people important truths and I would put this video in that category. Let me read to you the words that pierced my soul.
I’m sure the man knew that I am an atheist. I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there is a heaven or hell, and you believe that people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think, ‘well, it’s not really worth telling them this cause it would make it socially awkward. How much do you have to hate someone to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? (Penn Jillette)
Folks, we are not trying to increase the membership of our church, we are sharing the words of life, eternal life, with those who are dying and don’t even know it. If you are a follower of Jesus then you must believe that we are lost and hopeless without trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. For many of you who went to Vacation Bible School as a child or have been to a Christian Summer Camp, you learned this verse.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18 NIV)
God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn, but to save. How will they know unless we tell them? How will they know unless you tell them? How will they know unless I tell them? How will they know…
Will they reject us? Most will, but if we believe that our message is their only saving hope then isn’t it worth the risk? Will others, even some who call themselves “Christians,” talk behind our backs, snicker, and call us names? Of course they will, but if we believe that Jesus is the only hope of a lost world, isn’t it worth the ridicule? Penn Jillette said, “I’m sure he knew I was an atheist, but…” The man viewed Penn Jillette’s life as so precious and priceless that he risked being ridiculed and rejected any way.
How about you? As you head back to school tomorrow will you take the risk so that your classmates might have an opportunity to know Jesus? Don’t assume someone else is telling them, you tell them. Tell them what God has done in your life. Tell what Jesus means to you. Back your words up by the way you choose to live your life. As you head back to work tomorrow will you take the risk so that your co-workers might have an opportunity to know Jesus? You don’t have to be obnoxious, but you can share with your co-workers out of sincerity. Will you tell them? As you head back to your neighborhood after church today will you take the risk so that your neighbors might have an opportunity to know Jesus? Will you pray for the Lord to open a door of opportunity for you to share with your neighbors?
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m talking like all of us here this morning have already heard and responded to the Good News of what God has done through Jesus. I know better than to assume that. There are some here today who have heard the story over and over again, but you’ve never ask Jesus into your heart, you’ve never surrendered your life to Him as Lord and Master. Won’t you stop putting off what you know in your heart you need to do?
In John 6, Jesus had just given a very difficult teaching. It was so tough for some folks to hear that we read where many who had been following Jesus turned back and didn’t follow Him any longer. In John 6:66-68 we read,
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68 NIV)
Simon Peter got it right! He understood like few understand today. Jesus holds the words of eternal life. Jesus gave His life so that we might have life, not only eternal life, but meaningful life right now. Won’t you come forward at this time and ask Jesus to impart His life to you this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 5, 2009