Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 21 December 2014

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Character of the Xmas Story Series – Jesus (4)

 

He Cares

 

[This morning, we continue with our Christmas series on the characters of the Christmas story in the Bible.] It’s not Christmas Day yet but I already want to talk about the baby – the main character – Jesus (Christ), the Son of God from heaven, who was born into a life on earth by Mary (a young woman engaged to be married). I want to talk about Jesus and – learning more about Jesus in the Christmas story – I want to ask the question: “Does God care about me?” Are you perhaps sitting here this morning wondering where God is in your life and whether he knows the pain in your life (and we all know about some pain)? As a church – all year – we have lived with life-threatening seizures that still cause havoc in Oliver’s life, Vicki Meagher’s newborn grand-son. The miracle is that he is still here but the pain has been unrelenting. Two weeks ago, at Shed Happens (our men’s ministry), a young man poured out his grief – his wife just walked out of him (after a fourteen-year relationship) – and he was not given a reason. That’s pain and does God care? Simon Edward’s wife is on dialysis treatment – hardly ever sleeps for the pain in her body – and Simon feels that he is pushed to the edge of his own endurance. Does God know about this and when will he intervene? About a month ago, we took time to remember the persecuted Christians all around the world. Thousands of them pay the ultimate price for hanging on to God but where is God in the confiscation of their property and the spilling of their lives? Just watch too many news items on TV and you will ask the question: “Does God care?” (The cute animal story in most news programs does not dull the pain of a world that seems so broken.)

I will not be able to tell you what God is doing precisely in every instance. For instance, I will not be able to explain to you the wisdom of God or the thinking of God in letting Oliver and his whole family and this church suffer for so long. Yet, without a shadow of a doubt, I have good news and it lies at the heart of the Christmas story.

Who is Jesus?

 

Show 1st slide.

 

Jesus is the Son of God who – like his Father (God the Father) – has no beginning. He is God and he is eternal and his glory and majesty are beyond human conception or powers of description. He rules the cosmos effortlessly. Galaxies are in the palm of his hand. This is what the Bible says about Jesus:

 

Hebrews 1:2-3: … God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together. After the Son had washed away our sins, he sat down at the right side of the glorious God in heaven.

 

Colossians 1:13-20: God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, who forgives our sins and sets us free.

Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen. He is the first-born Son, superior to all creation. Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen,
including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities.

All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him.

God’s Son was before all else, and by him everything is held together.

He is the head of his body, which is the church. He is the very beginning, the first to be raised from death, so that he would be above all others.

God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son. And God was pleased for him to make peace
by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.

 

Show 2nd slide.

 

Jesus comes from a world beyond the pain of earth. Jesus reigns in heaven which is place of glory and absolutely no tears or hardship but joy and peace and fulfilment. Angels attend to him. When the earth was first created and God created the first man and woman and put them on earth, earth was like heaven. In God’s own words, everything was perfect. Yet, the first man and woman (and all of us are caught up in their history) spoiled the relationship with God and allowed distrust and rebellion to get between them and God. It cursed them and earth itself. To their surprise (a painful discovery for the first man and woman and it has remained painful for all of us), sin and God do not mix – cannot mix – because his nature – his glory – the atmosphere in which he lives – cannot tolerate sin – like fire and water do not mix.

Earth is cursed by sin but Jesus belongs to heaven and he is even far above and beyond heaven because heaven is again a concrete place in God’s creation – somewhere in the cosmos (therefore cannot contain him). God created heaven as the place of residence for us and himself. Without going into details, there’s a city, streets, gardens, eating and drinking, spiritual bodies and God’s throne. At the end of time, when the final judgement is pronounced over sinful earth, this earth will come to an end and heaven will take its place. Everything will be new then.

I am conscious of how this must sound to people who read complicated books on philosophy. The Christian story sounds very concrete – more like a fairy tale than abstract thought. It sounds a little fantastic and maybe wishful in the sense that human existence with feelings and hands-on experiences will continue rather than give way to the dispassionate principles of eternal truths that are above human existence now.

Yet, this is the story of Christmas. Jesus was before the creation of the world and through him everything was created and he reigns in heaven – a perfect place (like earth in the beginning) – and we are meant to be with him there.

Jesus cares about us. He has always cared (the whole act of creation was an act of love) and he demonstrated his care by doing the most unexpected, “ridiculous” and crazy thing. He left heaven – he left his glorious existence as the all-knowing and all-powerful God – and he became one of us – a human – here on earth.

 

Show 3rd slide.

 

Look at him. How could Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have become a helpless, screaming out his needs, nappy wearing baby here on earth? How could he be entrusted to a young human mother and suckle at her breast – dependent on her love and nurture? This is upside down, unworthy of God’s stupendous glory! Why would Jesus do such a thing? The answer to this question is precisely what we are looking for. Remember how we were wondering whether God cared about us. Look at the pictures. Jesus was doing this for us – accepting toddler pain and everything else – because he cares about any and all of our pain.

Then, Jesus did not become a pampered human baby but a baby of poor parents, born out of wedlock, a refugee in his early years and forced to stay in hiding in small Galilean villages (Nazareth and Capernaum) rather than the capital of the country.

 

Matthew 2:13: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

 

Matthew 2:22: But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

 

Jesus knew that becoming a human baby involved a lot of screaming over upset tummies, discomfort (that you cannot communicate to your parents because you cannot talk yet) and utter dependency but he also knew that his human life would get worse – worse than anyone could imagine.

 

Show 4th slide.

 

John 3:13: No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there.

 

John 1:1-14: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Does Jesus care? The pictures show what he chose to become and endure for us. Everything that Jesus did and experienced here on earth, he did and experienced for us because his love for us knows no bounds. Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you. (He was abandoned by everyone and betrayed with a kiss. He healed thousands and taught about God with authority but the crowds called for his crucifixion. A crown of thorns was put on his head. Nails pierced his hands and feet. He was whipped and spat upon … At any time, he could have pulled out of the ordeal but he did not.)

The Bible explains that Jesus humble existence as a man on earth and his sufferings removed the distance between God and us – created a bridge between heaven and earth – because Jesus redeemed us by taking upon himself the curse that is upon us and on this earth on account of human sin. His sufferings as one of us paid the price of justice for our sins. Believing him (and trusting that he cares for us) sets us free.

 

Philippians 2:5-11: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Colossians 1:13-20: God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, who forgives our sins and sets us free.

Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen. He is the first-born Son, superior to all creation. Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen,
including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities.

All things were created by God’s Son, and everything was made for him.

God’s Son was before all else, and by him everything is held together.

He is the head of his body, which is the church. He is the very beginning, the first to be raised from death, so that he would be above all others.

God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son. And God was pleased for him to make peace
by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.

 

Does God care? Yes, he does. I wish that I could say more than that and explain why so much human suffering on earth right now is not stopped sooner and why even God’s own people here on earth – Christians – go through so much pain. However, (despite knowing about the fallenness of the world, self-inflicted consequences of sin, trials and discipline) ultimately I do not understand why Oliver’s ordeal continues and why Simon’s wife is not getting better (and why my own mother is battling again with cancer now) but I do know that God cares. Jesus cares and he came for us and – therefore – I do know that it will end well because Jesus is God and he came to redeem us and set up a future for us in heaven. Look carefully at the pictures of Jesus in the Christmas story and you understand his heart for you.

I am also impressed at the depth of Jesus’ involvement in human life. He did not become inapproachable as the Queen and he did not just move on the exalted plane of a world changer that you could no longer imagine to be hassled by daily human life. He became the boy of a real family. He grew up in a place where people knew him and watched him growing up. He made friends and stayed together with a core group of disciples for years – entering into deep relationships – so much so that he could be hurt by their behaviour towards him. He knew what it felt like to grow up and have misunderstandings with his parents (as a thirteen-year old he stayed behind in the temple rather than return to Galilee with his parents / his parents did not understand his ministry in the beginning and thought that he had become crazy). He was troubled when Peter’s mother-in-law was sick and he healed her.

I am impressed by God who made a point of entering into the depth of human life – down to the very depth of ordinary human life among the most ordinary people – which surely includes you and me. When Jesus was born, ordinary shepherds were told the news by an angel and a great company of even more angels. Jesus did not just come to take his place among the powerful that often live separate lives from ordinary people. He came and cared for everyone and everything that is part of our small human existence.

 

Luke 2:8-14:  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he made a point of includingdaily bread”. Pray fordaily bread” – not just world peace – because God cares about you and what you eat – every meal on every day that you live. No personal need escaped Jesus’ attention. He cares about everything. Jesus promised: “the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid” (Luke 12:7).

Twenty-five years ago, my mother had breast cancer and, just four weeks ago, she found out that it returned with a vengeance and already moved into her spine and liver. She already suffers severe back pain and there is this question: “After nursing my Dad, why could she not have a few more years of health and life?” We don’t know the definite answer to this question. Yet, Jesus cares – every day. My mother worships God – singing in tongues and rejoicing over the miracle of gold sparkles every day (she just waits until they come) – and she recognizes God’s amazing care in small things – the bus picking her up when she is just exhausted – God reminding her of things – arranging appointments for her. Jesus cares. The almighty God entered into our humanity and he entered into the very depth of it – including all the pain and including death. [Also consider: The Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us.]

I have always liked the following testimony:

 

This is a testimony from Pastor Bill Johnson (Brisbane 2008).] God answers questions that do not even seem important. This is just to express his love for us. One day – as a young man – I was sitting by a lake – praying, reading my Bible, wonderful time with the Lord, sun was shining. There were these little fish (Blue Hill). I was throwing little rocks into water. They would come and nibble at them and spew them out again. They didn’t like rocks. I was “tormenting” them. Then this thought came to my mind: “I wonder if they would eat a bee.” Bees have stingers. Would they eat them? Crossed my mind. As soon as this crossed my mind, a bee flies by (kamikaze bee). The bee flies a certain height, stops right in front of me, drops voluntarily out of the air into the water, the fish comes up right in front of me, eats the bee and I realize: “I am not alone here.” “I knew it but now I knew it.” A passing thought got answered straight away. That impressed me. “God, you are so different than I thought.” This kind of activity of my heavenly Father just shocked me.

 

Frequently, God is not answering the big questions for us – when will we have citywide and national breakthroughs in what we need – but he makes sure that we know that he cares. Do little Blue Hill fish eat bees? It’s a small question – a small insignificant moment in a man’s life – but it’s not too small for God. He cares for you. God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ love you:

 

John 3:16: 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.

 

Maybe – in closing – I tell you another story of how God enters into the depth of human life – shows his care among the most ordinary people:

 

Rolland Baker transcript (a few years ago): I am what I am and I am where I am because of what God has done in my grand-father’s life … Now my grand-father started off as an evangelical Hudson Taylor classical missionary. He grew up in Ohio, had Pennsylvania Dutch in him, and he wanted to be a missionary and he wanted to obey the great commission and he wanted to get out there as far away from white men as possible. He wanted to go to the ends of the earth and he was burning up with zeal and nothing would stop him. And this is exactly what he did. He got on a ship to China (six months to get to Shanghai, another six months to get up the Yangtze River), slaves along the river, … up into the mountains of Tibet and my father was born in a little town ten thousand feet up the Tibetan hills … His first two children died of disease. My father was born over a pigsty in a little mountain hut up there – three days yak journey from the closest white man. He started his missionary career. And he worked and he preached and he served and did everything he knew to implement the Great Commission for five years and got one person saved and he wasn’t sure about him. He did everything that he knew to do …

He quit. This is not for me. Missionary work does not suit me. I am not doing this anymore. He got onto a yak’s back, went down the mountain, on a river barge and drifted back to Shanghai, got on another boat, went back to the States, sold Hoover vacuum cleaners to get out of debt … No more missionary work for me … really really tired … Most missionaries in China back then worked their lives for twenty converts … in a very Buddhist demonic society … with meagre results. My grand-father said: “Look God, things have to change but I can’t change them. I am not going back there unless you send me back there unless you go with me, unless you give me some power. I am just not going to do it.”

And that’s when the Pentecostal revival hit in the early 1900s. He’s back there in Ohio and he got completely blasted Pentecostal style. He was the most Pentecostal person I have ever known. Heidi is number two. He did not go another day after that when he didn’t get up at 5am and praying in tongues for two hours … But now God speaking to him, God talking to him, God’s with him. Things are very very different. It’s now God has to do it. He has to make the change. Now my grand-father’s desperate, he just cannot tolerate, cannot contemplate anything but God’s immediate personal presence in his life. And this time, God says: “You go back to China. You don’t sign up with any big denominational organization. You don’t raise your support. You don’t do anything. Just take your wife – my grand-mother – just go back out there and I will be with you …

This time, he goes back, doesn’t know what to do, but he tries at first to be a missionary again. My grand-mother tries to find something to do, goes out their little courtyard there and sees gutter children in the ditch. All China was a wild-west kind of a place, no civil government, no social benefits, no police, no control. It was just wild and crazy – wild bands of robbers and bandits would blow into town. It was just run by just whoever in town had the most guns and killed the most people. My father would look out of his bedroom window and he would watch the robbers shooting each other and executing each other. He watched executions … heads on pikes … violent, bloody, demonic … China in the old days. There were no child labour laws, nobody looking out for anyone, every man for himself.

And there were tin mines around my grand-father’s city and there were commercial capitalistic chieftains that went around the villages and said to the parents (living poor in huts): “Look, I pay you so much money if you give me your children and they work for us.” They would take the children up these tin mines and the tin mines had these tiny little tunnels – so small only a small child could crawl into them. They took advantage of these children and forced them into these mines and worked them with no intention of even feeding them and they just worked them in these tiny tunnels of mines until they died and they would throw the bodies out into the trees and would go to the villages and get more children …

A few of these children managed to survive and crawl into town. It took them a long time and by then they were very very sick, malnourished, diseased and they would end up in rags and in the gutters and my grand-mother would go out and see some of these children surviving and she just began to take them in, hose them off, give them new clothes, two out of three died within a few days. They were so far gone.

Now my grand-father tried to do real missionary work. My grand-mother had nothing better to do. Pretty soon my grand-father took some interest but his missionary friends said: “Harold, you are wasting your time. These kids will never be influential. They never amount to anything. They will never change China. They are useless. Why don’t you deal with nice children? Why don’t you deal with the leaders? Why don’t you train pastors? Why don’t you do something effective …” My grand-mother is hosing off children, finding more kids.

The kids didn’t appreciate it. They didn’t want to study the Bibles. They just wanted to go out play, cause mischief, steal, perfectly normal kids … My grand-parents tried to keep them in chapel a little bit. They were not interested, wouldn’t listen. They didn’t know anything but all of a sudden the Holy Spirit falls and you can read the story in the book “Visions Beyond the Veil”. My grand-father’s book … But it’s all about what God did, not what my grand-father did. All he could do was watch. God fell on these children. He didn’t just fall on them. He took them up to be with in visions for days and weeks and months. They didn’t come out of visions, just long enough every day to get a bite to eat or go to the bathroom or nap for a few hours and they were back on the floor or back walking around, they were caught vividly caught up with God and the angels. At first, they were extremely convicted [of their sins] for days. They wept for their sins – ten year old children. You would think that they were – because they were that victimized – that they had nothing to repent of. They were just poor little children. There’s no reason to heap guilt on them but the Holy Spirit so convicted them. They wept for days and days without knowing anything about salvation. All they knew was that they were lost. And they were chained and dragged off to hell and saved at the last minute and taken up to heaven and then – as the book goes on and on and on – they were just with the angels and with Jesus and in paradise and being shown the truths of the things of God and it went just on and on and on and these children became the pillars of the church in the South Hunan province [a good number of them died as martyrs] and today there is a church of half a million Christians as a result in that area.

These children went out into the villages and prophesied with adult vocabulary and with great power. The Spirit of prophecy was so heavy on them that they would sit down and ask their friends: “What did I say?” And they would go back to their child-like voice and vocabulary. God just fell on them and used them, conquered them, captured them, did anything he liked with them.

And those are the tools he chose, those are the methods he picked. It’s the greatest example of the revelation of the knowledge of God that I have heard in church history. I don’t know anything in church history that would equal what happened to these small band of orphans that my grand-father had. I’ve studied history … read all the mystics. I’ve read every account of revival that I can get my hands on. I’ve never heard of anything like this. These children were in visions. They saw of the future, of the communist takeover of China, of the great tribulation. They saw the future of the church. They saw the last days. They saw such power in the last days. They saw evangelists transported instantly from place to place. You know in Africa the worst problem is transportation. No such problem in the last days. They were able to call fire down from heaven upon unrepentant towns and villages. They saw the rapture. They didn’t see when the rapture was but they saw the bones coming out of the grace and being clothed with bodies. They saw visions of the Old Testament. They saw David and Goliath and Moses and Jonah and Noah. They didn’t know the Bible. They didn’t know the stories but they would come out of these visions and say: “Grandpa Baker, is there anything in the Bible about a little boy and a big giant and a sling and a little rock …”

And when I was three years old and five years old, I would sit on my grand-father’s lap and listen to him talk about power encounters and angels and demons. There was so much that he had to share with me. I never heard the same story twice. My father was fifteen years old when that revival hit and he grew up to start Bible schools. He started one in China. He started one in Hong Kong. He started one in Taiwan. He pioneered churches. His first graduating class in Hong Kong was in 1949. The entire graduating class felt called to go back to China. The entire graduating class went back to China and all of them were executed. They dug their own graves and were executed.

Revival in China has shaped me and my life. Revival in China grows in the midst of the most intense persecution, the most intense suffering – beyond what the mind can comprehend. I remember once hearing in a church in China a pastor’s experience of torture and prison and all the people in the church were weeping as he was telling his testimony and I and many were thinking: “This church really loves its pastor. This church is so sensitive, so sympathetic. It is so moved. It is so sorrowful over what this pastor had to go through. What incredible congregation with such love.” That’s not why they were crying. They were weeping because they had not yet been considered worthy to go through the same thing.

China has completely changed me and shaped me. In the early 90s, I was working on computerize the alphabets and translations for remote tribes up in the province my grand-father was. He worked among minority tribes. Typical of my grand-father, he never went to normal people, to the easiest places, the most common places. He sought out the most remote places, the minority races. The people that were neglected by everyone else. I was working on this Bible translation and we had to print it in Hong Kong, smuggle it into China … Then we had to get up the mountains past the communists and we enlisted the help of this young man. He had already been tortured. He had been hung up behind his back and his feet burned in fires and tortured and all of that and when I asked him to help, he broke down and wept: “I am just not worthy of such a great task of bringing in the word of God like this.” He’s already so far beyond us, we don’t even how to relate to him as he says that.

And so I am sitting as child on my grand-father’s lap and I listen to him talk and talk. And I am telling you, it never occurred to me as a kid that God was all button-holed up in heaven and just would not come down on do anything. It never occurred to me. I cannot not remember ever not believing in Jesus. I cannot ever remember thinking that God would not just do anything. It’s illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Americans don’t get out much. You should go to China and see what a Buddhist priest is capable of. You should go to Africa and see what a witch-doctor is capable of. You should see what evil spirits Muslims get involved in after a while and see what kind of activity is going on. In … the capital city … and yet there is witch-doctors in every block. Everybody is going to a witch-doctor … Everybody knows there is the supernatural. Everybody knows there’s evil spirits about the place …

That’s how it all started on my grand-father’s lap. How can you backwards from that? We spent three years in London – university of Kings’ College. We would start a theological discussion at lunch and we wouldn’t finish till dinner and not resolve anything. We were arguing whether immediacy was possible. We were suggesting that perhaps immediacy might be a good thing and to the great chagrin of all of our professors. But I tell you being a kid on my grand-father’s lap kept me all through school and all through college, throughout all the temptations of everything else I might have done with my life. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to be a physicist. I like abstract things. I like equal science. I like things to make sense. I am the total opposite of Heidi.

 

God didn’t fix all of the problems of China in one go but he showed that he cared. As Jesus came to most ordinary people and became real there (not too proud to be with those that everyone else discards), he is still doing this – for the missionary Baker and the gutter children in his care and for everyone that is prepared to listen.

 

At the heart of the Christmas story is the birth of Jesus Christ. It was an incredible moment when the Son of God from eternity was born by a woman and became a human baby because he cares for you. Amen.