Monday, January 01, 2007

A Deliverer

Please follow along with me as I look at our screen and read our Scripture text for this morning.
(Turn and read Matthew 2:13ff with fine art)

This morning I want to take you on a different kind of journey as we look at what God has to say to us this morning. I want to take you through my process of discovering what exactly this short story seems to be about. For some of you this may feel more like Bible study than your normal preaching fare, and that is ok.

This method also means that you are going to have to pay careful attention, because we are going on a journey to discover what God has to say to us together, and like a good detective story or mystery, each thing we will learn will help us build toward our ultimate discovery of just what God seems to be saying to us through this text.

Are you ready?? I hope so.

I originally felt led to do this sermon because of a Christmas song I was listening to. Bruce Cockburn was the person I heard it from, but I am sure several other people sing the song as well. The song that really captured my heart was “Mary had a Baby”. It is a Negro Spiritual about the birth story of Christ and the deliverance of slaves to freedom through the underground railroad. Toward the end of the song it talks about coming out of Egypt. Over the last month I have pondered, what has Christmas to do with deliverance? And what role does Jesus’ impromptu road trip to Egypt have to do with the overall message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So I started exploring Matthew 2:13-26.

One of the most interesting things that we notice as we start looking over the passage are these Old Testament quotations that Matthew 2. There are three of them in the passage that we have chosen.

Out of Egypt I called my Son—From Hosea 11
Rachel Weeping in Rama for her children who are no more—Jeremiah 31
The passage that says Jesus will be from Nazereth—Isaiah 11

As we dig deeper we notice that these quotes are very significant for a number of reasons. Throughout Matthew 1-4, Jesus is presented to us as Israel personified. Israel is referred to as the Son of God in several places in Scripture including the one quoted here from Hosea. In fact, as you dig into the geneology in Chapter 1, it is organized in triplets of fourteen, to personify the three stages of Israel’s history—the period of the patriarchs, the period of the kings, and the period of the exile.

The implication from Matthew is clear. The history of the people of God is like a funnel. And slowly all of his people who are faithful has been slowly whittled down to a remnant of one. And when I use the word remnant, I don’t mean to use this word like we do in sewing circles where it is the scrap left over. I mean to use the word like we would understand it in Luke Skywalker Star Wars or Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings. Where there is only one who is worthy to stand for us all, one worthy to represent us all, one able to save us. And in the history of that universe that one that stands for us all is Jesus. In other words, what we see here is that Jesus, by fulfilling the prophecies, by going into exile, by being delivered from the sword of Herod and the pain of exile, and by doing so in faithfulness to the instructions of God, proves himself worthy to be our deliverer. Our messiah.

Its interesting isn’t it? That the cross shows up so quickly in the story of Jesus. We tend to think of the manger and the early years of Jesus as some peaceful, blissful experience. Yet, as we see here, Jesus is a marked man from early on. He begins his life as a refugee and as the focal point of a brutal massacre. Mark Lackey was gracious enough to do our little powerpoint scripture reading at the beginning of this message, and it was interesting. We kept looking at pictures of the violence that Jesus was born into, and it took a long time to find the right picture. Couldn’t have too much nudity. Couldn’t look too violent. Might offend people’s sensibilities.

Jesus as our deliverer has no such qualms. He is born a middle eastern peasant is a barn full of manure with animals in a ruckus over a screaming woman trying to find anyplace with any sort of shelter and privacy to give birth. Far away from home because of the government made them traverse over rocks and around robbers to go register themselves to give Rome more money in taxes and tribute.
From the cradle to the cross he is surrounded by thieves and murderers, and the masses longing and seeking for something to hold on to.

Our time is no different. We need a deliverer too.

And whether it is in Bethlehem or Colorado Springs, God has no qualms in looking at our messy, confusing lives and entering into them in an effort to deliver us.

We tend to think that we have to have ourselves and our churches all cleaned up before we can be “God’s people”. And we look at our lives, and sometimes at our church and wonder why it is full of so many sinners. We wonder why there are so many people with wrongheaded ideas and sinful lives.

I remember struggling to build a young adult ministry in a previous church. We had a number of launches and restart. Finally, one time we caught fire with a core group of about six people. Half of them were related to one another. One of them was a former member of my youth group. And I will be direct with you…there lives were not where they needed to be. They were recovering drug addicts, mothers who had their children out of wedlock, racists, they were belligerent drunks who got into fights on the weekends and who called me to help deal with drugged up friends at 2 in the morning. And sometimes they helped out at church to do their court ordered community service.

As I tried to get other people involved in joining this group I found we had another struggle. And it had nothing to do with the rough and tumble lives they lived the rest of the week. It had to do with the fact that our core group could not get through our meal and bible study without a smoke break in between.

As we went this went from a concern of mine to a concern by some of my young adults and their parents that were involved in the church. And I shared my plight with a mentor of mine. And as I finished sharing she said something very wise. She said, God calls us to be fishers of men, and yet so often we expect the fish to leap into the boat of the church cleaned up and ready to go. But, she said, if we follow Jesus’ command to be fishers of men we should expect it to be difficult, messy, smelly work full of people who have all sorts of problems and in needs of all kinds of deliverance.

I would add to what my mentor said. It is about time you as a church become more real and honest about how you are here at First Baptist. You are a people desperately in need of deliverance. And it about time we become the kind of church that enthusiastically welcomes other people, like me and hundreds like me, who need deliverance as much as you do.

I need a deliverer. So do you. Even though things look bleak, we are called to have the hope that Jesus is preparing to deliver us. That is the first thing we learn when we look at the flight of Jesus.

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