Our sermon on Sunday was anything but expected. I could tell that our pastor was uneasy as he was coming to a portion of scripture that is not “seeker friendly.” But, thankfully, he is obedient to the Holy Spirit and doesn’t just tickle our ears. He launched in, and I was profoundly blessed.
The scripture is found in Matthew 11:20-24. In these four verses, Jesus shows us what it means to walk the narrow road. For someone who tries to live by the “red letters” of Jesus’ words, this passage gives me pause. It separates the followers from the disciples. Which will I be?
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” Mt. 11:20-24.
From the first reading, it sounds as if Jesus has taken to carrying a cardboard sign and a bullhorn, standing on the street corner berating those who pass by. This assumption is wrong for (at least) two reasons. First, his audience is his own people, not the heathen cities surrounding them. He’s calling out the followers, aka the Church. The second error is that Jesus is being mean. That is not Jesus’ character. This message was given with amazing compassion and heart-rending anguish. (Read this passage again with that in mind.)
The message is this, “If only you realized My sacrifice for you, your life would take another direction.” Ouch. This is personal. The cities where Jesus traveled had seen His miracles and heard His message, and yet they remained relatively unchanged. Now Jesus sends them a message, “Woe to you!” It reminds me of, “Kids are starving in Africa!” to a child who won’t eat their food. But it’s much stronger and eternal. My pastor likened it to when you lean on the car horn because another driver is speeding toward you. “STOP! You’re about to get really messed up!”
And so there I sat on Sunday, with a full plate of God’s goodness in front of me. Do I squander the incomprehensible blessing of knowing Jesus in this dark world? Does the urgent call of Jesus make me hit the brakes as I head off to destruction? Does the knowledge of God’s grace compel me to live my life differently?
So we come to the Advent season. The Light of the World has come. The One who created the universe took on flesh and came became a baby. He lived a human life, experiencing every aspect of living on this planet, yet remained without sin. He became the perfect sacrifice, taking the wrath of God for us, that we might be reconciled to God the Father. He overcame death and lives today. He imparts His Spirit to all who receive Him. May we never become so used to this Truth that we go on about our business, like it never happened. We are the bearers of the Light. Let us not witness this Christmas miracle and remain unchanged.
For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober… For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:5-7, 9-11.
As children of the Light, let us shine, that we may be changed, and the world will find hope this Christmas season.
Grace and peace,