Allen Jackson - When God's Plans Break Out - Part 2
It's a privilege to be with you again today. We're gonna continue our discussion on "When God's Plans Break Out in the Earth". I think most of us have had the imagination that if we ever got invited into some supernatural participation with God, that everything would be easier, that it would be simple, that there'd be such clarity about what to do and how to do it. Well, that's a nice idea but I don't think it aligns with Scripture. We're gonna look at that in a little more detail. Grab your Bible and a notepad; but most importantly, open your heart to God's invitations for you.
Most of you know the birth narrative of Jesus, at least in a rudimentary way. And we're gonna step into the story at the point where Mary has been found to be pregnant. And she's engaged to Joseph and that's a bit awkward. And so, Matthew chapter 1 and verse 20, it says: "After he'd considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She'll give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they'll call him Immanuel', which means 'God with us'. And when Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus".
Now, we're familiar enough with this general outline of this story that we read that and we go, "Okay". In fact, if you were doing it as a part of your Bible reading, you'd kind of buzz through it 'cause you know the story and you can pronounce the names and you don't have to pay too much attention. But I'm gonna suggest to you, for those of us that we're trying to figure out what it means to follow God, this is right at the edge of what is credible. Joseph has a personal crisis. It's not a faith thing to him. It's not about religion. He has a personal crisis. He's engaged, he's given his heart and planned a future with someone and now he's standing in a place where it seems as if there's a complete breach of trust. And he's trying to sort that out. And there's not an easy solution. There's just not an easy solution.
So at some point we have to acknowledge that you can be a godly person, a righteous person, a God-honoring person, a person walking uprightly in purity, doing all the things you know to do, and you still find yourself in the midst of a context where there's just not an easy solution. "Well, I don't like that". Okay, duly noted. But I've described to you reality. So stop telling the Lord you won't follow him because the choices you have aren't easy. We have had such a shallow faith that when the circumstances are difficult or the problems are great, or we're not emotionally pleased, one of our responses of choice is just to say to God, "I'm withdrawing". And I wanna ask you to reconsider that. "Well, I got my heart broken". Okay. "Well, my dreams didn't work out". 'Cause even if you take the best possible scenario here and say, "The whole thing is God initiated," I promise you it wasn't the way Mary and Joseph planned it. They had to get their dreams rewritten.
"Well, who does God think he is"? I think the word would be "God". But you see, we haven't lived that way. We've imagined that somehow we should be God, we should dictate. He'll do what we want. We'll quote his Bible to him. How many times have I done that? Anyway, I'm wandering. Joseph gets an angelic visit and, with the angelic visit, there's a possible solution. There's a way opened. There's at least an imagination, a little flicker of maybe something. "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife".
Now, Matthew inserts something into the text. Matthew authors this Gospel. The character we're looking at is Joseph, but in verse 22 Matthew slips something in. This isn't a part of Joseph's dream. This is Matthew's insertion. It's a prophetic perspective. It's for the benefit of the reader. Matthew's saying to you and me, Joseph didn't have access to this, but he, Matthew, says to us, "This took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they'll call him Immanuel', which means 'God is with us'". And then Matthew pushes us back into Joseph's world in verse 24. Says Joseph wakes up, and he accepts God's solution. "I'll go with that". The most improbable, unbelievable. I mean, I imagine he and Mary have had a little conversation prior to the dream, and I think it's highly probable he was less than affirming. "What has happened to you"? "It's God". "Sure it is". "Well, the angel told me". "Uh-huh".
I mean, in the most understanding of imaginations, that feels like an awkward conversation. And now Joseph awakens from this dream, and he accepts God's solution. And he's gonna reorder his plans. He's gonna meet with his friends and say, "I'm going forward with this relationship". He's gonna stand in public and say, "Absolutely". There's a lot of shame being directed at him as well, I promise. See, this following God thing, we have cast it in something that wasn't fashioned in Scripture. I would submit to you there are some lessons about following God in that little simple narrative. Purity, godliness, obedience, they don't eliminate personal crisis. I've said it two or three times, I am gonna repeat it. Obedience and integrity and honesty and uprightness does not mean that we will not have to face these crisis points. He's in the midst of God's will. He's been recruited by God, selected by God, blessed by God, honored by God, and it evokes a crisis.
"Well, I was thinking more about following God where everybody applauded me". Me too. I just didn't think about the Scripture when I did that. See, we've kind of morphed our faith into this motivational... and at the end of the day I would submit what we wanna do is please the Lord. And I would ask you, 'cause we carry at different times and seasons, layers of frustration with God that cause us to, if not withdraw, to be somewhat belligerent. I would add another lesson that seems to be apparent to me in that passage. And that, that God's involvement with us can foster a sense of crisis. Joseph's crisis got worse when the angel came to visit him. It was easier just to put Mary away. It was easier to kind of self-righteously say, "Whew, I made a bad choice. Thank God". But God's involvement with him, it got worse. He's gotta go to Egypt. God's involvement is beyond the understanding of most of the observers.
Almost everybody you can write into that story, what God is doing in the life of Joseph and in the life of Mary is simply beyond their understanding. And I don't believe there were enough words that could make 'em understand. I truly don't. And I'm not saying you should live in some isolated place where everybody around you thinks you're just nuts, but I'm telling you, if you're trying to please ungodly people and you're taking counsel from people who neither know the Word of God nor recognize the voice of the Spirit, I'm not talking about fulfilling your business assignments or your course work for school, but in making your life choices, in ordering your morals, in deciding the values that you will choose and how you will spend your energy and your time and your strength, what you will pursue, what the objectives of your life are, the goals of your life, if they're being dictated by people who don't have a biblical perspective and don't recognize the voice of God, how exactly is it you imagine that you can please God?
And when the voice of God breaks into your... when the purposes of God break into your awareness and then we say, "Well, God is doing something, and I'd like to be a part," it's highly probable there'll be a chorus of people going, "What are you thinking? What has happened to you"? I've bumped into it over and over again, and sometimes I'm, unfortunately, I've been one of those voices in others' lives. It's a challenging narrative. Isaiah chapter 7 is the passage that Matthew reminds us of when he's telling us Joseph's story; because by the time Jesus' birth story is being told to that first century audience, they recognize that Jesus has checked the boxes of all the prophets. But in real time, that was very difficult to process. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. And he'll eat curds and honey and when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid to waste".
Now, we read that. That verse is on many of your Christmas cards. It's a part of our Christmas messaging amongst those of us who believe the Bible. It's a prophecy that Isaiah the prophet in Jerusalem gave to the king of Judah. And it wasn't principally, initially, pointed as a prophecy about the Messiah. The king is concerned about a threat of surrounding kingdoms, and Isaiah provides counsel for him. He said, "The threat that you're concerned about is not enduring. In fact, in the time that's necessary for a virgin to conceive and to deliver a child, and the child to be weaned, the threat will evaporate. And the outcome for you, King Ahaz, is you'll know that God is with us".
Matthew understands the verse to apply to Jesus, hundreds of years after Isaiah delivered the message. So a Word of the Lord delivered through Isaiah to a king of Judah was a message for him concerning the enemies he faced. And it was every bit as much a message to the rest who would read it and understanding the promise of a Messiah and the virgin birth. The skeptics will sit in the bleachers and say it had no intent, it's a manipulation of the Christians, looking at the Hebrew Bible. I don't have the time to take you through the history that exposes the fallacy of the skepticism.
If there's another thing I think we can deduce, it's that listening is essential. For Isaiah to listen to the Lord, to be able to deliver the message; for Ahaz to believe the prophet when he said it, that he didn't panic and make an alliance with someone he shouldn't, or launch some offensive military strategy that would have made them more vulnerable than they needed to be. It was important for Matthew to have listened to Isaiah so that he could repeat the message. It was important for Joseph to listen to the angel. How many of you would make a life-altering decision over something that seems as... listening is such an important, if I had to find one single characteristic of the people of God in Scripture that designates them, denotes them, it would be they listened. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice".
Moms, you know the cry of your children. The kids know the tone of your voice, how urgent it is or isn't. We've got to learn to listen to the Lord. "Do you mean you hear voices"? They mock us. I read the reports if someone dares to step into the public square and say, "I wanna follow the voice of the Lord," the people begin to mock them. "Oh, they hear voices, they can't be trusted. They've got some psychotic problem, some deep emotional issue". So we've backed away from that kind of language. We don't wanna use it, we don't wanna be characterized that way. How do you lead your business? How do you make decisions in your family? "Well, honestly, I try to listen to the Lord". "Oh, you mean, you hear voices"? "No, most of it really comes from reading my Bible". "Oh, so you're following some ancient book, some outdated morality". "No, I believe there's a God, and I believe he's engaged with people".
God's spoken into my life in so many ways, through the voice of a friend, through a casual comment. Or I'll be sitting amongst a group of Christians in some Small Group setting and listening to their conversation, and I'll hear something and I'll go, "Ah, I needed that". And I take it and make it my own. Sometimes, it's just an awareness, it's an understanding. But are you listening for the Lord? "So, Pastor, I'm not one of those people. I'm born again. I said the prayer, I got in the pool. I read my Bible some. I don't cheat on my spouse. What do you want"? Please don't hear it that way. God's people learn to recognize his direction; and I believe to navigate what is before us, we will have to become better at recognizing God's direction. I think we'll need every resource we have. We'll want every bar that we can light up that suggests we have the best possible connection. Listening.
That's why your daily Bible reading is so important, 'cause it's the discipline to take the time to stop for a moment and open your heart to the Lord. Some days you read your Bible and it's as dry, it's just like there's nothing in that. I don't know the cities, I can't pronounce the names, I don't know what's going on. And that happens to me. And sometimes I open it and it's as if it's a personal message. I underline every verse and I fill the margins with notes and then you have to endure it 'cause I can't get it out of my head and I bring it and give it away to you. And you're like, "God, give him a new message. We're tired of this one". But the discipline of presenting to the Lord, listening, hearing from God, is so important in following the Lord, and then I think both Matthew and Isaiah give us an indicator into the character of God.
And I don't think we can say this enough. I don't believe it can be repeated too frequently: God is omniscient, he knows everything. He just knows everything. Why will you believe that about AI? Why will you get in your car and follow the voice of somebody you don't know that you understand is digitally created and let them give you directions wherever you're going? You'll just mindlessly "turn left at the next light, take this on-ramp, stop. Go to the second light and do this". If your husband or wife is in the other seat giving you those same directions, you will question them at every one. Not that that would ever happen in our car, but some nameless digital creation telling you what to do. You'll just take it or you'll ask. You'll get online, "I'll find out the answer to that".
You don't know who created the information, you don't know who filtered it. How many examples do you have to have that they are lying to you because you quit believing all of that as if it is the gospel? I'm not saying everything out there is a lie. I'm telling you take some real discernment 'cause there's enough lies. There's enough manipulation. Freedom of speech? If it's approved speech, and yet the people of God are reluctant to say, "God knows everything, so I'll follow him". He said it's better for me to practice humility, it's better for me to serve, it's better for me to live a generous life. It's better for me to forgive than to get even. It's better for me to release than it is to be filled with anger. God's omnipotent, he can do anything he wants. He can write a story that is dependent entirely upon a virgin birth, and then deliver. He can. "Well, how come I had to have..."
Well, wait a minute, the people in this narrative walked through some really tough stuff. They're living in the midst of miracles, supernatural, unprecedented, and yet they're facing hatred and rejection and criticism. You see, we've imagined that if God did something supernatural, everything would be just like wonderful, waves of wonderful. 'Cause that's all we want. I don't want calluses. I want waves of wonderful, right? Don't you? And if there's a miracle or something, surely, but that's not what's in the story. God is omniscient, he's omnipotent, and we are the creation, and he's the Creator. But maybe the biggest takeaway of all to me is that God is involved. He's involved in the earth today. He's involved with you and me.
I'm out of time to look at how he's involved in our generation. He is. God is shaking the earth. It wasn't some virus that escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan that's shaking the earth. God's shaking the earth. It's not knuckleheads making self-absorbed decisions about our economy that's shaking the earth; God is shaking the earth. We were content. We were rocking along in our own world. We had our plans. We thought it was gonna be okay, and God began to shake the foundations, and he's not finished. We'll look at the rest of the story; because if you understand a bit of the context of what God is doing, he's given us a great deal of information about what we can anticipate, what he's gonna ask us to do, how that might impact us.
Let it be sufficient for this moment to know that you could be invited by God into a supernatural life, a life where the only possible outcomes will require the supernatural involvement of God and every day may not be simple. You may have to be great with child and ride a donkey a long way. Don't you know that was a blessed trip? I cannot envision any scenario where that trip was fun. Nazareth to Bethlehem by donkey, that's several days. It doesn't matter which of the possible routes you take, the terrain is not easy. There's just nothing about that that's a "Yea, God". And I think we could all tell stories about times and places where we have done our best to honor the Lord and it didn't feel fun. Honor him anyway. God is moving in the earth. His purposes are breaking forth in ways we haven't seen in hundreds and hundreds of years. Let's say "Yes" to him, amen. I brought you a prayer, I think. Yeah, way down there at the end of that short outline.
Why don't you stand with me? One of the things we're learning is to pray. Maybe we're still in the beginning stages of that, but I get "Let's pray" stories all the time, in this community and beyond. If you're not praying with others, you're missing out. Kathy and I were at this extravagant, 5-star restaurant for breakfast. I think I'm offended at your supposition. Their specialty... never mind. But one of the servers had an ice pack on their jaw and it wasn't the one that was helping us and we just said, "Let's pray," and we prayed and it was as if we'd dropped something explosive in the middle of the restaurant. But it was a God thing. It was a good thing. We're learning to pray. Don't stop. Pray at work, pray at home, pray with your neighbors, pray at the ball games. Let's pray together:
Almighty God, we rejoice in Your faithfulness. In Your great mercy and power, You have delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of Your Son. Grant us now the boldness to fulfill Your purposes for our lives. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. May Your kingdom arrive in its fullness and Your will be done throughout the earth, in Jesus' name, amen.